Everyone knows the Stock Aesops: Be Yourself; appreciate what you have; people are more important than things; follow your dreams. Sometimes, these morals contradict each other, but nobody is surprised to see any of them in a story. However, sometimes a story aims to teach a lesson well outside the pale of accepted wisdom. For example, "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished", "Growing Up Sucks, but it's an essential part of life", "You may have to Be a Whore to Get Your Man" or "Sometimes Violence Really Is the Answer". Those are hard lessons: they may be true, but they leave the audience feeling just a bit uncomfortable.
Aesops like these are — at the least — subjective. Sometimes an author thinks they're delivering a hard truth, but the audience sees it as common knowledge, or vice versa. Since one person's hard truth is another's dangerous falsehood, examples belong on this page regardless of whether their Aesops are objectively true, and regardless of how much the audience is convinced that they are. The important thing is that the Aesop is a bitter pill to swallow, and something parents probably wouldn't want their kids learning, even if it is true.
Note that a Hard Truth Aesop doesn't have to be pessimistic, just surprising and unconventional. For example, "Peer pressure is good for you because it convinces you to try new things" (or conversely, "Rejecting the wisdom of the crowd could end badly")." Presentation can also turn a stock Aesop into a hard truth: for instance, Good People Have Good Sex almost always gets a friendlier reception from Moral Guardians than You Need to Get Laid, though both promote sex as a good thing.
A Hard Truth Aesop is not the same as a Clueless Aesop, which is a moral (usually a common one) presented so ineffectively that the audience either misses the point or doesn't find it at all persuasive. When delivered straight and effectively, the Hard Truth Aesop jolts the audience entirely because the message they hear is exactly the one the writers put in.
Due to Values Dissonance, a moral that was once a hard truth may now either be seen as a Captain Obvious Aesop, especially morals about social mores and civil rights (see Fair for Its Day), or alternatively as a discredited one, especially morals regarding child-rearing (which often comes off as promoting child abuse to a modern audience). This list is for morals that can be hard to stomach even for the culture for which they were written. Beware falling anvils.
Contrast Don't Shoot the Message, where even those who agree with the Aesop hate the presentation.
Note: Not every work has an Aesop. There is a difference between 'depiction' and 'endorsement': a character behaving in a certain way does not necessarily mean the work promotes said behavior (for the character or the audience). If you are drawing an absurd moral from a story which doesn't attempt to teach one, take it to Warp That Aesop on Darth Wiki.
Works with their own pages:
- Baki the Grappler: Fighting with an honorable sportsman mentality is fine, but in the harsh world of street fighting and grapplers if you aren't a Combat Pragmatist willing to put your life on the line you are gonna be beaten to a bloody pulp or outright killed. That's what the Ali Jr. arc was seemingly aiming at
- Beastars has a couple of characters state out loud:
- Pacifism is noble, but it only matters coming from someone strong enough to defend themselves, as Gosha tells Legosi. Furthermore, there are times where you're going to have to fight if you want to protect yourself or others you care about.
- Not every evil deed can be explained away with a Freudian Excuse. Legosi vainly searches for a reason behind Melon's mass-murdering, only to realize that there is none.
- No matter how uncomfortable they are, societal and systemic problems need to be brought into the light so they can be properly discussed and solved.
- Differences between groups aren't just skin deep, and societal progress can't be made without understanding that.
- Black Clover: When Yuno and Asta ask the Wizard King about what they must do to achieve his rank, he answers that nothing is more important than producing results, and he came to be the current Wizard King due to producing more and better results than any other of the captains. While the manga makes clear that effort and kindness are important, this is also a very pragmatic way to see the world.
- Bloom Into You has an example in the School Play that the main characters are putting on in-universe. The play stars a girl who's lost her memory, and gets visits from three people close to her who see her three different ways- her schoolmate sees her as The Ace Student Council President, her brother sees her as an Aloof Big Sister, and her lover claims she has a vulnerable side that she only shows when they're together. Facing an identity crisis, the main character chooses to act the way her lover saw her as, thus sending a message that it's better to live the way someone else sees you than to be yourself. Because Touko, who plays the girl, has felt pressured to "become" her seemingly perfect sister after the latter's death in a car accident, Yuu convinces Koyomi to change the ending so that the main character's nurse convinces her to just be herself, resulting in the main character telling the other three that she intends to start over. Most of the student council besides Touko likes the new ending better, partly because they believe this outcome makes more sense.
- Bokurano has a few, which is unsurprising given the nature of the show.
- Kirie, having learned that every time you win, another universe is destroyed, talks with Tanaka, believing he cannot fight in light of that information. Tanaka essentially gives him two lessons. 1) People's lives are not equal, and when people are forced into a situation where they must choose one person's life or another's, they will choose the one they value more. 2) People exist because of sacrifice, from the plants and animals they eat every day to continue living, to the ones who died to ensure their standard of life, and even Jesus and the Buddha are no exception.
- The ending of Chizu's arc has her family understandably appalled at her killing innocent people in her quest for vengeance against Hatagai. In response, they decide not to press charges against Hatagai, sending the message that it's better to let the guilty escape than cause innocents to suffer through revenge.
- Bottom Tier Character Tomozaki:
- Oftentimes, Failure Is the Only Option. Even if you try your absolute hardest, you are not guaranteed success; almost always, there will be people that are better than you at the thing that you pour all your effort into and who can defeat you effortlessly. Life is a series of failures: the true test of character is how you pick yourself back up after a defeat, as Fumiya, Shuji, and Mimimi all learn at various times.
- You should try to Be Yourself, but doing it too much can be just as bad as being fake. Despite Fumiya becoming disillusioned at how much Aoi has masked her real self to the point where she can't even speak honestly to Takahiro when he spills his true feelings to her, he realizes that there's no good answer to whether you should Be Yourself or be something else entirely. While Aoi's habit of viewing social interaction as a game with a series of challenges has made her unable to truly relate to anyone else, using that mindset did lead to tangible self-improvement for Fumiya; when he attempts to be himself, he reverts to the friendless loser he was at the start of the series, and he ultimately ends up realizing just how much good that the game mindset did for him. In short, everyone has an outward image that they project to the world, and learning how to manage it and your true self is a challenge that can never be solved.
- Daisuki! BuBu ChaCha: Prolonged exposure may result in creepiness when your preschooler somehow ends up believing that one of his toys is the reincarnation of or is possessed by the spirit of the recently deceased family pet.
- Darwin's Game isn't shy about voicing its support for The Power of Friendship, but its take on it is far more pragmatic than idealistic—alliances are beneficial because they increase each party's chance of survival. And while the story shows that it's important to build strong relationships with as many people as possible, it also shows that you shouldn't show any mercy to those who threaten your friendships, just for the sake of keeping everyone safe. Most of what makes Kaname such an effective leader is his ability to be simultaneously merciful to his allies and ruthless to his enemies.
- Delicious in Dungeon:
- In Chapter 14, Laios is sure to be wrong about Anne the kelpie. Her friendship with Senshi means she would never attack him even though she's a monster, right? Wrong. She tries to eat him as soon as he gets on her back and the reader learns a brutal lesson about trusting wild creatures: just because they seem tame doesn't mean they can't turn on you in an instant. There's a big difference between "has never attacked" and "safe".
- Regarding Namari, most stories would penalize her for leaving Team Touden in Chapter 1 because they couldn't pay her fee. Here, however, she's treated as being in the right and Chilchuck even scolds Marcille for trying to make her return to the party later when she's on another job. She's not shamed for prioritizing her career and professional reputation over wanting to help old friends, which might damage her job prospects very badly in the future. It teaches the lesson that looking out for yourself is okay sometimes and you shouldn't bend to others if you know what they want is not right for you.
- Digimon Adventure 02 has an episode in which the Digidestined are trapped in an underwater rig that is slowly running out of air, with only one escape pod. Despite knowing that he's afraid of water, the kids coerce Cody into going, creating the Accidental Aesop of "it's okay to force your friends to have contact with their phobias - it'll help them!" Though, it is possible they just wanted him to go into the pod so he wouldn't have to stay trapped and underwater with them and, thus, be able to avoid his fear. (Note that this is dub-induced. The phobia is nonexistent in the original Japanese version.) Upon reaching the surface, he finds out that to get Joe's help, he'll have to lie, something Cody is deeply uncomfortable with, to the point that he later feels that he doesn't deserve the Digi-Egg of Reliability. This leads to the Once an Episode Aesop: that lying is sometimes perfectly okay if you have a good reason for doing it.
