Ever heard of “The Tortoise and the Hare” or “The Good Samaritan?” Of course. The first is an example of a fable; the second, an example of a parable.
Both parables and fables are short stories containing timeless wisdom or moral lessons for the readers. Whereas parables contain human characters only, fables are known to have animals, trees, or other objects imbued with supernatural abilities (such as talking).
Parables often have a spiritual or religious aspect, whereas fables stay away from religion. However, there are certainly parables that are not religious, such as “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and many which have been written more recently.
You’ve probably read some modern-day fables and parables without thinking much about the fact that they are akin to “The Prodigal Son” (written thousands of years ago). Here are a few that come to mind (most are national best-sellers)
*Who Moved My Cheese? (Dr. Spencer Johnson) – NY Times Business Best-seller
*The One Minute Manager (Kenneth H. Blanchard)
*Several books by Og Mandino (sold over 50 million copies of his books)
*The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea (John David Mann & Bob Burg)
*Wink: A Modern Day Parable of Wealth Beyond Words (Roger James Hamilton)
AND, last but not least, one I very recently devoured (and highly recommend):
*The Traveler’s Gift: Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success by Andy Andrews
“A story is something that comes from outside. But the meaning is something that emerges from within,” writes author Steve Denning. “When a story reaches our hearts with deep meaning, it takes hold of us. Once it does so, we can let it go, and yet it remains with us. We do not weary of this experience.”
Basically, the aim of a parable is to convey complicated moral truths in such a way that they become relatable, understandable to one’s own life.
There’s a very good reason that every GOOD speaker you’ve heard almost always starts off with a little story, either humorous or like a parable.
I have heard no less than five speakers/presenters use the following (maybe you have, too):
An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life…
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old chief simply replied,
“The one you feed.”
Parables have been told for thousands of years across every culture.
A fable includes a simple conflict and a resolution, followed by a maxim. The moral of a fable—an overarching rule to live by that transcends the specifics of the story—is usually stated at the end.
As a leader, you have an intention of challenging people to be more—more courageous, motivated, compassionate, authentic, confident, successful, and so forth. A parable can help a person quickly grasp a life-changing “universal truth” and step in the direction of positive change.
Your influence as a leader will be bolstered when you select, memorize, and tell a parable or fable here and there.
Better yet—write your own fable or parable!
- Define your target reader and then decide if your story will be about humans dealing with real life (a parable), or if you want to put on your Aesop’s creative cap and make up a fable.
- Make a list of four or five “universal truths” that you have conviction for.
- Choose ONE for this “moral of the story.”
For example, in The Go Giver, the moral lesson can be boiled down to this: The secret to success is giving.
A universal truth is a bit of wisdom that we seem to recognize at a cellular level. We’ve almost certainly heard it before, but not the exact same way that you are telling it. Not in the relatable way that allows us to access it, embrace it, have it transform our habitual way of thinking.
As you decide on your lesson focus, don’t settle for something trite. Consider the consequences. What might happen as a result of behaving (or not behaving) according to your moral lesson? The graver the consequence, the more profound the “secret.”
- Decide on your characters (usually one or two main ones). Maybe a few others have roles, but not a whole cast that will ruin the simplicity of your story.
- Make a list of the mini lessons to be learned along the way to ultimate understanding.
I’ve seen authors call them “secrets” or “decisions” or “cures” or “laws.”
In The Go-Giver, the protagonist has to learn several mini lessons before he finally understands that one big moral lesson at the end: The secret to success is giving.
The mini lessons are the sign posts that must be encountered to create a satisfying narrative arc, and to lead your reader (and protagonist) to a full understanding.
- Write a beginning, middle, and end. All stories follow a basic beginning-middle-end structure, and parables are no exception. The beginning sets the stage and tells us who all the main characters are while establishing the problem, the result of not understanding our moral lesson. How is the main character’s life falling apart because he has not gotten the KEY to life yet? What is he about to lose because he doesn’t understand how things really work
In the middle, we build on the problem; face a series of conflicts; and in the end, we learn about the results of that conflict. We come to a new understanding.
The story is the journey. Perhaps a “ghost of Christmas Past” or another guide leads your main character to what they must discover.
Finally, show us how life changes for our protagonist when he finally understands the big moral lesson. How does his life improve? Show us what that looks like, how that feels.
Parables are powerful ways to communicate important lessons in your role as a leader in business, your community, or family. Follow this simple framework for success.
Leadership and management fads may come and go, but storytelling is a phenomenon that is fundamental to all nations, societies and cultures, and has been so since time immemorial.
To tell your story, get connected with Archer Inspired Learning.