Yesterday my son grabbed onto my knee and pulled me over to squat on the floor in front of his little library. Amidst works of Dr. Seuss, Max Lucado, Clifford and Donald Duck he pulled out “The Little Red Hen”. The story in this book has no author; it is a timeless folk tale reprinted by “Little Golden Book” classics; published by Random House in New York.
We all know this story. The little red hen found a grain of wheat, and immediately decided to plant it. After planting came reaping, and after reaping came milling, and after milling came kneading, and after kneading came baking. Throughout this process the little red hen asked her neighbors “who will help me” and got the unanimous response “NOT I”. Finally came the day for eating; a task that everybody wanted to share – but a task reserved alone for those who participated in the process. The little red hen ate alone.
The moral of the story is simple; in order to eat you must work.
Naturally in the modern world the Red Hen is branded a capitalist villain and a selfish industrialist; who despite having plenty of food is unwilling to share it. To the second-hand dealers this story has only one page – the last one. How the hen got the food and how the others ended up hungry is of no consequence; it’s the emergency of the moment that really matters, isn’t it?
I am often surprised that the greatest wisdom comes in such simple vehicles. A child’s story, with perhaps 500 words total conveys so much about life and how to live it. Economists and historians and philosophers write great tomes to try and confuse people; to make us feel stupid in the hopes that we stop trying to understand and allow them uncontested rule. They go to great lengths to muddy the waters to make them appear deep.
The Little Red Hen cuts through the quagmire of PhDs and Nobel Prizes as it reminds us of the timeless truths that do not change. Humanity is always in search of shortcuts to the old ways. Very often the truths we hold self-evident are branded tired prejudices and discarded. When this happens, we need only pick up the old children’s books to remind ourselves of our responsibilities to ourselves – and to each other – in a prosperous society.
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