- At the end of Eden of the East, Akira (the hero) comments that the Japanese have great potential but need someone to rule them to unlock that potential. In the end, though, the series subverts this Aesop by more or less stating that while it might achieve great results, it would be wrong to do so. Similarly, Akira/the series seems to take the viewpoint that since national tragedies/catastrophes bring a country together, causing one is a great idea so long as you can figure out a way of doing it without killing anyone.
- In Fire Force, Shinra gets two harsh lessons related to his Warrior Therapist tendencies: some people, like Inca, don't want your help, and with others, such as Nataku, your help is not the best option for them to overcome their issues. In both cases, nothing can be done to change this, and the only thing for Shinra to do is help out too as much to an extent that he can.
- Fly Me to the Moon: As Kaname tells Aya, if you don't dare to tell your crush about your feelings, you deserve the heartbreak that will ensue when that crush inevitably chooses someone else. Aya never confessed to Nasa while they were in school together, so once she realizes that he and Tsubasa are married, she's heartbroken, but has to accept that she's missed her chance.
- Fullmetal Alchemist is the Trope Namer for Equivalent Exchange - you get in return what you put into something. Unfortunately, Real Life is far more complex than a simple exchange - the trope Hard Work Hardly Works exists for a reason. Dante in the 2003 anime has this to say about it:
Dante: Consider the state alchemy exam that you passed with flying colors. How many others took the test that day? Spent months, years preparing, some working much harder than you. Yet you were the only one who passed. Where was their reward? Is it their fault they lacked your natural talent?
- The famous ghost train episode of GeGeGe no Kitarō teaches that sometimes it's too late for second chances. The protagonist of the episode may have realized that his cruel behavior drove several of his employees to suicide, but there's nothing he can do to make it up to them — they're already dead and so is he, and Kitaro refuses to save him as their vengeful spirits drag him off to hell with them.
- Gleipnir turns the concept of The Power of Friendship on its head. Sure, close bonds between people can build good character, increase empathy and make lives better but it can also make people stoop to lows they normally wouldn't do to protect each other, and friendships can end up amplifying the involved parties' flaws instead of their good points.
- In Grave of the Fireflies (which takes place in the final year of World War II in Japan), all the adults the orphaned protagonist Seita meets tell him he needs to suck up his pride, go apologize to his aunt, and ask her to move back in so he can protect himself and his little sister. He's only fourteen, so he's too youthfully arrogant to understand that there are more important things than being right and that growing up means that sometimes you have to do things you don't want to survive, especially when you have someone else to take care of. Because Sieta refused to listen and go back to his aunt, both he and his little sister die.
- Higurashi: When They Cry:
- The moral of the Tsumihoroboshi-hen arc appears to be "friends help friends hide the bodies". But in a more directly stated example, it's okay to hide things from your friends if they don't need to know about it. Even though they're your friends, it doesn't require complete disclosure. While Higurashi certainly emphasizes the importance of trusting your friends, at this point, it acknowledges that there are some things people just can't tell others and shouldn't have to.
- Saikoroshi-hen (whether you accept it as All Just a Dream or not) seems to advocate a rather ruthless approach to pursuing one's happiness at the expense of others.
- The moral of Irresponsible Captain Tylor as a series can be taken 2 ways: 1) Being an individual in a conformist society will lead to extreme success, or 2) Rigid military discipline is actively bad for winning wars, and treating it like a joke will make everything better. The former is one for the Japanese, and the latter is one for Americans.
- Ishigami's character arc in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War makes the point that you shouldn't try to get along with everyone, especially if they've done nothing to earn your respect. Most of his fellow first-year students shun him and treat him like a pariah for his role in a Noodle Incident in middle school, but his decision not to go out of his way to correct them is treated as justified because their recollection of the incident is mistaken and they are treated as a bunch of unlikable gossips for judging him as a creep without knowing the full details of what happened. Everyone who knows the truth (the Student Council and some of his other friends) agree that he did the right thing, the real culprit got his due karma offscreen, and telling the girl he protected to piss off for being ungrateful forms a significant part of Ishigami's Character Development.
"You now have a chance to get out, and if you don't take it, you're just a puppy who cowers when someone takes the leash off, proving to everyone you are a meek, obedient housepet. Or maybe, being on a short leash is how you want to live your life."
- The Debt Swapping Game Arc has Yumeko stating that if someone doesn't do anything to get out of a bad situation, especially when the opportunity to do so presents itself, the person likely deserves to be in that position.
- The Choice Poker Game has the Aesop that if you want something big, then you also need to be willing to risk big. If you face nothing but grief and pain after it, then that's the price of trying to achieve what you want.
- In Living With My Brother's Wife, Nozomi, the protagonist's sister-in-law, learns that two of her students are having a dispute since one girl just learned that the other is moving to Hokkaido for the next school year and that the latter had kept it a secret from her. Nozomi's fellow teacher, Moroboshi, bluntly states that the friends one makes in elementary school won't become lifelong friends, especially since you'll make new friends at each stage of your life and adds that she never kept in touch with any of the friends she made when she was those girls' age, much to Nozomi's dismay. Moroboshi then adds that it's still possible to keep in touch with your friends even if you're separated and that even if you do lose touch with your friends, you can fondly remember your friendship.
- The Lost Village: The end of the series has the message that everyone copes with their issues in their way, and sometimes the way they find is to run away from them, and when that happens, it's just as valid of a way to deal with it as any other. While not uplifting, the message isn't exactly invalid.
- One of the themes at the end of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam is that peace is nice, but you have to be willing to fight against bad people who delight in tormenting others. Indeed, the Grand Finale has Kamille getting over his earlier "Why do we have to keep fighting?!" attitude and killing the Big Bad.
- While the manga and anime have a family-friendly Aesop that teaches Forgiveness and uses A World Half Full, the creepy children's books in Monster were made like this purposefully by one of the characters to instill nihilism in children. They feature such lovely morals as "It doesn't matter whether you make a deal with the devil or not because you're screwed either way".
- A broader one for the series itself: Some people are simply born as genetic sociopaths, even disregarding whatever Freudian Excuse they may have. You can try to make them see the error of their ways as hard as you want to, but they simply won't care.
- My Hero Academia:
- The series opens with the premise that all men are not born equal. Izuku, who desires nothing more than to become a hero, is born Quirkless in a world where the vast majority of people are born with a Quirk, and is flat-out told by All Might that one cannot become a hero without a Quirk of some sort. Meanwhile, his childhood friend-turned rival Bakugou is born with an excellent Quirk allowing him to produce explosions from his sweat - tailor-made for a hero. It is later reconciled with a more family-friendly Aesop, however, as All Might is impressed by Izuku's heroism in trying to save his friend from a villain and tells him that he can become a hero because of his kindhearted nature, setting Izuku on the path to becoming the greatest hero.
- Uraraka wanted to become a hero to make money to support her family, feeling ashamed that her reasons weren't as noble as her classmates. She is told by her friends that there is nothing wrong with wanting to make money to support oneself or the people they care about. Quite the unexpected lesson for a series about kids learning to become superheroes.
- The ongoing subplot regarding Endeavor and his family teaches the important lesson that there is no right answer to whether you should forgive your abuser or not. After all of the horrible things that Endeavor put his family through, he genuinely wants to redeem himself and be a better father and husband to them. However, just because he is willing to take the steps to better himself and repair the damage he's done doesn't mean his family is in any hurry to forgive him if they even decide to do so at all. All of his children are divided in their feelings on the matter; from Fuyumi willing to give him a chance even if she still has her reservations, Natsuo still outright despising him and refusing to want him anywhere in his life, to Shoto not fully forgiving him yet but willing to acknowledge that he does want to change for the better and is waiting to see how he does so. None of their reactions are portrayed as wrong or unreasonable, and Endeavor himself admits that all of them are entitled to their feelings noting that even if he does become a better person he may still have done too much for his family to ever want him back.
- Nanabun No Nijyuuni has two back-to-back Character Focus episodes that both end in an HTA:
- Reika's episode teaches that everyone has standards and lines they won't cross, but holding to your morals can easily be selfish. Even if you don't want to do something because you consider it offensive or degrading to yourself, and even if you're completely justified in thinking that, if not doing it will negatively affect others, you just need to suck it up and do the thing you don't want to do.
- Jun's backstory's moral is no matter how miserable your life is, and how justified you are in moping about it, you need to stop crying and be happy, and Wangst serves no purpose because your life is too short to waste it whining and there will always be others who have it worse than you.
- Naruto: Kakashi at one point tells his students that "thinking you get it and getting it are two different things". It's a saying that there's no hard substitute other than experience to teach you in ways a mere lecture cannot provide for you.
