Leave well enough alone

Leave well enough alone

You might have heard the remark, ‘Better leave well enough alone.’ It means to avoid attempts to improve what is already working well.

This comes across as a good tactic for successful living, but it implies much more than that. It constitutes a wholesome approach to life. The following story illustrates this well.

A soldier returning home found his path blocked by a monster. It looked weak and insignificant. The soldier, a hero of many a battle, struck it down and went his way. A little later, the monster appeared again. It looked stronger and was able to withstand the blows the soldier rained on it. The soldier walked away only to encounter it again in a more menacing form. This time it overcame the soldier and chased him down the path that he had traversed. When he reached the spot at which he had commenced his journey, he found that the monster had shrunk to its original, miserable size.

At that moment, another traveller appeared. The soldier narrated his tale and suggested that they attack the monster together. The traveller replied, ‘Just leave it alone. If you have dealings with something unpleasant when you don’t need to, it will only grow more unpleasant.’

At first this story seems to be an imaginative fairy tale. Closer study will reveal its powerful message. It points out that many of the problems and conflicts that we encounter in life begin as temptations. They may seem innocuous to begin with, but grow stronger if we draw close to them and have dealings with them in any way.

Temptations are present in every facet of life. A healthy body is largely the result of avoiding rich foods, maintaining cleanliness and exercising. The world of drugs throws us on especially treacherous grounds. Trying them just once can ensnare the individual and turn him into a victim. Temptations make inroads into the field of mental activity as well.

In order to gain success, students resort to cheating in exams or forging false certificates. In the workplace, unfair means are employed to gain recognition. Many accept bribes as they are an easy way of making quick money and leading a lavish life.

Pitfalls abound in the spiritual realm as well. We know of the fake gurus who masquerade as spiritual masters. Once in their clutches, the victim loses his or her power of reasoning. While they must be exposed and punished, it must be recognised that temptation cannot be rooted out completely. It is an ever-present fact of life.

This is because the human being is a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. We know that the noblest people who walked the earth have had to wrestle with their own internal demons. The names of Jesus, Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi come to mind.  To sum up, goodness is not the absence of temptation. It is the courage to ignore it and overcome it. It is to leave well enough alone.

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