I'm looking for a famous idiom or saying that conveys the meaning:

Life helps us sometimes by giving us something that we can build upon, but we develop it into something bad, harmful or destructive.

The original saying in my first language, Arabic, portrays this image:

Every time the days give us "the body of a spear", we mount a "head" on it.

The body of a spear, or a rod, can be useful as it could be used, for example, to put up a tent. But once it has a head added to it, it becomes a weapon.

  • I wonder if that saying always carried that meaning? Perhaps when the idea of having a spear at your disposal was a good thing, it was more equivalent to "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade"? :) Just speculating, of course... Meanwhile, one very tangentially related idiom is "The love of money is the root of all evil", related in the sense that you get something neutral or even good, and turn it to something bad. – Luke Sawczak Nov 27 '17 at 14:14
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    I tend to think the lemon saying is different from the Arabic saying in that a lemon represents something unfavorable (though I'm not sure about this), whereas the body of a spear represents something valuable. – Sara Nov 27 '17 at 15:19
  • Fair enough! Though a body of a spear without a head may not be of much use. :p – Luke Sawczak Nov 27 '17 at 15:21
  • You've got a point there. Nowadays, it wouldn't be of much use. But back then, a thousand years ago, when the saying appeared, a spear with a head was a tool of destruction (or bad use), and so a rod, in comparison, was percieved to be potentially of more good use or benefit. – Sara Nov 27 '17 at 15:30

I can't think of any English aphorism that directly mirrors this. The closest seems to be:

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

but this is not quite the same thing. There's also Murphy's Law:

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong

but this is more a comment on the cruelty of Fate, rather than human nature. Another related aphorism:

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

which implies that, in the interest of "doing good", people often are willing to compromise their morals and allow some -- and eventually a great deal of -- evil action. Again, not quite the same.

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    Some great suggestions here. Some more "not quite" options: "Give him an inch and he'll take a mile" or "One bad apple spoils the bunch" – Luke Sawczak Nov 27 '17 at 14:18

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