In a small community shaken by shocking violence that left a beloved turtle in critical condition, and a notoriously violent scorpion stuck in their town, old wounds are being torn open as that same scorpion seeks redemption – and help.
It was a year ago that the turtle generously – and against the advice of many friends – offered to give the scorpion a ride across the river. “I knew the risks,” explained the turtle, “but he assured me that, despite his reputation, it was not in his best interest to harm me, as he needed me to get across the river. I guess I just believed that the obvious logic of our relationship would override his natural impulse to sting and kill. And I was crossing the river anyway, so I didn’t see any harm in helping him out.”
“That’s so like him,” reported a local chipmunk. “He was just always helping out, seeing the best in any critter, even when it seemed plain to folk that he was being taken for a ride of his own.”
The scorpion, during the trial that resulted in his shocking acquittal and release, admitted at the time that he specifically told the turtle that he would not sting or harm him because he needed the turtle in order to get across the river. According to his testimony, the ride was going swimmingly and they were within striking distance of the shore when his natural instincts to sting just took over. He struck the turtle, releasing neurotoxins that caused immediate paralysis and cardiopulmonary shock in the turtle. Fortunately, a troupe of Lizard Scouts were practicing outdoor skills on the shore and were able to rescue the turtle and apprehend the scorpion.
The trial nearly tore the normally peaceful town apart. While it was clear to nearly everyone that the scorpion’s behavior defied both the law as well as universally held ideals of acceptable behavior, he was ultimately acquitted on the grounds of “unavoidable nature.”
As a result, he was not only allowed to remain free, but it was illegal for residents to discriminate against him in his search for both housing and employment. Making matters worse, he was stuck in the new town because, although he wanted to cross the river and return home, he could not do it without help, and no one was willing to help him, in light of the turtle incident. There were no legal reasons for the scorpion to address his nature or change his behavior, which made the town’s collective critters collectively uneasy.
“I don’t want to be ignant,” remarked a local fox, “but for real, your nature can be whatever your nature is, don’t make no mind to me. But when you get down to it, you gots to decide to not hurt folk. I’m not even sayin’ you gots to help them, just don’t hurt them. And I’m sorry as sittin’ in church on a sunny Sunday, any grown fool can decide to change his behavior, no matter his nature. He aint’ done nothin’ to show us he’s changed, so I aint’ gonna hurt him, but I aint’ got no interest in helpin’ him neither.”
That sentiment was widely echoed in nests and burrows alike, creating the conundrum these critters currently face.
Almost a year later, the scorpion is feeling the cold loneliness of a creature who has alienated those around him. He admits that he has not been able to form strong friendships, the relationships he does have appear to be motivated by fear more than anything else, and he says that he feels misunderstood. He wants to return home, to the other side of the river, but is unable to do so on his own. He either needs another creature to ferry him across, which is what the turtle was doing when the scorpion seriously wounded him. Or he needs to rally support for a proposed bridge that would enable residents on both sides of the river to cross freely.
The scorpion knows it’s an upstream battle. Which is why he is now trying to set aside his stinger and come out of his proverbial shell.
We sat down with the scorpion, in an interview that he says is the beginning of his attempt to change the impression that people have of him following the infamous turtle attack.
“I think that if I can get folks to understand that my behavior is the result of instinct, nature and training, maybe they will see me as more than just this one thing,” he explains. “Look, I’m a scorpion, and I approach things like a scorpion. I don’t always mean to, and I try my best, but sometimes, it just happens. It’s not my fault. And you also have to understand that my parents, and their parents and everyone who bred and raised me behaves this same way. So it’s not like I intend to do harm, it just happens sometimes. I’m not bad.”
Indeed, one local expert agrees that it is not wise to judge behavior without looking at the roots of the behavior. “However,” she cautions, “this does not excuse the behavior, it is simply a useful predictor of future behavior that helps you to decide what, if any, relationship you wish to have with any creature prone to such behavior.” In other words, whether it was the scorpion’s “fault” or not, he is clearly predisposed to cause harm, and that should be taken into consideration when relating to him. Further, others with a similar predisposition – whether genetic or the result of upbringing – should be evaluated with similar caution.
