by S M Chen  |  2 October 2019  |

“Man is his own worst enemy.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), Roman orator


Much as we may try, we humans always seem to fall short.

Other cultures recognize this, and even pay homage to the notion.

In my hallway, I have a small carpet, about 2.5 x 3.5 feet. Red (from pomegranate juice, which stains deeply and holds color) with touches of green and white, the pile is short. It can be rolled up with ease and is about the right size to be carried about by a devout Muslim, who will unfurl it five times a day, place it on the floor or ground, face Mecca, and do obeisance.

This carpet has a geometric pattern, and was likely woven by Turkmen women. While a work of undeniable wonder, it has a few deliberate flaws, for its weavers believed “only Allah is perfect.”

Some of us have been victimized by others. By circumstances. By “acts of God.” By things beyond our control.

But what of those adverse consequences of our own doing?

I posit that many, if not most, have experienced wounds of self-affliction. I certainly include myself in this regard, and cast no stones.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, British poet (1844-1889) penned a poem: “Spring and Fall: to a young child,” which closes with these words: “It is the blight man was born for/It is Margaret you mourn for.” The human condition since the Fall.

Walt Kelley, cartoonist creator of “Pogo” has one of his characters say, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Had they been able to gaze down the long corridors of subsequent Earth history, with its millennia of pain, sorrow, misery, and death, our first parents might have considered twice before partaking of forbidden fruit. But they did not have that foresight. They had not yet become as gods, being able to know both good and evil.

That would only come later, and it was certainly not all good.

The serpent did not tell Eve that.

It is telling that, when found out, the couple did not don the mantle of accountability. It may have been no accident that a snake was allowed to be the medium of temptation. Like those of a boa, the coils of the consequence of transgression had already encircled them and begun to constrict.

Adam blamed Eve (and, inferentially, the Almighty, who had given her to him).

Eve blamed the serpent for deceiving her.

The serpent? We have no record he spoke again after the encounter in Eden.


I have a friend who is practically a walking example of self-affliction.

Browsing in a grocery store one day, she decided to sample some table grapes before buying the bunch. The insecticide with which they had been sprayed was undetectable. Like the forbidden fruit in Eden, the taste was good.

Once home, while putting away groceries, she continued nibbling on the purple grapes. Like some junk food, it was hard to eat just one. It did not occur to her that they were unwashed. Or, if it did, she ignored the thought.

She ended up in the ER.

Some might consider this to be karma—not instant, but close.

Hangnails are not that uncommon. Many of us have them from time to time but, for most, they are little more than a nuisance. She found one on a finger one day and decided to clip it. Too aggressive with the nail clipper. The digit later swelled and became red. In Urgent Care, the finger was soaked in iodine and systemic antibiotics prescribed.

An insect bite on a leg was scratched, and became infected. Another visit to a healthcare facility.

This is not to denigrate my friend. She is normally quite careful and doesn’t seem overly accident-prone.

But she has had a spate of bad luck and now thinks twice before acting. She is also growing older and becoming more forgetful. Another blight G M Hopkins might have written about, had he lived long enough to experience such personally.

She recognizes her propensity for self-harm and even jokingly refers to a bad outcome as possibly “self-inflicted.”

At least she can laugh.


And what of those who die taking selfies, or who are injured or die while tending a cellphone while driving? Can anything be that important, to risk a life (of self and possibly others)?

If one queries a perpetrator, they invariably answer in the negative. Yet often continue perpetrating.

Someone once defined the difference between genius and stupidity thusly: “Genius has its limits.”

The takeaway for curmudgeons might be that this is an effective way of cleansing the gene pool. Said perpetrator might become a candidate for the so-called Darwin Awards, given those who most creatively and outlandishly depart our planet at their own hand.


David Hume, Scottish philosopher (1711-1776), once explained man’s condition (and destiny) thusly:

We are either predetermined (as in Calvinism), in which event we are not responsible (or accountable), or we are subject to random events in the universe, in which case we are also not accountable.

Were that true, that would be a source of comfort to some. We could breathe a collective sigh of relief and go eat, drink and make merry, for tomorrow we die. And there may be no day after tomorrow.


But most of us believe things are not that tidy.

What we think, matters. For those thoughts become actions. And both impact whether we will bleat with the proverbial sheep or the goats at a future time.

Meanwhile, the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says “Lead us not into temptation” seems almost unnecessary. Most of us can find it all too well on our own, thank you.

On my refrigerator door sit several magnets. On one is a quote by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Irish poet and playwright. It reads: “I can resist everything but temptation.” Without that vertical connection, we, too, will have difficulty.


On another note, we’re close to an election year for President of the United States (POTUS). Our current POTUS will likely be the putative candidate for one major party.

For the other party, even with some dropouts, there are still an unprecedented number of contenders.

Despite his verbal gaffes, Joe Biden remains a frontrunner. He seems to be a favorite of African-Americans and seniors, at least. Only time will tell whether he prevails in his quest to be the party’s nominee.

Of his gaffes, one sympathetic pundit observed, “His head may be out to lunch, but his heart is in the right place.”

On that note, it is well to regard my prayer rug and remember the sentiment behind its flaws.


S.M. Chen writes from California.

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