Federer Plays Erikson, Round 3

The first week of the U. S. Open tennis championship is drawing to a close and we won’t know anything more about my guy until Monday, when he will be playing Juan Monaco of Venezuela. If you have not been following my attempt to fold the U. S. Open into Erik Erkison’s developmental stages, this post is really not the place to begin but the point of the analogy is this: just as we progress in our lives along our developmental course, defeating one opponent after another, so the tennis players progress along their (mutual) developmental courses, playing one opponent after another.  There are lots of pictures of Roger Federer.  I’m choosing this one because they both look so happy.

I’m using Roger Federer’s path as my focus as long as he remains in the tournament and today, he dispatched the Croat Marin Cilic (pronounced CHIL-itch) in four sets.  Federer didn’t look at all good in the second set and I wasn’t sure how things were going to go, but something good happened—he found a new strategy or a new focus or Cilic started to wear down—and the third and fourth sets went smoothly.

So from an Eriksonian standpoint, who was Federer’s opponent in Round 3?  I’ll put the short answers here so we can play with them a little.  Federer’s opponent was inferiority.  That is the dystonic value in Stage 4.  Federer seeks in Stage 4 to achieve what they call “industriousness,” but it used to be called industry.  We call it “hard work” sometimes today.  Here, in Edmund Burke’s well-known letter to his constituents in 1754, is the use of “industry” I will mean.

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Your representative owes you his hard work—his industry—and his own judgment as well.  In the expanded presentation I am following (Erikson, Erikson, and Kivnick’s Vital Involvement in Old Age), they consider the unconstrained victory of the syntonic value as a maladaptive tendency.  In this stage, it is called “narrow virtuosity.”  They consider the unconstrained victory of the dystonic value to be a malignant tendency; they call it “inertia.”  Those unhappy states are where a person runs the risk of sliding off if there is a clear victory of industry or of inferiority.

The ideal, in the Erikson system, is for the syntonic value to triumph (industry, in this case) but only after having had to struggle with the dystonic value (inferiority, in this case).  The virtue one carries forward in that case is COMPETENCE, which is what industry produces when it has learned that it needs to take the threat of inferiority seriously.[1] 

I began in the last post to see that a straight tradeoff is implied in the developmental scheme.  If there is too much of the dystonic value, the first place to look for effects is in the syntonic value.  For example, I speculated in the previous post that guilt had played too large a role in my life and wondered aloud if it had had the effect of reducing my readiness to take initiatives.  In thinking of my own life in Stage 4, I would wonder if too large a sense of inferiority had produced a deficit of hard work on my own behalf.  It’s a question worth asking and it is given a very useful shape by Erikson’s scheme.

For me, I think, the answer is that it did not.  There were quite a few times in my life—Erikson has school age children in mind here—when it might have.  I hit speed bumps several times that brought me to a place where I just stopped trying.  But then I started trying again and gained both a sense of my own competence, but also a sense of what is most apt to damage it.  It is that awareness that has kept me from swerving too far into narrow virtuosity.  I think you’ll agree that a man who has titled his blog, “the dilettante’s dilemma” has escaped “narrow virtuosity.”

The other interesting speculation, though, is how the deficit of initiative that I brought with me from Stage III affected my development in Stage IV.  I think the line there is clear.  I have often attempted to make up for the somewhat tattered initiative of Stage III with a very vigorous display of “effort” in Stage IV.  As I look at the chart, it seems to me that I have tried to make up for the lack of vision and daring with a lot of hard work, substituting the syntonic value of Stage IV for the syntonic value of Stage III.  Erikson is clear that you take both your successes and your failures with you when you face the next opponent.  I may have taken the partial failure of Stage III with me and attempted to remedy it—Erikson says you can actually do that—in Stage IV.

So, for Roger Federer, Juan Monaco of Argentina is next. This is the round of sixteen at the U. S. Open, what they would call “the Sweet Sixteen” in college basketball’s March Madness.  It will be round 4 of the tournament, so it will be Stage V of Erikson’s scheme.

Talk to you again on Monday.


[1] Last night, my Oregon Ducks were pounded on national TV by the LSU Tigers.  The general run of press comments in Oregon today matches the Erikson tradeoff exactly.  Oregon’s highly respected offense (industry) has just taken a slap of inferiority in the face.  If it handles that public humiliation properly, it will approach COMPETENCE as the season continues.

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About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. My wife, Bette, is the First Reader (FR) of the posts. I have arranged that partly because she helps me write better posts than I would otherwise and partly because I can hold her responsible for the mistakes that I would, otherwise, have to own up to myself.. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsey. I'm a dilettante.
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