Foolish Lies

Tonight I am reminded of a fable from my youth (and a couple movies, if I recall correctly) which I will briefly recount for you inaccurately. There once was a fox and scorpion trying to cross a river. The scorpion asked the fox to carry it across, and the fox refused out of fear of being stung, so the scorpion promised the fox that if the fox carried him across the river he would not sting the fox. The fox, like any good fable character, agreed and once they reached the other side of the river, the scorpion stung him. While the poison coursed through the fox’s body, he asked the scorpion why he stung him after promising not to, to which the scorpion replied, “I’m sorry fox, but it is my nature.”

As a child this fable has frustrated me. There is goodness in honesty, and there is honesty in everything, how could the scorpion sting the fox after promising not to? For years the suggested moral of this story eluded me out of sheer denial. It was not until I had witnessed lives destroyed by drug abuse, people who refused to change their actions even after acknowledging the inherent dishonesty in them, that I came to accept that the moral of this fable could truly be applied to my life.

“He’s a liar,” she said, “and so am I.” A conversation I had tonight brought to clarity the re-evaluation of the fable I have experienced somewhat recently in my life. The moral has changed for me, the lesson I learned has finally become one that satisfies both my childhood instincts and my life experiences. They both lied to me, and each other, even while everybody knew the truth, but I accepted it. You see, it wasn’t about being lied to, it was about decisions.

People lie for a variety of reasons, often without realizing it and often to themselves. The scorpion lied to himself, not the fox; he wanted to be able to not sting the fox. People speak as they wish to be and hope their actions and feelings can catch up, but when put to a test the choice they will make is usually evident; the fox knew all along. Everybody knows what a scorpion does, just as everybody knows what a person will do in a given situation.

In my version of the fable, when they get to the other side and the scorpion stings the fox, the fox remains silent. The scorpion says, “I am sorry fox, I did not mean to sting you, but it is my nature,” to which the fox replies, “I know.” The scorpion then asks, “But if you knew, then why did you help me across?” And the fox answers, “Because I could.”

3 thoughts on “Foolish Lies

  1. I don’t know if this relates to your current situation, or if this is the inaccuracy you referred to, but in the original fable, the scorpion doesn’t wait until the fox gets to the other side of the river. He stings the fox in the middle, ensuring that both of them will die.

    The scorpion is not only a liar, but is a liar to the point where that trait overpowers his own survival instinct.

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  3. I really like your version of the fable. I would, however, propose a different ending. In my version of the fable, the last sentence reads: “And the fox answers, ‘Because I wanted to believe and thus lied to myself.'”

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