Power and Prejudice

Whilst I was umpiring a volleyball competition, I was accused by the other team of being biased against them. The issue revolved around one tiny thing: that a server stepped over the line. I called it out, and made them replay the serve. If I were to be fair and adhere to the rules, I should have given the point to the other team (my one).

It is well known that I am a fair and trustworthy person, often to a fault, as my teams have often found out. Sometimes, my teams have lost as a result of my just judgements. I may be a stickler for the rules, but as we saw in the Lord of the Flies, rules are the only things that separate civilisation from savagery and chaos.

When the boys first come to the island, they set up rules that needed to be followed, such as you had to put your hand up to speak, you could only speak while bearing the conch, two people need to tend the fire at all times and so on. However, as the book progresses, the rules get broken. People start talking out of turn, the fire burns out, and the end, the conch is destroyed. The conch represents order and civilisation, including the laws and rules that keep it civilised, but it is destroyed, symbolising the boys’ descent into chaos and savagery; they are becoming more violent.

Of course, this is a drastic case, but it will happen should people stop following the rules and laws of civilisation. It has happened before, we see it in the news. A young person starts of doing minor crimes such as theft or pickpocketing, but later in life ends up murdering or raping, because they have become used to criminal activity. What seems to be a minor sports transgression now may lead to more serious ones, as it builds a habit of disobeying authority. It’s a bit extreme, but it may happen.

Being a veteran umpire of many sports, I have thick skin and am used to being accused of such things. However, the situation still got under my skin. Perhaps it was because the other team was openly jeering and making fun of my decisions, which has never happened before. Yes, they have grumbled, but then they accept my decisions and move on.

Or maybe it was the fact that the other team’s umpire/coach did nothing to stop them, stopping short of openly encouraging them, but laughing with them. Indeed, when they complained about my umpiring, I asked the coach if he wanted to take over, but he answered, “No, thank you.” I then said, “Stop complaining, then.”

Anyway, it got me thinking about Macbeth’s theme of the corruption of power. Being an umpire or coach has much less power than a thane or a king, but the corruption still seems to exist. I questioned two things: whether I was losing my touch as a fair umpire, and whether the other umpire was worthy of the responsibility; if their power had corrupted them. As an umpire, I have immense power. It’s nothing compared to a king, but relatively speaking, I have power.

So had this power corrupted me, like it had Macbeth? He started off as a good soldier, and thane, and he was a hero of Scotland. Then, he was given more power by Duncan, and with the aid of the witches’ prophecy, he started his descent from a good person to a bad one. He committed many atrocities, from killing Duncan, his cousin, king and guest, to murdering Macduff’s wife, children and servants, showing how his power has corrupted him. He would do anything to maintain his power.

The other coach, in my opinion, showed signs of Macbeth’s corruption.Vaclav Havel, political theorist and former president of Czechoslovakia, stated that there are 3 reasons why people want power:
1. To do good and improve the lives of their people
2. The trappings of the post, and the fact you can do almost anything you like
3. To leave behind a legacy.

He also theorised that the worst dictators were created by a lust for the second reason. In Macbeth’s context, this is true. He did not want to rule Scotland to benefit the people, he and his wife wanted the power and the trappings that came with being king. The other coach, if they really wanted to be fair, would actually watch the game and work with me.

But it is my opinion that he only became coach because of the power that comes with it, and how being a coach will improve his resume. Of course, these are adequate reasons when grouped with others, but by themselves, those reasons are selfish and self-centred, which are not the qualities of a good umpire.

Shakespeare in Macbeth had commented on the qualities of a good king, while I was thinking about the qualities of a good umpire. Amazingly, they were rather similar. Malcolm says, “The king-becoming graces / [are] justice, verity, temp’rance, stableness, / Bounty, perseverance, mercy, [and] lowliness” (4.3.92–93). An umpire should be all these things.

A good umpire, then, in the context of interhouse sport should be just, truthful in what they say, and saw slow to anger if someone upsets them or resents their judgement, steadfast in their decisions, generous to the players (e.g. giving lollies), persevere in judgement, be merciful if it’s a first time mistake and be humble enough to realise if they had made a mistake. It is very interesting that the very things that Shakespeare used to describe a good king is relevant to today’s society, and in the context of an umpire.

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