- New Game!, which is about a Japanese gaming company, occasionally has employees be forced to accept decisions that negatively impact them individually but benefit the company as a whole. One example is when Aoba becomes character designer for Peco, only to find that Christina, a high-ranking manager, decided to give the assignment of drawing the key visual(as well as the credit) to Aoba's boss and mentor Kou, simply because Kou is more skilled and better known. Aoba isn't happy with the decision, although Kou gets angrier about it than Aoba does, but ultimately accepts it.
- One Piece does this in the wham arc that is Marineford. Despite Luffy's utter determination in infiltrating Impel Down, enduring (and recovering from) Magellan's poison and losing possibly 10 years of his lifespan in the process, and immediately set out to Marineford to save Ace from execution, his abilities are simply outclassed in the field and he is repeatedly hindered from his efforts to reach the execution platform by much stronger Marines. His efforts turn out to be All for Nothing when Ace is killed by Akainu anyway, which kickstarts Luffy's quest to become stronger for two years before entering the New World. Kizaru puts it best, as he holds down Luffy, who is unable to fight back:
Kizaru: Willpower isn't enough. You have to have more than courage. Strawhat, without strength, you cannot save anyone, no matter how hard you try.
- Peach Milk Crown carries the message that your dreams, grit, and determination can only take you so far. The protagonist Youichi Kouda is the captain of a small track club who has little talent but never gives up; after a student named Momo Tange who was formerly a champion high-jumper transfers into the school, he reignites her passion for track and field and the whole club makes a promise to go to nationals while a romance appears to blossom between them. However, the team ends up getting smacked around by reality as Youichi suffers a Game-Breaking Injury due to not knowing when to quit and only Momo and one other team member even make it past the first qualifying round. In the end, the team is reduced to sitting in the stands cheering on Momo during nationals, and Youichi ends up rejecting Momo after realizing that his feelings for her were nothing but superficial infatuation, and he didn't fall in love with her as a person. So the moral of the story is that your adolescent dreams will probably not come true, but that doesn't mean you can't learn anything from the experiences.
- It's impossible to obtain your goals with pure idealism—to truly get what you want, you need to sacrifice something. The After the End world is so terrible to live in that the only way to ensure your family's survival is to become a soldier, even if you're a pacifist. Several characters are shown that things that look altruistic and idealistic, like giving food to a starving child or sparing your enemies, will only result in misery for everyone. Rihito became a cold, inhuman murder machine so that the rest of his classmates wouldn't get blood on their hands, and that line of thinking is criticized as wrong, with the implication being that they all should have shared in the guilt.
- The Power of Friendship may be important, but relying too much on your friends is an unhealthy dependence rather than an admirable quality. Mizuka ends up becoming The Load because she depends too much on Rihito, and later her obsessive dependence on him renders her vulnerable to becoming Brainwashed and Crazy.
- Pokémon: The Series:
- The Kanto season had "no, simply trying hard enough doesn't always guarantee you success in life." Misty sums it up early on in the third episode, and it remains a theme throughout Kanto, ultimately coming to a head in the Pokemon League where Ash's laxness in actually training his Pokémon and relying on pure luck and scrappy pragmatism ends up running out and costing him the league. Though this does lead to the more Family Friendly Aesop of "failure is not the end of the world."
- The same moral is taken to the next level in Sinnoh, where Ash is forced to admit after many failures that no, he will not beat his Jerkass Social Darwinist rival Paul just by believing in his Pokémon. At the end of the day, faith alone is simply not a match for cold, calculated strategy, and insisting that it is will only end in more failure. Luckily, it's reconstructed near the end when Ash realizes The Power of Friendship can still make a difference; he just needs to stop relying exclusively on it, which pays off at the Sinnoh League when he's able to beat Paul by combining legitimate tactics with friendship and willpower.
- In "A Double Dilemma", the group head to North Petalberg, which turns out to be populated by Loony Fans of Norman who all antagonize Ash for wanting to challenge him. Even when Ash defeats all of them and then saves them from Team Rocket, they refuse to be humbled and continue shunning him. Ash just decides to act the better person, realizing that, unlike a lot of other antagonistic characters he redeemed, there are just some he can't win over.
- In the Johto and Unova seasons, a lesson espoused is that there is a difference between conquering your fear and putting your fear aside. While it is possible to conquer a fear, it's equally possible to never overcome it, especially if your phobia is that deeply ingrained.
- In "The Joy of Water Pokemon" the trio meets Nurse Joy, who because of a traumatic incident in her childhood, was afraid of Water-type Pokemon. While she doesn't hate Water-Type Pokemon, she can't touch them without a special suit or her Chansey assistants. At the end of the episode, she encounters a situation where she must calm a Gyrados without her suit, and manages to do so, but faints later. Misty praises her for overcoming her fear, but Joy makes the point that she is still afraid of Water-type Pokemon, and likely will be for the rest of her life, but she won't let that stop her from carrying out her duties.
- Ironically Misty herself fell to this moral in the third episode of the original series, due to her bug phobia making her an enormous jerk towards Ash's Caterpie. While she does acknowledge Caterpie after it stops Team Rocket, she's still too terrified to hug it and her phobia remains in all her future appearances, just she generally avoids using her fear of bug Pokemon as an excuse to be an asshole to them.
- In Unova, we have Iris, who has a known fear of Ice-type Pokemon. However, she eventually ends up in a situation where she is trapped with Georgia's Vanilluxe. She manages to put her fear aside and give Vanilluxe commands. However, the episode ends with Iris still afraid of Ice-type Pokemon but has made progress in conquering her fear.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica has the moral that there's no such thing as true selflessness, it's better to admit one's selfishness than deny it until it's too late to get what you want, and truly selfless acts requires sacrificing oneself to pull it off.
- In-universe example: in Urusei Yatsura, Ataru tells a class of kindergartners a story about the legendary Kintaro, who through ceaseless effort, finally became the assistant to a great man.
Ataru: The moral of the story is, "Even if you work like a dog you can only rise so far in this lousy world!"
- Revolutionary Girl Utena: Oh where to even start? Utena is a Coming-of-Age Story that exists uniquely within a limbo between the logic of fairytales and the sordid facts of reality, as brain-meltingly screwy as that sounds, but is not remotely subtle about the points it makes about how powerful people abuse their power (and that nothing can be done about that), how Growing Up Sucks at least a little bit, and that while adults want to deny it, teenagers WILL have sex, not always with other teenagers and not always willingly. The most powerful of these comes at the end: that an abuse survivor cannot be saved from her abuser by a third party and must instead choose to save herself. And while it may puzzle the average onlooker, this obvious decision requires INCREDIBLE bravery and willpower.
- Shiki has the moral that if things get bad enough, anyone can and will turn into a murderous monster regardless of his or her original personality because most people just care about themselves and their own more than anything else, and that it doesn't matter if you do decide to be selfless and nonviolent because you're screwed either way.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! had, in its filler DOMA arc, an Aesop that Valon/Varon teaches Mai: The Power of Friendship won't win her battles for her, and she can't rely on her friends to help her. On the other hand, he was saying that to further convince Mai to leave her old life behind and join the DOMA cult.
- The moral of Birds of Prey: The Battle Within, the arc from issues 76 to 85, appears to be the fairly stock Aesop of "You should accept your friends for who they are and not try to change them", except that what Oracle was trying to change about Huntress was her tendency to kill people. In the end, Oracle apologizes to Huntress, and, in the Dead of Winter story arc (issues 104-108), actually tells Huntress to use deadly force against the Secret Six if she thinks it appropriate, making the moral that sometimes killing people is a good idea.
- One of the Mass Effect Foundation comics had Kaidan's father offer the advice that even the right decision has terrible consequences.
- The Mega Man (Archie Comics) comic comes after half of Dr. Wily's robots from the second and third line decide they'd rather be shut down than be reprogrammed. Rock and Roll are deeply saddened by seeing them commit the robot version of suicide, with Dr. Light sadly telling them that you can't save everybody and not everyone wants to be saved.
- The Vision (2015): "Not everyone can or should be shoehorned into middle-class suburban life".
- Calvin and Hobbes:
- In one strip, Calvin is debating whether he should spend his time playing outside, or focus on his schoolwork. He decides that playing will make him happier in the short term, studying will make him happier in the long term, but going to play outside would also make better memories. Not every day you see a comic tell kids to not care too much about their homework.
- Parodied with Rat's children's stories in Pearls Before Swine.
Goat: You are not putting this in a children's book.
