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A tale with its origins in an Indian folktale that speaks about personal responsibility

The bones of the story:

  • Old man or woman is considered the wise person of the village
  • Village children decide to test wisdom. To do this, the catch a bird, hide it in hands behind back and ask two questions.
  • First, what do we have behind the back?
  • Guesses correctly – a bird (sees feather floating to ground)
  • Second, is it alive or dead?
  • Note: explain rationale of children – if answer is “alive”, they will crush the bird to death, if the answer is “dead”, they will set it free. Think that there is no correct answer.
  • Wise person responds: it’s in your hands.
  • I tend to stop here but you could add more content about the children realising how right the answer is etc.

Listen to a version of the story:

Listen now


  • MacDonald, Margaret Read – Earth Care, p 124
  • Tobin, Susan, in Spinning tales, weaving hope : stories of peace, justice & the environment. P 1.
  • Zeitlin, Steve and Jaffe, Nina, in Because God Loves Stories (ed Zeitlin, S). P 220.
  • In 1985, the tale was told by Ned Anderson, Tribal Chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe when representing the interracial council of Arizona before the United States Congress House Select Committee on Aging – see here.
  • In 1971, Fanie Lou Hamer used the tale in a speech – see here.
  • In 1993, Toni Morrison used the tale in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech – see here.