Tantrums, getting your way, and Serena Williams

Serena Williams’ tantrum at the U.S. Open (that’s tennis, for sports fans only interested in a ball with points) was not her first by any means.  She has quite the track record, actually, of verbal abuse, court abuse, equipment abuse, and general abuse of principles of basic decency.

All of these incidents seem to have one thing in common: Serena was losing the match at the time of the incident.

A strong case could be made that Serena Williams is simply confused in such circumstances.  She does not lose very often.  She is said by many to be the most dominant athlete in an individual sport in the world, regardless of gender.  She expects to win.  Her fans expect her to win.  Frankly, her opponents expect her to win.  But the principles of sport demand that victory be awarded after, not before, the competition.  And on those rare blue moon occasions in which the tables are turned on the overwhelming favorite, those results must be accepted by everyone — including the unfortunate and unsuspecting loser.

A tantrum is theft.  Naomi Osaka was robbed of her moment in the spotlight, her opportunity for personal glory, and the appreciation of millions of prospective fans — robbed by someone who had more of all of the above than she knows what to do with.

A tantrum is childishness.  Losing happens.  Even Serena Williams would acknowledge this fact in principle.  Refusing to accept reality does not change reality.  It only reveals the immaturity of the pouter.

A tantrum is selfishness.  Why should one person get his or her way over another?  To claim, explicitly or implicitly, a right to the results of one’s own choosing is to deny that result to someone else.

And let me quickly dismiss her rationale, if it can even be called that, that men do far worse and are not penalized as she was.  One, so what?  Even if it is true, that is no excuse for one’s own inappropriate behavior.  Two, it is no triumph for womankind that they are judged by the same standard as men.  Women as a whole are, and traditionally always have been, models for the men with regard to public decorum.  If they devolve to the level of the men, it is a curse to both sexes.

But I am not trying to pick on Ms. Williams here.  My aim is to get us all to think about our attitude and behavior in times of adversity.  It is easy to assume “being right” is the most important consideration, or even the only consideration.  But “right” does not always refer to our compliance with God’s law specifically.  Sometimes it refers to our application of it — well-intentioned, certainly, but flawed.  This is why we are to appoint elders and submit to their judgment (Hebrews 13:17); we cannot hope to all agree on every approach, and we must not sacrifice “the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3) to appease the strongly held believes of a small minority. 

If a person’s conscience compels him or her to abstain from the modern equivalent of meat sacrificed to idols (Romans 14:1-4), the body should not compel him to violate his conscience.  On the other hand, his conscience cannot be an excuse for rebellion (3 John 9-10), factiousness (Titus 3:10-11), or the binding of personal opinions as law (Matthew 15:9).

None of us is likely to be in position to humiliate ourselves in front of millions of people.  But we all struggle with temper, to one degree or another.  And lashing out at others when we ourselves are disappointed with life accomplishes nothing.  I love the simplicity of James 1:20 — “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”  Acting out of emotion, particularly anger, has virtually no chance of advancing the cause of Christ, either in your own life or in the life of the church. 

Please, consider that the next time someone rubs you the wrong way.