COMMENTARY 763.5: The Scorpion and Human Nature

Terry and his dad Glen were walking along the shore and came upon a scorpion struggling in the tide, trying to get back to the sand. Glen tried to scoop the creature up, but the scorpion stung him and fell back into the tide. Glen tried again and was stung again.

Terry said, “Dad, leave him alone! He’s not worth saving.”

But Glen tried one more time. This time he was successful and threw it onto the sand.

Terry said, “Why waste time on an ornery critter who’s too stupid to know it’s being helped?”

Glen answered, “Son, the scorpion stings by instinct. It’s his nature. I chose to help him because that’s my nature.”

Glen was teaching his son a profound moral lesson about being human. Like other species, we’re born with an instinct for survival and a disposition towards selfishness. Yet, blessed by a sense of compassion and the power to reason, we also have an instinct to think and act beyond our self-interest.

Human nature is complex. It’s as much in our nature to be kind, loving, and generous as it is to be cruel, selfish, and dishonest. We can nurture or ignore our nobler instincts.

Some people act like scorpions. Trapped by negative instincts and response patterns, they think it’s their nature and hide behind the belief, “That’s the way I am.”

No one is born with good or bad character. We’re born with the capacity to have either, to choose our ultimate nature. When we choose to be good, we are good.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 3

  1. As always I love your site. I am always concerned when I see selfishness and self-interest used in the same vein. I truly believe that self-interest is one of the biggest reasons to grow and love, and build you character. Selfishness on the other hand never takes anyone else into account. Just a thought, and wonder what you think.

    1. Darryl,

      I agree with you. For example, if I value “Service” (the desire to be of benefit to others), then I appreciate such opportunity. In serving, I fulfill my own sense of worth.


      Patrick A Toffler

  2. Here is a quote I used in my book Character Connections to make a similar point. Too often, “human nature” is used as an excuse for selfish behavior, i.e., “I’m just doing what comes naturally.”

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