Federer Plays Erikson, Round 4

Roger Federer had absolutely no trouble with Juan Monaco last night.  Did Monaco have a bad game?  Did it start too late?  Is Roger finally getting focused on the tournament?  He had better start to get focused, because he has Jo-Wilfed Tsonga next and Tsonga is a monster.  Monaco was not a monster.  Federer took him 6-1, 6-2, 6-0.

These are the quarterfinals now.  When this draw fills out, there will be eight players.  If Federer wins, he will get the No. 1 seed, Novak Djokovic as the prize.  That means it is time to look at the Erikson stage not only in terms of what strengths Roger has developed in previous stages, but what strengths he is going to need to beat Tsonga, then (probably) Djokovic, then (probably) Rafa Nadal.

Since the quarterfinals are the fourth round of the U. S. Open, they direct us to Stage 5 of Erikson’s stages.  What is supposed to be going on there?  Erikson places this stage roughly at adolescence and the principal question is, “Who am I?  Really.”  The opponent to be defeated is role confusion; in Erikson’s terms, the dystonic value.  The strength to be attained is identity coherence; that is the syntonic value.[1]  The unchecked, “too much” version of identity coherence is called fanaticism.  The unchecked, “too much” version of role confusion is called repudiation.

Here, from Vital Involvement in Old Age, is a summary of what’s at stake.

It is important [for a person in Stage 5] to identify himself with life goals worthy of commitment and fidelity and to do this with an appropriate knowledge of his capacities.  The sturdy strengths of hope, will, purpose, and competence, which result from the earlier balancing of these stage-specific syntonic and dystonic tensions, will not support these new vital commitments.  But this is a demanding step to be taken, and it is easy to become confused and uncertain about one’s life role and one’s firm sense of “I.”

Without turning the tennis tournament into an allegory, I’d have to say this is surprisingly apt.  When the top players play poor players, they win no matter what the style of the game is.  But when good players play good players, the most important single thing to know is, “Whose game is going to be played?”  We know beforehand that I will win the match if it is all baseline rallies and that you will win a serve and volley game.  I will be trying to get you to play a baseline game, which means I will be hitting the ball deep and trying to make you run for it.  You will be hitting sharply angled shots you can follow to the net or short shots to draw me to the net.  If I know who I am, I will know what kind of game I must play.  Note how disadvantageous “role confusion” is at this level.  Or, for that matter, “fanaticism.”

It makes such sense that the product that best emerges from the struggle of syntonic and dystonic values is FIDELITY.  This is not fidelity to a friend or a partner.  Such a relationship with such a partner is the principal goal of Stage 6.  This is fidelity to oneself and to the view of what is important in life that you have acquired through the frictions of role confusion—with its gift of openness—and identity coherence, with its gifts of closure and commitment.  It is fidelity to the person you now know you are that is crucial here.

This is not so important for the Federer/Tsonga match.  They have played before.  Each man knows what game the other would like to impose; each knows what his own best game is and what strokes and strategies will be necessary to establish it.  It is crucially important in the development of persons.  The players who win, said Jo-Wilfred Tsonga after the match, are those who are “strong in the head.”

If you tend, as I do, to see important questions asked and answered in the movies, you will probably already have been attracted to The Truman Show.  Truman Burbank has lived his entire life on a movie set, surrounded by actors pretending to be a friend or a mother or a wife.  Truman is the only person in the world who does not know who he is.  When he finds out he is, for all practical purposes, a prisoner, he escapes.  Just as he is about to go into “the real world,” Christof the creator and director of the show addresses him and tries to persuade him to stay in this world, even though he now knows it to be completely contrived.  Here’s Ed Harris as Christof.

Christof:         Truman.  You can speak.  I can hear you.

Truman:          Who are you?

Christof:         I am the Creator…of a television show that gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions.

Truman:          Then who am I?

Christof:         You are the star.

Truman:          (Catching on immediately).  Was nothing real?

Christof:         You.  You were real.  (The answer there is really No.  Everything you have ever experienced was contrived, artificial, and manipulative.)

Truman decides, however, that he does know who he is and launches himself on a real life that will be based on that idea.  No actual person is launched quite so dramatically, but it is a common experience to look back at your own life and locate the time when the general contours of the person you now are were first visible.

[1] The book I am cribbing from, Vital Involvement in Old Age, used the term “identity cohesion” here, but a lot of the words that are chosen seem about an eighth of a turn off and I am going to start substitution the form of the word that would be more normally heard.

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. 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 whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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