Children's Stories About Cooperation

Greater Than the Sum of the Parts

Aesop's fables abound with stories about the importance of working together and the dangers of going it alone. Here is a guide to his fables about cooperation, arranged by theme. 

01
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The Dangers of Squabbling

Vulture against blue sky.
Image courtesy of Stefan van Bremen.

Ironically, cooperation may be the best way to serve our self-interest, as these three fables show:

  • The Ass and His Shadow.  In a sunny land evidently devoid of trees, buildings, and umbrellas, two people argue about who's entitled to rest in the shadow of a donkey. They come to blows, and as they fight, the donkey runs away. Now nobody gets the shade.
  • The Ass and the Mule. A donkey begs a mule to help lighten his load, but the mule refuses. When the donkey falls down dead under his heavy burden, the driver places the donkey's load on top of the mule's already heavy burden. Then he skins the donkey and throws the hide on top of the mule's double load for good measure. The mule realizes, too late, that he'd have a lighter load if he'd been willing to help when he was asked.
  • The Lion and the Boar. A lion and a boar get into an argument about who should drink first from a well. Then they notice a group of vultures in the distance, waiting to eat whichever should die first in the quarrel, and they realize they'd be better off as friends than as vulture food.
02
of 03

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Row of dark sticks against white background.
Image courtesy of Ricardo Diaz.

Aesop's fables emphasize the importance of sticking together (apologies for the pun).

  • The Bundle of Sticks. A father on his deathbed shows his sons a bundle of sticks and asks them to try to snap it in half. Each son tries, and each son fails. Then the father asks them to untie the bundle and try to break a single stick. Of course, the individual sticks easily break. The moral is that the sons will be stronger together than if they go their separate ways, but what I like about this version is its subtlety. Instead of explaining his point, the father simply says, "You see my meaning."
  • The Father and His Sons. This is the same story as the bundle of sticks, with two important stylistic differences. First, the language is more elegant. For instance, the father's lesson is described as "a practical illustration of the evils of disunion." Second, in this version the father explicitly explains his point.  
  • The Four Oxen and the Lion. So what happens to people (or oxen) who don't follow the advice in "The Bundle of Sticks"? They become intimately acquainted with the teeth of lion.
03
of 03

Power of Persuasion

Reeds in the sun.
Image courtesy of Jyrki Salmi.

Flexibility and persuasion are an important part of cooperation, especially when you're the only one who wants to cooperate.

  • The North Wind and the Sun. The wind and the sun vie to see which can provoke a traveler to remove his clothing. The harder the wind blows, the closer the traveler wraps his cloak around him. In contrast, the warmth of the sun's gentle rays convinces the traveler to undress and bathe in a nearby stream. So, gentle persuasion proves more effective than force.
  • The Oak and the Reeds. A strong oak tree, felled by the wind, marvels that the small, weak reeds are unscathed. But the reeds explain that their strength comes from their willingness to bend -- a lesson in being flexible.
  • The Trumpeter Taken Prisoner. A military trumpeter is taken prisoner by the enemy. He begs them to spare his life, saying that he has never slain anyone. But his captors tell him that he is even worse than a combatant because "his trumpet stirs all the others to battle." It's a grim tale, but it makes a powerful point about the importance of leadership.

Win-Win

As Aesop's timeless fables make clear, when we cooperate everybody wins. But when we fail to cooperate, there's a very good chance that we're all going to lose.
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Sustana, Catherine. "Children's Stories About Cooperation." ThoughtCo, May. 21, 2017, thoughtco.com/childrens-stories-about-cooperation-2990513. Sustana, Catherine. (2017, May 21). Children's Stories About Cooperation. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/childrens-stories-about-cooperation-2990513 Sustana, Catherine. "Children's Stories About Cooperation." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/childrens-stories-about-cooperation-2990513 (accessed November 19, 2017).