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Apr 23

Why we don’t change

Perhaps you have heard this story about a frog and a scorpion:

One day a frog was sitting happily by the side of the river when a scorpion came along.

“Oh Mr. Frog,” said the scorpion, “I need to get to the other side of the river to be with my family. Will you please carry me across?”

“But Mr. Scorpion, if I do that, then you will sting me!” replied the frog, somewhat aghast at the request.

“No, I won’t,” said the scorpion.

“Do you promise?” asked a rather doubtful frog.

“I really promise–I will not sting you,” said the scorpion.

“Okay,” the frog said reluctantly. “Hop on.”

The scorpion climbed on top of the frog’s back and they set off. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog.

In horror, the frog, unable to continue swimming and with both of them about to drown, finally managed to gasp, “Please, Mr. Scorpion, just tell me one thing before we both go under. Just tell me why, when you promised you would not, why, oh why did you sting me?”

“Because it is my nature,” replied the scorpion.

With no intention of being derogatory to scorpions, this story shows how the nature of the scorpion appears unchangeable and fixed. It has no choice regarding its behavior because it is a scorpion; that is simply the way it is.

And most of us think we are just the same. We think we cannot change, that we are the way we are and that’s that–this is who I am and I cannot change and I won’t change! But where a scorpion is not necessarily able to act any differently, we can. We do have choices. We do not have to be the way we think we are; we can actually be and act differently. In the nineteenth century, philosopher William James said, “The great revolution in our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

And we do so long for change, to be different, to be healthier or happier than we are–the grass always seems to be so much greener elsewhere. Or we want to change the world so that women are not abused and there is less violence and poverty. . . .

It can appear relatively simple to make changes in the world, while making changes in our own lives can seem far more overwhelming. It takes courage to move from a familiar and known place to one that is different or without reference points, as it means stepping outside of our usual comfort zone.

So what is it that stops us from changing? What keeps us locked in ourselves, stuck in small-mindedness, thinking our view is the only view that matters? Invariably, it is the ego, the most talked-about yet least understood of our human features. The ego gives us a strong sense of ourselves; it is the “me” part. This is neither good nor bad, except when self-centeredness dominates our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of life. A positive sense of self gives us confidence and purpose, but a more negative and selfish aspect of the ego makes us unconcerned with other people’s feelings; it thrives on the idea of me-first and impels us to cry out, “What about me? What about my feelings?”

By Ed and Deb Shapiro

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