Rat: "So remember, kids, luck and timing are more important than personal effort."
- Russian fairy tales tend to be rather cynical. One story in a collection by 19th-century folklorist Alexander Afanasyev has the moral "Old favors are soon forgotten."
- Russian fairy tale "Morozko" has "you should not go out of your way to be rude, confrontational and arrogant to powerful people who can destroy you easily and with no consequence because it will not end well for you".
- Cinderella. Charles Perrault announced at the end that the moral was: Good looks and all sorts of other wonderful traits are useless without connections.
- The standard fairy tale plot of a hero overcoming impossible quests to marry a princess gets subverted in Friedrich Schiller's ballad The Diver. A King throws a golden cup into some rough water and declares that whoever can retrieve it can keep it. After the hero manages this, the king ups the ante by throwing a ring into the water and telling the hero that he will get the princess if he can do it again. The hero tries and drowns. The new moral here is "she is probably not worth it" or "quit while you are ahead".
- Schiller also subverts the "Idiotic challenges will win you the heart of a woman" plot in The Glove in which a lady throws her glove into an arena full of lions and tigers and challenges (mockingly) her suitor to get it. He retrieves the glove, the lady immediately falls for him — and he throws the glove in her face, saying "Den Dank, Dame, begeher ich nicht" ("Such gratitude, madame, is not desired by me") — the Aesop is "Women, don't mock your suitor if you want to keep him" or "Men, sometimes a woman is more trouble than she's worth".
- Into the Woods added "It's probably not a good idea to marry someone you just met" Aesops to the Cinderella and Rapunzel stories. Cinderella's prince is a philanderer (probably both of them are, it's just that Cinderella's is the only one who explicitly does it on-, or rather just off-, stage), whereas Rapunzel is somewhat crazy. The only original story Aesop intact is Little Red Riding Hood's Aesop of "Don't talk to strangers", which became a good deal creepier (as a bonus, traditionally the wolf is played by the same actor who plays Cinderella's prince). Near the end, we get an Aesop of "Listen to people who know what they're talking about, even if they're witches". And the overarching moral is "don't tell your children stories that teach wrong lessons, because it will mess them up". "Nice is different from good". And, even more damningly, neither "nice" nor "good" are necessarily the same as right.
- Puss in Boots (a.k.a. "The Master Cat") has "if you would be successful in life, learn how to evade your predators, how to catch your prey, and how to curry favor with the powerful."
- The Scorpion and the Frog:
- Taken by itself with no metaphor, the lesson is that a predatory animal (the scorpion) with enough sapience to communicate with a creature it naturally preys on (the frog) shouldn't attempt to fight its instincts and pursue cooperative ventures. Evolution molded the scorpion to kill prey and trying to be something other than that to the frog will only result in one's predatory instincts rising to the surface at the worst possible time, dooming both to a watery grave. It is better to stick with the natural order of things than to try to evolve past one's Darwinian trappings.
- As a metaphor for evil, it suggests evil is an overriding character trait that outweighs self-interest and survival and one should not trust in an evil person trying to pull a HeelFace Turn.
- It's also saying that some people are just plain rotten, and shouldn't be trusted, because of who and what they are.
- The moral is "Talk does not change the nature of things", i.e., you can discuss something, debate it, argue about it, deconstruct it, reconstruct it, and agree on it. None of that will change its nature.
- A more down-to-earth moral is that you should not trust wild animals because they can not be reasoned with, and they can and will attack you when you get too close to them.
- Another way to interpret the lesson is that you can't keep sugarcoating your problems and you can do great harm to yourself by trying to "fix" evil.
- One story involves a cat and a mouse living together and deciding to store a pot of cream for winter. They hide it in a church until they need it. Over some time, however, the cat is gradually tempted three times into drinking the cream, until it's all gone. When the mouse finds out, she starts yelling at the cat for eating their food supply for the winter. The cat responds by eating the mouse, and the story concludes with the lesson that, well, that's just how the world works (that cats and mice just can't co-exist). It also can be a just-so story, i.e. " and that's why cats and mice are such bitter enemies to this day." From this, we can also draw the rather jarring conclusion that some acts are truly unforgivable, such that the conflicts arising from them can never be peaceably settled.
- One story involves two brothers, one rich and one poor. Subverting the usual setup, the rich brother is quite willing to help out the poor brother, who cannot seem to hold on to money for any length of time. One day the rich brother waits in the bushes by the roadside until he sees his brother, then throws a purse onto the road. The poor brother just keeps walking, and when questioned says he was walking with his eyes closed to see how blind people manage it. The Aesop is that there's just no helping some people.
- A folk tale goes like this: In the winter, a peasant sees a little bird stiff with cold and plunks it into a fresh cowpat to warm it up. The warm bird starts chirping, attracting a fox, who pulls it out of the cowpat, dunks it in a pool of water, and eats it. The moral is threefold: Those who drop you in the shit don't necessarily mean harm, those who pull you out of shit don't necessarily have your best interests at heart, and when you're in the shit, don't go chirping about it so everyone knows.
- Applejack's Love: Sometimes, you can't get together with the one you love. And trying to might make things worse by damaging the relationship you already have.
- Avatar: The Abridged Series:
Aang: Aw, but Sokka, we could have learned a valuable life lesson!
Sokka: Here's a life lesson for you, Aang. You can't buy things with life lessons.
- Bitter Tears: An Anon-A-Miss Fic: A serious betrayal of trust by those close to you can't be Easily Forgiven, no matter how much you want to and how much they sincerely regret it, apologies, and work to redeem themselves. Sunset's attempt to forgive them amounted to bottling up her feelings until they broke, after which she admits despite understanding why they did it and that she would have done the same given the evidence and her past actions, she can't trust them anymore. The only reason she gives them another chance is that she would avoid reconciling with Princess Celestia, confronting her role in an even greater betrayal.
- The Black Sheep Dog Series drives home the point that not everything in life is a choice, and that one cannot simply wash their hands clean of their heritage and upbringing. Sirius Black is forced to learn that no matter how much he hates his family, and how much he tries to disassociate from them, he cannot change the fact that he is still his parents' son, and the heir to the House of Black, who will one day be responsible for all that it entails. Although he shares almost none of their ideologies, Sirius is really not that different from many of his family members (particularly his mother and his cousin Bellatrix), and he still carries the aristocratic arrogance typical to his family's circle, that even people who don't know him can immediately tell that he's a well-bred Pureblood. He is also forced to admit that, despite his hatred of his family, he is still mostly living off of his family's wealth left to him by his Cool Uncle, who is the one who gave him the Aesop in the first place.
Alphard: It's a lesson everyone has to learn, sooner or later.
Sirius: What lesson?
Alphard: That not everything in life is a choice. Some things just are.
Sirius: I don't understand—
Alphard: You'll be a Black until the day you die, my boy—whether you like it or not. You can try to deny it all you want But it won't make it any less true.
- Faery Heroes includes a minor lesson against both Turn the Other Cheek and With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility. Harry is only willing to tutor a few students in Defense Against the Dark Arts and quickly shuts down the idea that because he's such a great teacher he should tutor everyone. First, he's not getting paid to do so and is using his own free time to help them. Second, most of the people in the school have turned against him at some point which leaves him rather opposed to the idea of helping them with their schoolwork.
- The short Fallout fan video "Friendship!" parodies this, by teaching the viewers an important lesson about friendship in the wasteland: It doesn't exist, and those who naively believe in it make excellent Human Shields, that have plenty of free money on them.
- Infinity Train: Tesla Star (Infinity Train/The Loud House Crossover): Forcing your kid to be more healthy isn't a good idea since this can strain your relationship with your children. Judy forced Stella to have a healthy diet, however Stella never wanted to do this and her mother never listen to her opinion, thus straining their relationship, her mother saying that her popcorn and soda that she made for her friend is a trash was the breaking point, making her board the train.
- When he finally gets around to telling his history in I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, Harry Potter admits that always saving the world because he could was a rather poor choice. Fifteen hundred years of every dark wizard being stopped by him meant the world became overly reliant upon him. When an accident with a time turner flings Harry two hundred years into the future, the world's been ravaged for decades by a war between two dark wizards. And when Harry kills them, the people of the world blame him for not stopping them sooner.
- The Karma of Lies:
- People are not guaranteed to appreciate what you've done for them. Marinette finds that her classmates take her generosity for granted, ignoring her in favor of courting Lila's favor while expecting her to help them out again if they decide they need anything else.
