Life, Handball, and Justice

Imagine that you are the greatest champion that your sport had ever, or probably ever will produce. Further, imagine that you have to work full-time as a fireman to support yourself and that sometimes you show up at tournaments straight from work, wearing your heavy uniform, soot still on your face. Some might rail at the injustice that life brings: “I should be playing another sport; I should stop playing for peanuts; it is not fair that I need a day job as a fireman to support my family; at least on the day I have a tournament, I should have the day off.” Vic Hershkowitz did no such complaining.

Vic Hershkowitz won 23 amateur national titles in handball. He died this week at the age of 89. Hershkowitz’s greatest handball strengths came from his ability to use either hand with equal power and dexterity, and from his ability to change the pace of his shots. His athletic abilities were compared to those of Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression, Hershkowitz couldn’t afford to play any other sport. His sole handball earnings came from $50 a stop, barnstorming clinics during the 1950s when handball was at its peak of popularity. One of his handball rivals, Phil Collins said of Vic: “He was a hall-of-fame human being; a lot of good players didn’t want to teach anybody else or help them with their game. He always did.”

Vic Hershkowitz’s life teaches us much. We live in a society where we are constantly bombarded by judgments of what is unfair. These complaints are endless. Some may complain: “It is unfair that the CEO earns so much, and the teacher earns so little.” While others may judge: “It is unfair that the coal miner earns so little, while the baseball player earns so much.”

We are further told that in a just society something should be done about these types of injustices. But wait, who set the low pay rate for Vic Hershkowitz and the much higher pay rate for Mickey Mantle? Of course, it was simply the tastes of the consuming public. That the pay rate for Vic Hershkowitz bore no relationship to his immense athletic abilities is a sign of a free and vibrant society; it was not the sign of injustice.

My last sentence needs further consideration. Assume for a moment that Hershkowitz and Mantle had equal abilities. To assure the same material outcome, government would have had to treat Hershkowitz and Mantle very differently; Hershkowitz would have had to have been compensated for the fact that there were far fewer fans who cared about handball than fans who cared about baseball.

Of course, using that logic, there is no end to the compensations and interferences that one could demand of government. We would quickly find that government , rather than being the impartial arbiter it is supposed to be, would be treating different people differently in order to correct for something for which no one is to blame. In doing so, government would need to institute all types of coercive controls; and in the process, those government controls would cripple the economy.

There is another equally important lesson to learn from Hershkowitz’s life. By all accounts, Hershkowitz lived a more fulfilling and happier life than did Mickey Mantle. Of course, we will never know what either he or Mantle felt inside; but research on happiness shows that the happiness that you experience bears little relationship to how much money and fame you have. Mantle’s greater riches and fame did not buy him peace of mind. Happiness is truly an inside job.

We are all born into certain circumstances—a unique time, place, and culture. We are all given gifts of potential talents. Our happiness depends on developing our gifts; because as we do, we are allowing the source of those gifts to flow through us. That source of Love and Intelligence lives in each of us, but only to extent that we do not choke it off.

Under different circumstances, Vic Hershkowitz may have been a baseball player. For all we know, that thought never even crossed his mind. I have little doubt he felt fortunate to play handball. He did what his circumstances and his gifts allowed him to do, and he did it full of love for the game that was his calling. In that way, he was a model champion for us all.

We are all better at demanding things from life than we are at listening to what life asks of us. Life asks much of all of us. It asks that we use our gifts; it asks that, over and over again, we extend love and forgiveness; it asks that we stop railing against what is wrong and stop demanding that life conform to our demands. When we do, love, peace, and happiness flow through us. The choice is only the next moment away.


13 Responses to Life, Handball, and Justice

  1. Frank v2 says:

    Dr. B,

    Clearly we are all born into circumstances and situations beyond our control, beginning with who our parents are and where we are forced to hang our hat. Part of being successful is not trying to blame others for the cards we are dealt, but rather embracing the situation and leveraging our individual inner talent to make the best of our circumstances, and if possible, rise above them. Reading this posting I could not help but think about Nelson Mandela, who turns 90 on July 17th. Here’s a man who spent 27 years in prison for leading the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. At the age of 76, he became the President of South Africa in that countries first multiracial election which was held in 1994. He took his talents, and in spite of all the parameters working against him, rose to greatness.

