Can “Never Quit” Be Carried Too Far?

By | August 1, 2021 | 0 Comments

The Simone Biles story raises an important question: When does duty require us to carry on despite physical or mental problems, and when does duty require us to step aside?

In combat, or in the middle of a call for the police or fire service, obviously we carry on as long as we can, and then a bit longer. At the other extreme, for entirely nonessential activities, we bow out as soon as we feel slightly impaired. But these extremes are rare. What about activities of intermediate necessity, when people are depending on us, but it’s not quite a matter of life or death? What about times when others could take over for us, even if they are less capable than we are? What then?

I’ve been on call for 72 hours with no sleep. At the end my judgment was impaired, and I was making bad jokes and laughing at them. I’ve worked with the flu despite fever. I was giving poor advice, and on the way home I drove through a red light without realizing it. I’ve worked after a sleepless night of stomach pain. I wrote a prescription for a dangerous overdose, detected it, and rewrote the prescription, telling the patient my handwriting was more illegible than usual. I’ve worked wearing a back brace for 2 lumbar discs. I can tell you that pain does not improve the intellect or the mood.

I’ve worked with physical and emotional pain. I can say that in many cases, it would have been better for my patients if I went home sick and left the work to others. But it would have been worse for my self-image of manliness.  And it would have been worse for my relationship with co-workers, who would have seen me as a quitter or crybaby.

At the apex of “never quit” are the Navy SEALs. An ex-SEAL was being trained in martial arts. The instructor had him in a chin lock and said, “Now tap out or I’ll chip your teeth.” The man refused, twice. When a martial arts instructor says he’ll do something, he does it or loses credibility. Reluctantly, he did what he said he’d do. The instructor was a bit worried. He knew martial arts but never had killed anyone, while the SEAL probably had.

But no worries. Despite thousands of dollars of dental bills, the SEAL said, “Son of a b****, you did it – show me that again!” Never quit on the mission or on your guys, for sure. But quit on the plan the moment it is no longer working, and go to plan B. The man never learned that. Maybe that is why he is an ex-SEAL. There is nothing that can’t be carried too far, even “never quit.”

Should Simone Biles have stayed home and retired if she felt at less than her best? Yes. But having gone to Tokyo, should she have persevered despite risking injury and risking lowering her team’s score until they got not a silver, as they did, but being off the medal stand entirely? I don’t know. Neither do you. Neither does Simone. She might have put in an outstanding performance despite her problems. Or she might have broken her neck.

No one can know. So cut her some slack. It wasn’t running into a burning building to save a child. It wasn’t shooting it out with an armed robber. It was a sports event, an important one, but still a sports event. Get over it. Have some perspective. Simone finally did.

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