- Helping others only works if they're willing to be helped. Marinette is unable to prevent her classmates from being scammed by Lila as none of them are willing to listen, and once they finally learn the truth, they expect her not just to sweep in and save the day, but to forgive them, as they still refuse to acknowledge how they wronged her. Meanwhile, Adrien offers his aid to those he knows have wronged others and winds up getting hurt by them himself.
- Like Mother Like Son: Your children don't have to listen to or obey you when they're adults. If you don't give your children a reason to respect you when they're young then they probably won't when they get older. Lynn Sr's friend Kotaro didn't have a good relationship with his father growing up as he was hardly around, and now as an adult, he doesn't care what his father has to say.
- My Little Pony: Totally Legit Recap:
- Sometimes children shouldn't blindly listen to their elders, because they may be putting their selfish desires ahead of the children or are just no better at making responsible decisions.
- If you don't like your sibling's partner even if they're a good match for them, sometimes you just have to suck it up for their sake.
- You're going to die in the end anyway, so why not try to make the most of your time, instead of sulking in misery and fear of trying.
- Never Had a Friend Like Me: Mr. and Mrs. Adams and their treatment of Amanda show that not every neglectful parent is just a flawed person who needs a reality check. Some people are too awful to be allowed to raise children. Norm adopting Amanda to get them away from her is portrayed as the correct decision.
- The Fire Emblem Awakening fic Shattered Reflection has a lesson taught to the two main protagonists through experience with the other protagonists. No matter how hard you try to do right by others and support the people you love, there will still be individuals who treat you like shit for completely arbitrary reasons. You should try to do the right thing anyway.
- A Student Out of Time:
- Trying to atone for what you feel is your responsibility can end up hurting other people too. Many times, it's someone selfishly trying to soothe their guilty conscience through some deed and not actually to put things right.
- While you should strive to help others, you can't fix everything or save everyone. You'll destroy yourself if you try.
- Being a better person and changing your ways is hard, but it's beyond important.
- The future isn't guaranteed to be better. If you want it to be, you need to work on making it better.
- Your personal problems will never stay completely personal. They hurt other people just as much as they hurt you, if not more so.
- Every action, no matter how seemingly small, has consequences that will affect the world at large. You need to be prepared to live with that and face whatever happens as a result.
- This Bites!:
- Cross has to share one with Vivi regarding her efforts in saving Alabasta. As much as one can admire benevolence as a goal to strive for, if you're a ruler, relying only on benevolence to carry the day is unrealistic and dangerous. As a ruler, every action you take will be gambling with people's lives. At the end of the day, people don't respect and bow to benevolence, they respect authority. If you're not willing to risk the lives of others when the situation demands it, all you're doing is making yourself and your nation a target for opportunists like Crocodile.
- Cross spends much of the fic preaching that "Sometimes Violence Really Is the Answer". Consider this Aesop in regards to the Fantastic Racism between humans and fish-men, which is contrasted to the pacifism of Queen Otohime. As Cross lampshades, Otohime would have slapped Cross across the face hard enough to break her wrist for his underhanded methods. But, on the other hand, Cross's methods work: by calling for violent change and manipulating the baser emotions of people, Cross masterminds the biggest death blow to slavery the One Piece world has seen in centuries. Meanwhile, Otohime's methods nearly got her kingdom destroyed by Hody Jones, who planned to use it to kick-start a racial war between humans and fish-men — something that is also lampshaded when Cross notes that Otohime's plan was stupid.
- Aladdin and the King of Thieves: Sometimes people may find it too difficult to change who they've turned out to be, no matter how much they may want to or even it's for the sake of a loved one. They might not be the person you want them to be, but that doesn't mean they don't love you all the same.
- Bee Movie: Successfully advocating for a cause might make things worse for everybody, especially if you don't do the proper research into what you're advocating for or against in the first place.
- Beowulf: The film posits that stories of heroism are lies told to cover up questionable or outright shitty behavior, and by the time you realize you shouldn't have told your own in the first place, you'll be too old and filled with regret for it to matter.
- The Black Cauldron: Taran's character arc contains one: Some people just aren't cut out to follow their dreams.
- Coco: The movie deconstructs the "follow your dreams" Aesop common to children's films. Yes, pursuing something you love is a good thing, but taking it to the point where you'd do anything to achieve it is only going to cause you and your loved ones pain. And sometimes, you have to sacrifice your dream if you have much more important priorities, such as taking care of and providing for your family.
- You might be denied opportunities and talents that other people get ones you may feel (or indeed, be) entitled to, and no amount of hard work or moral virtue will get those opportunities back. What you can do is make the most of your own opportunities and talents.
- Family is important, but that doesn't mean it's always supportive. They mean well, but your relationships with them can turn toxic under certain conditions and that doesn't mean you should just lie down and take it for the common good, especially if they dont realize how badly their actions are hurting you. Things only ultimately improve for the Madrigals when Mirabel finally snaps and calls out Alma for how badly her perfectionism has been affecting the family.
- Finding Nemo: If you are a parent, it is better to let your child learn lessons the hard way instead of giving in to your instincts and keeping them sheltered their entire childhood to try to protect them.
- It's okay to be "weird" — as long as you're careful about the consequences of your actions.
- Science is a labor of love and should be practiced by people who are passionate and have good intentions. If not, the results will be disappointing at best, and horrific at worst.
- How to Train Your Dragon 2: Hiccup learns the surprisingly dark Aesop that some people simply cannot be reasoned with and can only be brought down by violence. This drives his entire conflict with his father, as Hiccup believes he can talk sense into the Big Bad Drago while The Good King Stoick knows better than to even try.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Kindness and friendship don't mean you're entitled to, or even ready for, a relationship, and that people want to be with someone who understands and respects them as people, not ideals. Esmeralda didn't fall in love with Phoebus just to "pair up the pretty people" but because he saw her as a real person (neither an angel or a witch as Quasimodo and Frollo respectively did).
- Ident: Life is hard and filled with thankless moments, but complete freedom doesn't guarantee happiness either.
- The Incredibles teaches against Tall Poppy Syndrome and false accomplishments - pretending that everyone is equally special is wrong, because some people really are better at certain things than others, and trying to bring them down to the level of everyone else will ultimately only make everyone worse off. While "be who you are, not who others want you to be" sounds like a fairly family-friendly Aesop, the rather cynical implication is that people, in general, will always tend to envy you for being better than they are unless your superiority is immediately beneficial to them.
- Inside Out:
- Living a life of happiness, wonder, and simple pleasures without any pain and sorrow is simply unrealistic, everyone will have some bad experiences that shape them for better or worse. Sadness is a necessary part of life that defines moments of true joy and happiness, and growing up means losing some parts of childhood and dealing with these complex emotions. If properly understood, this will make you a stronger person more capable of dealing with frustration.
- Trying to always live up to your family's expectations can drive you crazy, destroying your sense of yourself in favor of an ideal you're not even confident with.
- The titular character in Megamind tries to make Roxanne Richie's cameraman, Hal Stewart a replacement for Metro Man after his supposed death and tells him that a girl could love him if he saved her. What he didn't know was that Hal lusts after Roxanne and would do anything to be with her. But when he learns that she is not into him at all, he goes on a rampage and tries to kill Roxanne and Megamind. Giving someone superpowers doesn't automatically mean they'll be good, if anything it just makes them worse, especially if they're the kind of person who doesn't have the mental or emotional maturity to handle them.
- Megamind also learns something in the long run. As he puts it when Hal calls him a loser no matter what side he's on, "There's a benefit to losing. You get to learn from your mistakes."
- The Little Mermaid: Finding the perfect romantic partner for you is impossible. Eric tries so hard to find the mysterious girl who saved him and fails to realize the redheaded mute combing her hair with a fork is the same person. Ariel finds out that Eric can be obsessive and ignore what's in front of him, but she loves him regardless and he has a good heart. Neither are perfect, but they realize they want to be together despite their flaws.
- Monsters University:
- You can be successful without a university education if you work hard and make your way up through the ranks over time. Not a negative one at all, since it's not as though it's telling people to slack off; while they do make it eventually, Mike and Sulley's path is harder than that of the college graduates. Extremely high college enrollment rates today prove that people know that it's not worth taking.
- The film also has a more brutally honest message: No matter how hard you try or how much you love and know about the material, there are just things in life you can't do, at least not traditionally. Accept it, and find where your real talents lie at. This is notably balanced out in that it clarifies that you can still work for the thing you love, but with a different task as Mike never becomes an on-field Scarer, but an assistant and is treated like an equal to Scarers.