    I am presently enrolled in my final MBA class, and one of my classmates recently reflected on his childhood. This young man is an African American who told me that he remembered at the age of 4, being so poor that his single mother left him and his brother in her car while she went to work. Clearly he had a tough childhood. But this brilliant young man, who is one of the most driven and charismatic individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, I believe will go on to greatness. He took the cards he was dealt, and instead of placing blame, did something to improve his situation.

    Sadly, not everyone has the drive to rise above the circumstances presented. Our society is quickly becoming one in which we as individuals are not willing to take responsibility for our own actions or situations, but rather are quick to try and place blame for our problems on others. We blame the government for our current economic woos, or our next door neighbor if we slip on his or her walkway. We are quick to call a lawyer and try to transfer responsibility for our own actions or misfortunes to somebody else. I think it is time that we all take personal accountability for who we are and our own situations. As my wife says, “suing breeds sewage”, which is a sentiment that I share as well.

  2. Frank,

    I was reading this morning about the handball champion that followed Hershkowitz. His name was Jimmy Jacobs. Jacobs was a great player in his own right, yet Hershkowitz was considered the superior player. Jim Bouton, the former New York Yankees pitcher, was a friend and fan of Jacobs. He said Jacobs was the best athlete, of any sport, in his generation and that Jacobs would have hit .400 if he had played baseball. Incredible!

    Constance Kellough was written this:

    Blaming puts up a wall that prevents us from seeing what we are creating in our lives and why. It is disempowering when we ascribe the control over our circumstances and feelings to someone or something else. When we feel justified in our blaming, we are just finding an excuse for not taking responsibility for our lives the way they are…

    Acceptance of what is, when on the surface it looks like we should not accept a situation, is an act of faith and self-love. It allows a transforming energy to enter the situation. If this does not alter the outer experience, it will certainly change our inner landscape.

  3. igli1969 says:

    Frank v2 hit the nail on the head about the “entitlement” complex that so many Americans seem to have. The only thing (in my opinion) that anyone is “owed” by others is freedom of opportunity. That is, to be free to make one’s own way. Unfortunately, many people take this to mean that their lack of a high-paying job is a sign of some kind of interference by “society.” (Society is a fiction; only individuals have the capacity for action of thought and deed. Those actions in combination have results that may seem as if a mass of individuals acted in concert, but that is a logical fallacy.)

    A little over a year ago, I was in a bad situation in my job, in that my sales were constrained by the awful territory I was given. So I began to shift my job description from service to equipment sales on my own initiative, and presented this change to my manager as a fait accompli. I’m now making almost 20% more than last year at this time (although I still have a way to go to feel secure). Yes, the territory allocation was unfair (I had Montgomery & PG Counties, another rep had all of DC and some of Northern VA); compaining about it would only have speeded my departure from the job. So I changed my job, and let the management and HR follow my lead. And I’m pretty happy about that.

    Chris C.

  4. Frank v2 says:

    Chris C,
    Good for you for taking the initiative on your own to change your sales situation and uncovering untapped opportunities. When I was a sales “mangler” I coached my sales people to look at their territory differently and to take ownership of their results. Calling on ones customer friends was often not very productive: attacking the accounts that were more difficult by uncovering hidden needs tended to be most effective. Some folks were very good at this process, others were not. Those that were not taking control of the things that they could control such as how many people they saw each day, where they called, etc, tended to put blame on others when things went array. Those that recognized that they were struggling took ownership of their situation and sought guidance and assistance in terms of improving their performance, tended to blossom into first rate sales people. Those that did not take that approach, well, they went on to work for the competition.

    Clearly we don’t control everything: things in life happen because they happen. But we do have control over our own ego which in turn allows us some freedom in terms of making choices: the choice to make a sales call or to mope when our performance is down. I like you have always tried to take ownership of my destiny where I had the opportunity to do so.

    Dr. B
    Thanks for sharing the Constance Kellough quote. I don’t recall reading her work, but see she has a book entitled “The Leap – Are you ready for a new reality?” Is it worth the read?

  5. Chris,

    Your story is a great example. Thanks for sharing it.


    Kellough’s The Leap is a fine book. She is Eckhart Tolle’s publisher. If you haven’t read Tolle’s The Power of Now and A New Earth I would read those first.

