“The scorpion was hamstrung, his tail all aquiver;
just how would he manage to get across the river?
“The water’s so deep,” he observed with a sigh,
which pricked at the ears of the tortoise nearby.
“Well why don’t you swim?” asked the slow-moving fellow,
“unless you’re afraid. I mean, what are you, yellow?”
“It isn’t a matter of fear or of whim,”
said the scorpion, “but that I don’t know how to swim.”
“Ah, forgive me. I didn’t mean to be glib when
I said that. I figured you were an amphibian.”
“No offense taken,” the scorpion replied,
“but how about you help me to reach the far side?
You swim like a dream, and you have what I lack.
Let’s say you take me across on your back?”
“I’m really not sure that’s the best thing to do,”
said the tortoise, “now that I see that it’s you.
You’ve a less than ideal reputation preceding:
there’s talk of your victims all poisoned and bleeding.
You’re the scorpion — and how can I say this — but, well,
I just don’t feel safe with you riding my shell.”
The scorpion replied, “What would killing you prove?
We’d both drown, so tell me: how would that behoove
me to basically die at my very own hand
when all I desire is to be on dry land?”
The tortoise considered the scorpion’s defense.
When he gave it some thought, it made perfect sense.
The niggling voice in his mind he ignored,
and he swam to the bank and called out: “Climb aboard!”
But just a few moments from when they set sail,
the scorpion lashed out with his venomous tail.
The tortoise too late understood that he’d blundered
when he felt his flesh stabbed and his carapace sundered.
As he fought for his life, he said, “tell me why
you have done this! For now we will surely both die!”
“I don’t know!” cried the scorpion. “You never should trust
a creature like me because poison I must!
I’d claim some remorse or at least some compunction,
but I just can’t help it; my form is my function.
You thought I’d behave like my cousin, the crab,
but unlike him, it is but my nature to stab.”
The tortoise expired with one final quiver.
And then both of them sank, swallowed up by the river.
The tortoise was wrong to ignore all his doubts —
because in the end, friends, our natures wins out.”
As read by the author, David Rakoff, on “This American Life”, produced at WBEZ in Chicago, originally aired on 9/11/2009.
I assume everyone knows this fable – yet an offhand comment today made it clear no one in the room knew what I was talking about when I said, “It’s in their nature to be stinky, just like the scorpion!”
After getting a bunch of blank stares and having to explain myself again, I came home and decided it was time to make sure anyone reading Stealing Faith would know the story! (I find it to be an exceptionally lovely image of organizational politics. Ha!)
Do you have your own environment when “it’s in my nature” seems to be the best explanation for bizarre behavior?
This post was originally published November 2, 2012 and is being recycled as part of the “I’ve Been Around” summer! Hope you enjoyed it and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!