- The film often shows that, yes, cruel people sometimes have a point. Jerks like ROR are correct in pointing out Oozma Kappa lack traditional Scaring build despite clearly being wrong for belittling them. In a sense, this notion drives Oozma Kappa to look further to prove that traditional build is not all there is to it.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas: You've uncovered a new passion in life and yearn to express this newfound aspect of yourself? Well, think long and hard before you do you may be making a terrible mistake. Perhaps you should just stick with what you know, instead. Although your new source of inspiration can help you rekindle an old passion if things have been feeling stale lately.
- Ratatouille: Play along to your true talents and call, and don't attempt to force yourself into a role you're not suited for. As Anton Ego puts it, "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere".
- Ron's Gone Wrong: No matter how popular you are on social media, one mistake or embarrasing incident can ruin it all. And even if you decide that Celebrity Is Overrated in favor of real friends, you'll still lose out on every opportunity that status could have given you.
- Shinbone Alley: Some people just plain can't be saved from their self-destructive ways.
- Soul: It is very possible, and even likely, that you don't have a purpose in life, and you may live a life that is completely ordinary and unremarkable. Even if there is some reason you were put on this Earth, no one's going to tell you what that is; either you need to discover it on your own, or forge it yourself—and there's always the possibility that it won't fulfill you the way you hoped. But that's all okay. If you enjoy your life, no matter how simple or small it may seem, it isn't a waste, and simply living can be reason enough for being alive.
- Steven Universe: The Movie:
- Happily Ever After doesn't exist; there will always be challenges and hardships in your life that you'll have to overcome, no matter how much you don't want them to happen.
- Sometimes, even when you try your hardest, even with the best intentions, you can't change people, or how they feel. Some people will only change when they put in the effort to change themselves for the better.
- No one owes you their friendship. You may crave a deep emotional bond with someone, and they might sympathize with you for having a terrible past, but you can't force a genuine connection between two people where there isn't one. This is especially true if you've already hurt them or even tried to kill them.
- Tubby the Tuba: You may have many failures before succeeding. While this is a good lesson, it can be depressing to see Tubby's failings and his orchestra ridiculing him.
- Wreck-It Ralph: Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we actually can't be whatever we want. There are some things about ourselves that we can never change, and that's okay. At times like these, coming to terms with that instead of fighting an unwinnable battle is what's best for us.
- At the same time though, judging people by their labels is gonna take its toll on them eventually, and to avoid any unpleasantness, you should respect them all the same.
- Ralph Breaks the Internet: Follow your dreams, but if you have to move away from friends or family in order to pursue those dreams, you might have to face a tough dilemma to choose one or the other.
- Considering how Zootopia is a commentary on modern-day prejudices using mammals in place of humans, it was kind of inevitable. The movie shows that everyone has their biases (up to and including the main characters themselves) and some of those biases can be destructive as they lead to prejudice, stereotyping, and profiling. While harsh and not a thing people want to admit, it's how bias works in the real world. However, the blow is softened in the sense that it shows that one can overcome their biases if they actively work on becoming aware of them and moving past them.
- Many of the original Aesop's Fables have this trope; family-friendly modern selections of Aesop's Fables have to tactically omit many of the original ones. Some examples include:
- The Bat and the Weasels: it's sometimes wise to change or lie about your affiliation to save your skin.
- The Fox and the Goat: don't trust anyone who's in trouble, because they're likely to be using you to get out of it.
- The Farmer and the Nightingale: never believe a captive's promise and never give up what you have.
- The Ass and the Lap Dog (and The Eagle and the Crow): just because someone else achieves something good doesn't mean that you can.
- The Porcupine and the Snakes: be careful who you take as a guest because they might be an asshole.
- The Lark and her Young Ones: if something is worth doing, the only one you can trust to do it is yourself.
- The Wolf and the Lamb: A powerful tyrant only needs an excuse, not a reason, and arguing rationally won't save you.
- The Wolf and the Crane: the higher your hopes, the more likely you are to be disappointed. If you put yourself in danger to help someone, they won't always be grateful and it will be nothing more than a waste of time.
- The Two Pots: don't hang around powerful people, if there's any mutual trouble you'll get the worst of it.
- The Man and the Lion: never believe what anyone says in their defense.
- The Lion's Share or The Lion and Other Beasts Go Hunting: just because someone wants you to co-operate with them in work does not mean they will give you a share of the reward.
- The Farmer and the Snake: some people are just plain evil and no amount of building trust will change that.
- The Ass and his Driver: if someone is determined to destroy themselves, step back and let them, or they'll destroy you too.
- The Man, the Boy, and the Ass: No matter what you do, someone will dislike it, and trying to change what you do to please everyone will make you lose your ass.
- The final book of A Series of Unfortunate Events had the Aesop of "some mysteries will never be solved."
- One of the Stock Aesops is that cowardice doesn't pay. In extreme cases, the bold lives where the coward dies (sometimes Driven to Suicide), or they both survive/die, but the coward is marked forever. So it comes as a tragic surprise that in Bridge to Terabithia, Leslie, who had no fear from the creek, drowns, whereas Jess, who feared the water (and couldn't swim) survives—and while he does suffer, it's not because of cowardice.
- The Chronicles of Narnia contains the lesson that the real world is a harsh and violent place that sometimes takes a fair amount of violence to survive in. C. S. Lewis was even quoted once as saying that pretending otherwise would do a great disservice to children. Once again, an example of a very true and important Aesop, but one that many parents would rather their children didn't know.
- In the famous science fiction short story The Cold Equations, the moral is "life is fundamentally unfair." This serves as a deconstruction of stories where the day is always saved somehow, all too often by a Contrived Coincidence or Applied Phlebotinum. It's an Enforced Trope because John Campbell sent the story back to Tom Godwin three times because Godwin kept saving the girl without resorting to either plot device.
- Courtship Rite borders on Spoof Aesop territory. On a Lost Colony where cycles of famine have made cannibalism common and acceptable, he has a preacher teaching that cannibalism is wrong. At first, the reader may expect that cannibalism is being used as a metaphor and that we're going to learn an ordinary Aesop about violence being wrong, but in the end, the preacher is forced to learn a valuable lesson: cannibalism isn't so bad.
- In one entry of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, one teacher discovers her dictionary is missing. She tells the class that there will be no consequences, she just wants the one who took it to come forth. When Alex Aruda reveals he has it, Corey Books decides to put it back and he is punished because the teacher sees him with the dictionary. This is a fairly common method of entrapment by adults towards children - so this teaches the audience not to hold adults to their word as they will always go back on it.
- The idea of this type of Aesop gets harshly deconstructed in Nick Bostrom's The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant. Everyone knows the classic Aesop that every child learns as a hard truth: everyone dies at some point, which you can never avoid, and misery means living forever is non-negotiably terrible. Most children shiver at this lesson, but from this fable, you can tell that behind their stern words, Bostrom and CGP Grey are fuming with contempt at the thought of feeding children something so dangerous. In any case, their words here are probably harder-hitting than the original Aesop itself. With how the fable puts it, sometimes the instinctive answer truly is correct: there is no greater enemy than death, and the greatest evil is what we think "gives life meaning."
- Fate/Zero has Kiritsigu Emiya always killing the few to save the many but realizing that even by killing people he deems evil, he'll never create a world free of evil, cruelty, suffering, and conflict. So he consults a wish-granting device, the Holy Grail, after a long bloody war to get the miracle of world peace. The Holy Grail decides the only way for the world to have peace is for all beings capable of conflict to be dead, so conflict will be absent. Needless to say, Kiritsugu was bothered by the implication that humanity is not capable of everlasting peace. Played With that the Grail had been corrupted such that it would twist any wish it could into a wish for worldwide destruction.
- Although Friedrich Nietzsche is not explicitly Social Darwinist, his revolt against conventional morality is elaborated upon with Beyond Good and Evil, The Antichrist, and others engender a rejection of egalitarian altruism and antipathy for the socially disadvantaged.
- In Harriet the Spy, young writer Harriet learns that sometimes you have to lie to people to help them feel better about themselves so they won't hate you.
- The works of H. P. Lovecraft teach you that the universe is not just a Crapsack World but a fundamentally indifferent and horrifying place and only our ignorance of its true nature keeps us all sane.
- Jackie and Craig: Yep kids, life is vicious, miserable, and indifferent to your suffering, so be sure to cling to those precious few bright spots for the brief time that they last!
