A Virtuous Cycle

For the last 13 years, we’ve had at least one kid in elementary school. More days than we can count, especially the warm weather ones, the answer to this question was unsurprising: “What was the best part of the day?”


Soccer. Swings. Tag. Basketball. GaGa Ball.

I’m sure there have been other games and activities that made their list, but I’m for sure there is one that never was.


I understand the hazard of a giant metal pole implanted into an asphalt lot primarily used for children running, but man, tetherball was amazing.

Except when it wasn’t.

It sucked playing the taller kid who could just play, quite literally, at a higher level. It was a vicious cycle playing a kid like that. One wrong hit, and the momentum would swing, and that awkwardly hard yellow ball would make a few large orbits above your head, and you were finished.

But every once in awhile, you could interrupt that cycle. A well-timed jump, a misfire by your opponent, or simply a stroke of good fortune. A flicker of hope when you thought you were on the brink of disaster and humiliation.

Once you saw the sliver of opportunity, there was some back and forth, a tetherball tussle, so to speak, while you found your footing. Some smacks that were immediately returned, until you could get the money shot lined up.

You know the one.

Where you could get on top enough to essentially throw it straight down on your side, only to fly just above your opponents’ outstretched, and now outwitted, hands.

That yellow ball of glory would come in hot and high from the side, only for you to wallop the damn thing even harder, and therefore higher.

It took 2-3 such hits until it was over. The tetherball threaded tightly around that pole, and you were now the boss of the blacktop.

Our kids have missed out.

Life is never as simple and straightforward as a playground game. But hasn’t it felt like we’ve all been collectively getting bloodied and bruised by the tallest, and most vicious, tetherballer the last couple years.

Our divisive, outrage, and judgement fueled feeds whip us into fits of rage as we spin into ever-more vicious cycles.

We have a choice however. We can sit a few spin cycles out of the madness.

And when we have a bit of clarity, calm, and confidence, we can pick our spot and play a bit of virtue offense.

As the stoics outlined, and as Ryan Holiday is now unpacking in book form, the virtues of wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance (self-control, discipline, modesty) seem to be in shorter supply than the hammer of the vicious and relentless momentum we’re all experiencing.

And, like a tetherball game going bad, all we need is a glimmer of hope. And then, we have the opportunity to inject a bit of wisdom, a touch of justice, a tiny courageous foot forward, and a temperate, grounded view of the reality around us.

What was the best part of your day?

Recess lessons from tetherball.

Virtuous cycles are better than vicious ones.

Follow My Blog to Get the Daily Story

Copyright © 2024 Justin Ricklefs. All Rights Reserved.