I recently had occasion to mention the story below to someone. It was posted in Bytes in 2010 and I believe it would be of interest as a repeat . . .
Those who have seen the 1992 flick The Crying Game may remember the story that Jody tells Fergus in the context of good and bad people, the story being a metaphor for the movie as a whole:
Scorpion wants to cross a river, but he can't swim. Goes to the frog, who can, and asks for a ride. Frog says, "If I give you a ride on my back, you'll go and sting me." Scorpion replies, "It would not be in my interest to sting you since as I'll be on your back we both would drown." Frog thinks about this logic for a while and accepts the deal. Takes the scorpion on his back. Braves the waters. Halfway over feels a burning spear in his side and realizes the scorpion has stung him after all. And as they both sink beneath the waves the frog cries out, "Why did you sting me, Mr. Scorpion, for now we both will drown?" Scorpion replies, "I can't help it, it's in my nature."See it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgSxeITKxyw
The meaning of the story is clear: creatures (including people) will remain true to their natures, irrespective of external influences. The frog takes the scorpion at its word and agrees to transport the scorpion, notwithstanding that there is nothing in it for the frog. The scorpion on the other hand will remain true to its dangerous innate nature, even though it is treated with trust and kindness.
Contrary to popular belief, the story is not an Aesop’s Fable. Instead it forms one of the stories in The Fables of Bidpai, first translated into English from the original Sanskrit in 1570. It is believed that the fables go back to the 3rd century BC.
Some variations on the theme:
- The innate nature is not only destructive, it can also be to the good, as noted above with the frog. Hence an alternative version of the story:
Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung. The other monk asked him, "Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know it's nature is to sting?""Because," the monk replied, "to save it is my nature."
- Another variation on the story has sought to apply the principle of innate nature to groups, specifically to show that casual violence is innate in some societies and cultures:
A story popular in Lebanon tells of a scorpion on the bank of the Nile who asked a frog to ferry him to the other side. “Oh no,” the frog said. “You would sting me.” “That’s ridiculous,” the scorpion replied. “I won’t sting you, because I can’t swim, and I would drown as well as you.” Convinced, the frog took the scorpion on his back and began to swim the river. In midstream the scorpion’s lethal urge became too strong and he plunged his stinger into the frog’s neck. The stricken frog groaned and asked, “Why, why did you do that? Now we’re both going to die.” As they both sank under the water the scorpion gave his final shrug and replied “This is the Middle East.”
- A final story, this time a genuine Aesop’s Fable, about being true to one’s nature:
A starving wolf who met a healthy dog in a snow covered forest. "How robust and well fed you are," said the wolf. "My master gives me food," replied the dog. "And how sleek your fur is," said the wolf, Suddenly ashamed of his own tattered coat. "My master takes great care in grooming me," said the dog with pride. "Why not come with me and he will do these things for you as well." "And what must I do for him?" asked the wolf. "Sleep by the warmth of his fire, walk by his side in the town, and hunt with him in the forest," replied the dog. "And what is that around your neck?" "Why it is my collar," said the dog. "I see," said the wolf... and he turned and walked back into the forest.