- Little Women: The March sisters and Laurie all learn that adolescent dreams don't always come true. Meg never becomes rich, Amy never becomes a professional artist, nor Laurie a composer, Jo achieves only modest success as an author (though in Jo's Boys she eventually does gain fame thanks to Magnum Opus Dissonance), and even Beth's simple dream of never having to leave her parents is shattered by her early death. But except for Beth, all the characters do find happiness in the end, so the hard truth is balanced by the message that life can still be happy and fulfilling even without the dreams of your youth.
- The Lovely Bones is about a fourteen-year-old girl who gets raped and murdered, and remains in the 'in-between' before moving on to Heaven to watch how her family deal with the loss. It puts forth the Aesop that sometimes bad things will just happen to you or your loved ones, and you can't control them. You can however control how you deal with them.
- On My Honor: Going back on your word often has dire consequences that not even your parents can save you from, and you'll have to live with those consequences for the rest of your life.
- Perelandra, the second book of the The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis. The plot of the book is that the planet Venus is in the "Adam and Eve" phase and the devil has sent his agent-a man named Professor Weston-to corrupt "Eve." The angels send a man named Elwin Ransom to make sure that Tinidril chooses wisely. In the end, good triumphs over evil, but in an unexpected way: Ransom kills Weston and drops his body into a volcano. This is actually lampshaded by the protagonist, who assumed that the fight would be purely intellectual, that he would win by the sheer force of his argument, and was initially horrified at the idea that he'd have to make the fight a physical one. It was very much a Take That! at the pacifists who opposed Great Britain's military opposition to the evils of Nazi Germany and promoted Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy, and against the anti-confrontational passivity that was popular in much of the liberal Christian community.
- Another interpretation; Non-Violence and diplomacy are ideal and should be pursued first; however, if they fail, one has no choice but to fight. The message of this book is the doctrine of Just War: Peaceful means are ideal and should be pursued first but violence should be allowed as a last resort when all peaceful means have failed. Ransom tried diplomacy and debate first but Weston wouldn't be swayed and had an answer for everything, so Ransom had no choice but to destroy Weston.
- The Princess Bride has one in-universe: the narrator notes how horrified as a kid he was because some events of the story just didn't work out as they did in traditional fairy tales and adventure stories, and found relief only when he realized that the Aesop was that life wasn't fair.
- One of the major themes in Protector of the Small is that societal progress is an endless, toilsome task that is full of risk for those who undertake it and has no guarantee of long-term success. The story opens a full decade after Alanna paves the way for female knights in Song of the Lioness with Keladry being the first girl making the undertaking—no others were either interested or permitted to do so by their families. Slut-Shaming and other denigration still abounds for women even in egalitarian services like the Queen's Riders, and people will even sabotage their own best interests to maintain their hardheaded ideology. Kel is even forced to accept an unjust legal ruling with the promise that the king will try his best to get that law changed because he's used up all his political goodwill with the traditionalists and conservatives of Tortall. None of this makes it pointless to try and improve society, but it is always a grueling process for those at the forefront and never results in a quick solution.
- Starship Troopers: Sometimes Violence Really Is the Answer. Yes, it is preferable and best that you look for a non-violent solution to any given problem. But at the same time, sometimes that simply isn't going to work. Insisting on avoiding any violence once it's clear that a compromise can't be reached is dangerous in itself.
- A lot of Hans Christian Andersen stories:
- Probably the best is The Steadfast Tin Soldier, the moral of which is: "Life Isn't Fair, and sometimes just when you've worked your hardest to get something right, something will come out of nowhere and screw it up for no reason."
- Third Year At Malory Towers has the subplot with Zerelda, a new student who is obsessed with acting and wants to become a famous actress. After getting the chance to play Juliet in class and completely blowing it, the teacher flat-out tells her that she just doesn't have the skill to become one of the greats, and Zerelda learns that when a teacher tells you that your dream will never come true, the best thing to do is give it up for good, instead of improving your skills and continuing to try to achieve your dream.
- Another classical moral is that having imagination is good. So When The Windman Comes by Antonia Michaelis is a huge subversion, with the moral "imagination, when not strictly separated from reality, is potentially very dangerous—it can isolate you and make you live in fear of imaginary horrors—all the while making you more vulnerable to Real Life. Sometimes, being a skeptic is favorable, even for a child." This is particularly jarring since many other books by the same author promote imagination and/or openness to seemingly impossible things.
- The Dr. Seuss book Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose completely inverts the Stock Aesop about generosity. For more information, please see this article. But watch out for spoilers.
- Similarly, The Sneetches teaches that sometimes it takes a really unfortunate circumstance in life (like being cheated out of all your money) to learn the error of your ways.
- The Lorax is one of the most poignant Green Aesops ever written, where the ecosystem has collapsed thanks to unchecked corporate greed and the economy built on the Truffula trees has collapsed with it. Unless we care, nothing is going to get better. But if we do care, if we put the work in to protect what we have left, then maybe, one day, the damage can be undone.
- Time Enough for Love and To Sail Beyond the Sunset: Sexual ethics and marriage are little more than social constructs, there's nothing immoral about teenagers having sex, and an incestuous relationship can be wholesome. Just make sure both (or all) parties' consent and protection are used (and don't catch anything).
- Tuck Everlasting: Everyone has died at some point, young or old. Who Wants to Live Forever? is not a vote for you now.
- An interesting example is They're Rioting In Room 32 by Janet Quin-Harkin: "In the real world, there are things more important than romance - like getting your homework done and staying out of jail." Not unusual in an adult novel, but it's downright shocking in a YA romantic comedy aimed at teenage girls and written in The '80s, especially when stated baldly by the protagonist. She then goes on to remark that it would be nice if one of her best friends could delay his undying passion until the gang had solved their current crisis, which leads to another: If you and your friends are in the middle of a bad situation, (which could actually land one of you in jail) your friends will not patiently listen to you going on and on about your deathless infatuation, especially with someone who shows no interest in you, and has actively rejected you; they're more likely to tell you to shut the hell up and put some effort into foiling the schemes of the person trying to frame you for a crime. The sequel Love and Pizza to Go has an even more genre-unfriendly aesop: most high school relationships don't last very long. The two couples who get together at the end of the first book both break up by the third act of the second (less than a year later), which leads to the rejected two getting together - which is in itself unusual, because they rejected ones are the protagonist and one of the major characters.
- "Black Tie White Noise" by David Bowie has one, the result of it being written in the wake of the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles: Racial harmony is possible but don't imagine it's going to be easy to achieve, or that there won't be violence along the way ("There'll be some blood, no doubt about it"). Not a comfortable Aesop, but if history's taught us anything
- The music video for Drake's Find Your Love. The song is a positive message about putting everything on the line for love which Drake does in the video to a woman who's also connected to a gang leader. He crosses the line and attempts to woo her and he's eventually caught by the gang, beaten and (presumably) shot in the back of the head by the same girl he was putting his heart on the line for. The video ends in a Bolivian Army Ending (the girl could have shot the gang leader) but there is a clear message about how not even love is worth crossing a line over.
- Eminem has many songs about how even if violent music is a bad influence on children, it is just giving them the means to express something that is inside them already. A good example is "Sing For The Moment", in which the character at the beginning of the story is an angry young white child from a broken home who became "brainwashed from rock and rap" and punched his abusive stepfather in the face. It's clear he isn't exactly looking to Eminem's music for its clever lyrics or satire of white-trash life, but the defiant fantasy it inspires him to live up to — even if never intended — is a form of liberation he needs.
- Harry Chapin's song Mr. Tanner is about a man who runs a dry cleaner and loves to sing, and is an amateur performer in his spare time. His friends convince him to try to become a professional singer, so he throws all his money into a concert performance that bombs. Critics are terse and dismissive with him, suggesting he'd be better off keeping his day job. Mr. Tanner returns to his home and his job and stops performing publicly. The moral here is "Sometimes chasing your dream fails". If you want to be more blunt, you could phrase it "Loving to do something doesn't make you good at it."
- Indica's song "In Passing" is about a dead singer telling her sister that her pain will go away and everything passes. Not quite unfriendly until the last few lines where she tells her sister that she also will pass. Extremely true and not something most children are equipped with or taught.
- The Kenny Rogers song Coward of the County. The song's message implies that for some things, the only course of action is violence, and being a pacifist will only get the ones you love murdered or hurt. The song also implies that filial piety is futile, and you cannot obey your parents' wishes all the time.
- O.C. Smith's song "The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp" has a message that being a prostitute doesn't make a woman evil or contemptible.
- The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" is the namer for a trope of this nature which translates to "revolution is futile because the person in charge is always going to make it tough for everyone else". Occasionally, Pete Townshend has put a more positive twist on this as "Don't listen to the boss in the first place. Think for yourself."
