You’re sitting by yourself in the club waiting for a game. Several of the tables are in use but, other than you, there is only one guy sitting near the lockers watching the action on table three. He’s new. You’ve never seen him before. He’s wearing a Butterfly ping pong shirt and he’s got a Killerspin table tennis bag sitting next to him on the bleacher seats. Jeez, should I ask this guy to play? He might be good. Of course, he might be a dud – one of those equipment junkies, in which case he’s probably all bark and no bite (big hat, no cattle; 400 dollar racket and can’t return a serve).
What should I do? What would you do?
Here are some of the options:
1- There’s no way I’m playing this dude until I know his rating. I’m not wasting my time with some unproven newbie.
2- Well, maybe I’ll play him, but I’ll say that I have an appointment with Ma Long in 10 minutes (i.e., if the guy stinks, I’ll have an excuse to abandon him).
3- Well, my conscience is going to town on me. I think I’ll just walk past this paraphernalia nut, and if he doesn’t ask me to play I’m off the hook. It’s up to him, my guilt be damned.
4- The guy looks so lonely. Forlorn. I should make him feel good in our club by playing with him.
The answer in just a minute. First, please indulge this mild digression which will aim to resolve this conundrum. (Of course, you might rightly ask who made me the Emily Post of Ping Pong Etiquette. Oh,… I did. Self-anointed. Hey, that’s how Emily did it, too. )
There is such a thing as social stratification in every group. (Any sociologist will tell you that.) It’s a universal phenomenon, and it works its insidious ways into societies as well as table tennis clubs. Whether fair or not, you have to figure that some of these breakdowns into subdivisions are natural. As relating to ping pong, for example, we just have to face the facts that some people are endowed with more talent than others. We can modify these advantages with practice and professional instruction, medical intervention and what not, but by and large, everything else being equal, some guys are just better than others. Period. Call it whatever you want – it’s just irrefutable. Sorry, not everybody can be a 2000 rated player. (And, by the way, that doesn’t mean the advanced player derives more joy in playing the game than some novice – there are many variables determining that.)
Okay, so having agreed on the hierarchical structure and unequal layers of players’ skills, what do we do? Should we do anything? We’re back to the original question posed: Should I play with that guy?
And that’s where noblesse oblige comes in. This is a concept which sets a standard for moral behavior. It proposes that there is an obligation for those privileged with talent to act generously with it. In other words, play with that guy. If he’s good, bad or indifferent – doesn’t really matter. Ask the guy to play. You’re not stuck with him for an hour, or maybe not even half an hour. Play him a game and move on. It’s the right thing. The correct answer, then, is number 4. (My mother told me.) Lao Du