And, she explains, “whether or not someone meant to sting you doesn’t make the sting hurt any less. Clearly, the turtle’s cardiopulmonary system would have gone into shock from the venom, even if the venom was released unintentionally.”
“I am really sorry that the turtle was harmed,” implored the scorpion. “He really didn’t deserve it, and I wish I could have stopped myself, but it’s my nature, and I just couldn’t fight it.”
He continued, “This has really messed things up for me, and I’m starting to see how this last stinging may end up stinging me as much as anyone else. I know that if I can’t change my behavior, start thinking about how other critters are impacted by it, I’m going to be alone, here, on the wrong side of the river. But what can I do to change, and let folks know that I’m trying?”
According to our expert, changing behavior is easier than changing minds, but being direct is a good first step. “The first thing that he needs to do is directly acknowledge that stinging the turtle caused great pain to many critters who are now justifiably afraid of him. Make no excuses, simply acknowledge how his behavior hurt them, and ask for their help in changing.”
“She says we should do what?” exclaimed a shocked fox. “Help him change? She been eatin’ them shrooms again?”
But our expert is adamant that we all carry the potential to change, and that by positively rewarding the positive changes, the scorpion will find great benefit in changing his behavior. Theoretically, the power of the positive rewards will overpower the impulses of his nature and result in relationships that he values more than he values his previous habits.
This may solve more than one problem. While it will obviously help the scorpion by providing him with the friends, relationship and future that he wants, it may help bring the community together as well. According to our expert, “relationships formed around honest dialog and willingness to grow and change towards a shared and positive goal tend to bring out the best in everyone.”
“I just want to be a better scorpion. My parents didn’t teach me how, my whole species is pretty messed up, but I think that if I am given a chance, I can set aside the stinger and take a lesson from the turtle. If nothing else, I’d like some help getting across the river, and maybe I can show all the critters in these parts that I can accept help without hurting anything. And if that’s the end of it, then they’ll all know that they don’t have to fear me. And maybe it will set a better example for all the little scorpions in the future. I can be like the Molting Slither King Jr. of Scorpions. Of course, if no one wants to give me a ride, then I’m going to dedicate myself to collecting everything we need to build a bridge, and maybe get it done that way. And that will be a good legacy.”
Ironically, help may come from the most unlikely of places. The turtle that was originally harmed in the shocking attack is heading back over the river next week.
“Yes, I’m thinking about giving him a ride,” the turtle confirmed. “My kin are not happy with me, at all, but I think it’s in my nature to trust.”
“For the turtle, the rewards of trusting are greater than the risks. He is clearly someone who feels that his life is enriched by connecting with others, and that is more powerful to him than the occasional stinging event,” explains our expert. “It’s not easy to change nature, but he could and would change the trusting behavior if it wasn’t worth it to him. We’re seeing that with the scorpion, who has acknowledged a desire to change because the results of his behavior are causing him pain. The turtle seems to feel that the rewards of trust carry more weight than the pain of having that trust broken occasionally.”
“I just don’t think he’d do it again,” the turtle calmly stated. “And to be very frank with you, I think it would be harder for me to learn how to not trust than to just keep doing what I’m doing. I know his nature now, but I also know his intent to change his behavior. If I don’t give him a chance, who will?”
We’ll keep you posted as new developments arise. The crossing is tentatively slated for the end of next week. When asked about the potential need to build a bridge if he didn’t get a ride, the scorpion did have a surprising response. “Well, I suppose that bridge could be built from either side of the river, no reason why the scorpions on my side of the river can’t band together and do it, and maybe it will be like an offering for us, like a way to all cross to a future that we all get along in, ya know?”
“What’s next? The leopard gonna be changing his spots?,” snapped the fox.
Maybe. Either way, there seems to be a lot of growth on both sides of the river. Maybe something good can come out of this violent act, even if it’s just an understanding of how we can work together to build bridges between our nature and our behavior, and build “a future that we can all get along in, ya know?”