  6. david schwartz says:

    my father played vic in doubles tournament 1952. i have pic of the 4 of them. when my father lost, i was devastated(i was a mere boy). i didnt know he was playing “tiger woods””. i would like to send the pic to his family. david

  7. David,

    What a great memory to have!

  8. Bob G. says:

    Outcomes and results are often used as the basis for deciding whether someone or some group has been treated fairly. Of course, this politically expediant and emotional way of thinking shields us from the reality that life’s outcomes cannot be succesfully controlled from a central planning model. We all know this intuitively on an individual basis and it is certainly true on a macro basis for any segments or groupinga that we could chose.

    Determining the existemce of equal opportunity by comparing outcomes and results of individuals like Vic or other macro segmentations to the pre-determined results mandated by central planners, “great leaders” and those who are “experts” has led us astray. This way of thinking requires ever more complicated solutions in the minds of these mis-guided leaders who have created the problems in the first place.

    As the voters conitnue to drink the “kool-aid” we must understand that they are willingly choosing to buy a little more time for themselves in ways that cannot be maintained at the expense of their children and grandchildren.

    It is in this manner that America has lost it’s way. With the pasing of the “greatest generation” we may never see greatness again.

    The children of that generation may well be considered the most self-indulgent and selfish that our country has ever known. The “baby-boomers” may be the generation that history points to that spawned begining of the end of what once was the greatest experiment of all time that produced the greatest rise in living standards that ha ever been achieved.

    Something to think about this 4th of July….

    Bob G.

  9. Bob,

    Your comments are too the point. As we focus on outcomes we lose track that the American Revolution was about overthrowing guaranteed outcomes and was all about focusing on setting a framework for the conduct of the players.

  10. Frank v2 says:

    You suggest that, “The children of that generation may well be considered the most self-indulgent and selfish that our country has ever known. The “baby-boomers” may be the generation that history points to that spawned beginning of the end of what once was the greatest experiment of all time that produced the greatest rise in living standards that has ever been achieved.” Unfortunately, I concur with this comment. Every generation has always wanted their children to have more: my grandfather wanted his children to get off the farm, get an education, make something of their lives and get ahead. Following World War II, they did just that and created the baby-boomer generation, which I am a part of. But we baby-boomers, becoming more affluent than even our parents, were in a situation where we could give our children everything their little hearts desired, and we did.

    And I have some regrets about doing that. Although I am generalizing, many of today’s youth expect that they should be driving a Bimmer, start at the top of a company right out of college, and are flabbergasted when the six figure salary isn’t handed to them on a silver platter. My kids are no exception and they had their education and cars to get to and from school all paid for by dear old Dad. No struggle on their part. Everything was just handed to them, and expected. I on the other hand drove a beat up 10 year old VW Beetle when I went to college, while holding down two part time jobs to make ends meet. I think that experience built character, and made me more appreciative of the value of a dollar. And because I thought I had it tough, I didn’t want my children to experience the same hardship (relatively speaking) that I went through.

    Interestingly, as we parents begin cutting the financial umbilical chords to our children (I still have not completely been successful in that regard), these kids are lost and struggle trying to make ends meet, at least to the level in which they believe they are entitled to. Hence, the “you owe me” attitude. I and the rest of my baby-boomer cohorts are to blame for this situation. And to exasperate the problem, kids in their mid 20’s are returning home to their parents nests because they have discovered that it is much nicer there then in the cruel harsh world. And as our economic problems get worse, so will the wake-up call for both the baby-boomer generation, who may not be able to retire as planned, and their children who will have to take a low paying job at a fast-food restaurant.

    So I believe not all is lost; the school of hard-knocks is officially in session and we are all unfortunately going to graduate summa cum laude. The shift in the economic cycle will inevitably make us more appreciative of the “gook old days”.

  11. Bob G. says:


    Your honest and personal analysis shows an incredible amount of insight and awareness.

    As I can imagine Vic saying, or any athlete who operates at higher levels of performance, the main battle to be won is against ourselves. Once we learn to let our talent find us, we operate at levels that defy description. Being in the “zone” becomes a game of awareness and surrender to something bigger than ourselves.

    As being in the zone does not apply only to athletic endeavors, I appreciate that you seem to have found that place by virtue of your insights above.

    Thanks – Bob G.

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