The Scorpion and the Fox

This is a post I’ve wanted to do for a while. It’s all about trust and links to the one I did about how low trust costs you money.

In my day-to-day dealings I really want to follow the advice from people like US Politician Henry L. Stimson:

the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him”.

Unfortunately ideology runs into the harsh realities of life and you end up having to make a few judgment calls about when and how much to trust some people. It’s a bit like the quandary my son faced when he was asked for money by a stranger at the railway station.

The Scorpion and the Fox is a fable that is used to illustrate that the behavior of some animals is so irrepressible that they will act in a certain way, no matter what the consequences, death included. There’s plenty of material on the web where the fable is used to illustrate why some people cannot be trusted.

It’s origins seem to go back as the 3rd century and involve a menagerie of scorpions, frogs, toads, turtles, snakes and people. I like the scorpion and the fox version, partly because I have difficulties with speaking frogs (it’s a Kermit thing), but mainly for the You Tube video I’ve linked to at the end.

The Scorpion and the Fox story goes along the following lines:

  • A fox and a scorpion both need to cross a river.
  • The scorpion asks the fox for a ride on its back as it cannot swim.
  • The fox refuses saying “no you’ll sting me”.
  • The scorpion replies that it wouldn’t, as it would damage the both of them.
  • The fox agrees and allows the scorpion to ride on it’s back.
  • Half way across the river the scorpion stings the fox.
  • As the poison takes effect on the fox and it starts to sink it asks the scorpion, “Why?”
  • “Why did you sting me, now we are both going to die?”
  • The scorpion replies, “I couldn’t help myself, it’s in my nature”.

Without compromising my desire to try to trust people, I think there is something in this about managing trust situations. Trust is good, but you need to reflect the nature of the ‘animal’ and the environment.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. If you go for the ‘trust everyone to do the right thing’ approach accept that you will feel some pain from time to time.
  2. To minimise the pain, it’s worth managing your exposure to reflect the risk from the person and the environment (if it’s going to fail, better to fail small and fail cheaply)
  3. On some occasions and in some situations (scorpions & swollen rivers) this might unfortunately mean saying no.

Enjoy The Scorpion and the Fox video from Laurence Haughton

Link to the video:

About WhatsthePONT

I'm currently in the middle of a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

4 Responses

  1. fishfear

    My dad told us boys this story with one twist. The fox and scorpion were stuck on a small island in the middle of a rising river.

    It’s very true and has proven to be spot on.


  2. Romi

    For me, this story is about seeing if I can trust someone’s nature. If the fox had stopped for a moment and thought ‘yeah, the nature of a scorpion is to sting and he won’t be able to stop himself, even if he wanted to..yeah, this definitely won’t end well. Best I say sorry old chap but the answer in NO!

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