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You might’ve thought that after 2500 years, they’d be insightful enough to give the poor Shepherd’s Boy a break. Or at least quit going around saying to school children everywhere that he was just quite simply a liar and deserved what he got.
But parents and teachers, struggling to teach the consequences of lying, are perhaps scared of being blamed by the kids, sitting in front of their psychiatrists, for making them into liars, unless they stick to the 2500-year-old-moral-of-the-story. Or maybe since that’s the way the fable has been told for centuries, it’s difficult to think of it any other way.
So “a liar will not be believed even when he speaks the truth” is the only moral to the story of The Shepherd’s Boy that they tell. They leave out the difficult part that requires them to take action and effort and go deeper into the Shepherd’s Boy troubling behavior.
For a refresher, here’s how the story goes.
From Aesop’s Fables: The Shepherd’s Boy
There was once a young Shepherd Boy who tended his sheep at the foot of a mountain near a dark forest.
It was rather lonely for him all day, so he thought upon a plan by which he could get a little company and some excitement.
He rushed down towards the village calling out, “Wolf, Wolf,” and the villagers came out to meet him, and some of them stopped with him for a considerable time.
This pleased the boy so much that a few days afterwards he tried the same trick, and again the villagers came to his help.
But shortly after this a Wolf actually did come out from the forest, and began to worry the sheep, and the boy of course cried out “Wolf, Wolf,” still louder than before.
But this time the villagers, who had been fooled twice before, thought the boy was again deceiving them, and nobody stirred to come to his help.
So the Wolf made a good meal off the boy’s flock, and when the boy complained, the wise man of the village said:
“A liar will not be believed even when he speaks the truth.”
The villagers heap blame on the Shepherd’s Boy, smacking the-liar-liar-pants-on-fire label on him and walking away. But the Shepherd boy is undeserving of the total burden of blame.
What Goes Unrecognized by the Villagers
What goes unrecognized is this Shepherd’s Boy is a child. He cries out in boredom … the real reason he cries out to the villagers. “It was rather lonely for him all day, so he thought upon a plan by which he could get a little company and some excitement,” according to the fable. But that goes unacknowledged by the villagers as they brush that aside to only know him as a liar.
The What Ifs
What if the villagers had acknowledged his boredom?
What if the villagers recognized his agonizing loneliness?
What if they showed him ways to alleviate his boredom and loneliness and taught him acceptable ways to get attention?
What if they rewarded and celebrated him for being a good, quiet, brave Shepherd’s Boy, struggling to mind his flock?
What if the villagers simply asked themselves: what drives the Shepherd’s Boy behavior? And what can we do to interrupt it and teach acceptable behaviors?
What if the villagers asked themselves to examine their own behaviors and how it continued to drive the Shepherd’s Boy unacceptable behavior?
What if the Shepherd’s Boy was given the job of sheep shaver, a more active task, instead of the sedentary job of sheep watcher?
Then the moral of the story would have been different. The slaughtered sheep would have been saved. The Shepherd’s Boy's integrity would have been saved. Teaching and learning opportunities would have been seized.
If only … the villagers had recognized the real problem, they would have felt better about themselves and the boy. If only …
A Creative Way to Reimagine the Moral of Boy Who Cried Wolf
It takes a village, a community, a society, all advocating to meet all the needs of our children.
A Creative Way to Reimagine Oatmeal with Oatmeal Wolf
What you will need to serve one Oatmeal Wolf
1 cup of milk
¼ cup quick cook steel cut oatmeal
Dash of sea salt
1 pat of butter
2 Tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 strawberries, sliced lengthwise
How to prepare Oatmeal Wolf
Bring milk to the brink of boiling in a saucepan on the stovetop. Add oatmeal, sea salt, butter, honey, and vanilla extract. Reduce heat to medium low and stir to combine well.
Gently cook about 7 minutes, stirring frequently. When oatmeal mixture gets as thick as you like it, turn off heat, put a lid on top of the saucepan, and allow to cool a few minutes.
Meanwhile, slice 2 strawberries lengthwise.
Serve oatmeal in a bowl, topped with strawberries for the eyebrows and cheeks, blueberries for the eyes and nose, and a raspberry mouth.
A new way to imagine, prepare, and serve oatmeal! Enjoy!
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