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Boiling frogs.

As I write this, I am sick as a dog. About two weeks ago, I picked up a pernicious virus that has since reduced me to a shambling wreck of a man. As bad as this thing is, I do have two points of solace. The first is that eventually, my suffering will end (whether by recovery or demise; both are about equally appealing right about now). The second is that my family and co-workers have also gone through this, which is a welcome verification that you really are as bad off as you feel. Misery certainly does love company, especially when you're hacking up a lung.

As a result, I have been so foggy in the head that I had, until the last day of our production schedule, been unable to think up a topic for this editorial. Then, as I lay half-conscious on my desk, my brother Tom (Remember him? The one who got shot in the gluteus maximus last month?) sent me an online video of an impassioned professional wrestling fan breaking down and crying as he addressed his idol--the veteran Terry Funk--at a live speaking appearance. The punchline of the video is when the blubbering fan blurts out, "It's still real to me, dammit!" At that point, even Funk has to tell the guy to get a hold of himself.

It's easy to crack wise at those who really believe in the fake reality of professional wrestling. But the true story of this video wasn't over some break with reality this fan was having. What he was really upset over, and what he was trying to talk about through his tears was the fact that Funk's wrestling career has left him virtually crippled. The excellent documentary Beyond the Mat details how Funk (and many wrestlers like him) have been physically shattered by the injuries they have sustained while putting forth wrestling performances. The guy in this video was trying to thank Funk for sacrificing his body to entertain wrestling fans like himself, but unfortunately, all he really did was make himself an easy target for a cheap joke.

The sick irony of wrestling is that its practitioners suffer real, debilitating injuries while engaging in fake combat that simulates real, debilitating injuries. Huh? These guys are, for the most part, notable athletes with a high threshold for pain. One would think if they were so willing to get hurt, they would at least engage in real contact sports (i.e., those without a predetermined outcome) that promise more legitimacy and money than wrestling ever could. But they don't. Somehow, they are content to destroy themselves for the sake of something illusory. Heck if I know why, though. Maybe they find pride in it. Maybe it's just what they're good at. Maybe for them, the money is good enough. Maybe they love the rush of the spotlight.

Whatever their reasons, we should not rush to judge them. After all, virtually every other line of work lends itself to this kind of gradual self-destruction in some way, shape or form. There are coal miners who get payoffs for how much black lung they contract, and they are proud of collecting those payments. I knew a narcoleptic woodshop worker who brandished his amputated finger as a sign of his veteran status and acknowledged he would probably lose another before he retired. He wasn't much bothered by it, either. Even white collar workers today are suffering "Blackberry thumb," a kind of repetitive stress injury that comes from working with their PDAs way too much. We fancy ourselves smart people, and our thumbs hurt like crazy after texting people for an hour straight, but do we stop? Nope. In our own small way, we are not that different from those wrestlers who would sooner fall apart than stop doing what they love to do.

If you take a live frog and place it in pot of water, and then turn the heat on that water, increasing the heat gradually over time, the frog will not notice that it is slowly cooking. Eventually, the frog will perish, a victim of its own inability to realize that it was dying by degrees. This is "boiling frog syndrome," and everybody in every line of work is susceptible to it. Whether we drop flying elbows from the top turnbuckle or hold high-level financial meetings in Bermuda, chances are we are all carrying on our work in ways that are more harmful to ourselves than they are productive. The question is, do we have the foresight to rectify it before we do ourselves irreparable harm?

It depends on the person. Speaking for myself, I really ought to be home resting, but instead I'm in my office, coughing loudly enough to distract my co-workers and banging away at a keyboard until my fingertips hurt because I can't allow this magazine to be late. Already, I have decided to uphold my professional duties rather than look after my personal health. If that's not a sign of warm water, I don't know what is.

-Bill Coffin, Publisher and Editorial Director
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Title Annotation:career development
Author:Coffin, Bill
Publication:Risk Management
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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