- Death of a Salesman says that "it's okay to stop pursuing a dream if your talents and passions lie elsewhere." In addition to their obsession with popularity, Willy and Biff do not realize the amount of effort needed to achieve their dreams. To illustrate, Charlie's son Bernard works hard to become a successful lawyer and Uncle Ben goes into the jungle for four years to find diamonds and come out rich. On the other hand, Willy and Biff are always looking for an easy way out and hate what they do, and that's why they ultimately fail in life.
- The musical Carousel and the play Liliom on which it is based contains one of these, personified in the immortal line: "It's possible for a man to hit you, hit you real hard, and have it feel like a kiss." Amanda Palmer did a cover of the song "What's the Use of Wondrin" as a creepy domestic abuse ballad and didn't have to change a word.
- Using real people in your art is not cool if they don't give you their consent to be in it in the first place or you're exploiting their pain. Mark gets reamed out by a homeless woman after he uses his camera to stop a cop from harassing her because she knows that he only did it to make a name for himself and to minimize his self-guilt for being lucky enough to not be in her situation. She rightfully points out filming her like an animal on the Discovery Channel doesn't solve any of her problems, and then asks Mark if he has any extra money he can give her since that would actually help her (which he doesn't). Afterward, Mark decides to only make his documentary about his HIV-positive friends as a living memory of them but nearly gives up on realizing they aren't art, and they are going to die due to circumstances beyond their control.
- People are going to change, whether you like it or not, and you may lose your friendships with them in the process. Benny "changes" after he marries Allison and demands rent from his friends, knowing very well he can't pay. After Angel dies, the original group breaks up while calling each other out for their flaws and ignoring Mark and Benny's pleas to stop.
- Wicked: The message of "Popular", Glinda's "I Am" Song, is that being liked by others will get your farther than merely being a good person. You may think this is only to show what a shallow and pretentious character Glinda starts as Except she's ultimately proven right. Elphaba's actions, no matter how heroic and selfless, all fail to change anything as Madame Morrible launches a smear campaign against her and makes everyone too afraid of her to listen to the problems she's trying to fix. In the end it's Glinda who gets the power to dispose of the villains and change Oz for the better, but does she do it by speaking out against their crimes or trying to help their victims? No, she does it by sucking up to them and endearing herself to the dim-witted people of Oz until she has enough power and influence of her own to launch a non-violent coup d'état.
- In The Wild Duck, the entire cast turns out to be one giant Dysfunction Junction that is only keeping itself together by repressing every one of their hidden sins and weaknesses through willful delusion. When the resident Wide-Eyed Idealist attempts to unravel some of these lies and bring about truth, the result is the suicide of the family's young daughter. As the man who attempted to keep all this under wraps at one point muses:
Doctor Relling: Deprive the average human being of his life-lie, and you rob him of his happiness.
- BioShock gives a pretty harsh shot at the common Aesop of "Study hard and become a doctor/banker/lawyer/surgeon/white-collar executive" or "You're paid in what you are worth in society". Rapture was supposed to be a city made up of the best and brightest of humanity but in the end, someone still has to do dirty jobs, such as plumbing, trash-collecting, and scrubbing the toilets because those jobs are what keeps society running. And when you treat these people horribly? Don't be shocked when they happily turn on you.
- Galloway's arc in Bully focuses on the issues between two teachers: Galloway is friendly and well-liked but an alcoholic. Hattrick is a Jerkass who abuses everyone around him and actively exploits students but calls Galloway on drinking during school. The students, however, don't mind at all (and are shown not to follow his example), because Galloway is a decent guy whose belligerent co-worker makes his life difficult, and Jimmy ends up helping him get into recovery because he needs help, not because he needs to be punished. And all this is on top of the actual authority figures doing nothing to solve the real problems because they think it builds character. Overall, the message is that some adults are too corrupt or too ignorant to understand what is and isn't Harmful to Minors, and bullying isn't just a childhood problem.
- Freeware RPG The Crooked Man:
- The game follows the main character as he retraces the steps of the previous tenant of his apartment, which align creepily with his own. Each of the people he meets is facing the dilemma of struggling bravely forward, or giving up, on whatever conflict they're dealing with. Invariably, the answer is to accept one's limitations. There are some things in life that, no matter how badly you want them and no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to achieve; if you don't fit a certain mold, there's no honor in ruining yourself to force it.
- Another one is that, sometimes, helping the victim can and will seriously backfire, despite any good intentions. Attempting to console the woman will have her instead think that she should bottle it all in yet again, instead of seeking closure and move on. Encouraging the student will make him angry, thinking you're mocking him, which is a huge Berserk Button for said guy. And finally, attempting to negotiate with the suicidal man will get both him and you killed.
- Cyberpunk 2077:
- A single person (or a small group) can't reform a corrupt system that spans the entire globe, because they simply lack the means and power to do so, and even if they put a dent in it, it will be patched up sooner rather than later.
- Some people are their own worst enemy. While the system or an outside agent might make a tempting target for blame, the fact is that sometimes the only one who is to blame for your bad situation is you and your poor choices.
- Doki Doki Literature Club!: "Love and friendship, while important, aren't replacements for therapy." This is exemplified by Sayori, who suffers from severe depression and has managed to keep it secret from the Main Character, her childhood friend, the entire time they've known each other and has never gone to therapy. When he learns this, he can either give her a Love Confession or a Platonic Declaration of Love, which she appreciates and then wonders why it isn't making her happy. It doesn't help that Sayori, while she has feelings for him, also struggles with extreme self-loathing and feels like a burden on others, something that the Main Character genuinely wants to understand but doesn't know how to help with. Because of this, regardless of the outcome, Sayori ultimately hangs herself.
- Dragon Age: Origins is full of those and sometimes lampshades them.
- At the mage starting quest you get several of them, the most prominent being that guile and trickery are sometimes preferable to trust and altruism.
- The overarching story in Orzammar delivers the message that a progressive-minded individual who is personally a manipulative, sleazy jerk sometimes makes a better leader than a kindly, democratic individual bound by stagnant social traditions.
- This even applies to Paragon Aeducan, one of the most venerated individuals in Dwarven history. His decision to ignore the Assembly and lead the Warrior Caste in the defense of the city, prevented the Darkspawn from breaching Orzammar and saved their race from being wiped out. In other words, democracy is all good an well, but when you're too busy arguing to see the enemy about to kill you, a military coup is the only solution.
- Dragon Age II: Follows the first game's lead and drops a few of its own hard pills to swallow.
- Oppressed minorities aren't automatically morally pure victims just because they're oppressed. They can be jerks, abusers, killers, and betray people who try to help them just like people of any group. (As many mages that Hawke tries to help escape Kirkwall's infamous Gallows demonstrate.)
- Most societal problems are too pervasive and systemic for one hero to just ride in, slay the bad guy, and fix everything. Often, there isn't just one bad guy, or even one problem. Also, trying to fix some things can make others worse. (Case and point: Despite Hawke fending off the Qunari invasion at the end of Act 2, this just removes the common enemy for mages and Templars to unite against, so within a few years the city is torn apart by their Civil War.)
- Some environments breed too much hostility, stupidity, and/or destructive reasoning for any voice of reason to sway hearts and minds. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can't reason with squabbling factions who are too hell-bent on blaming and fighting each other to solve greater problems.
- Dragon Age: Inquisition continues the tradition.
Dorian: Solas, for what it's worth, I'm sorry. The elven city of Arlathan sounds like a magical place, and for my ancestors to have destroyed it...
- The base game drops this somber one: "Yesterday's oppressed often become tomorrow's oppressors." Particularly the reveal that the ancient Elvhen Empire was ruled by abusive tyrants, had slavery and blood sacrifice, and fell to internal strife rather than external conquest before they became Enslaved Elves to the Tevinter Imperium. Likewise, despite most non-magic humans resenting once being enslaved by Tevinter, once they became the new power in the southern continent they went on to oppress mages and elves themselves.
Solas: Dorian... hush. Empires rise and fall. Arlathan was no more "innocent" than your own Tevinter in its time. Your nostalgia for the ancient elves, however romanticized, is pointless.
Sera: Elfy elves have shoved "victim" in my face a million times... Everyone is always, "Oh, poor elves. Victim of this and whatever." But the empire ate itself. Love it. Like being sad makes them better than me. Turns out, they're not victims. They're just like everyone else: arseholes.
- DAI picks up where DA2 left off in stating that oppressed minorities are not morally pure victims just because they're oppressed; nor that they can't be awful to their own as well, or complicit in their own oppression.
- Sera, unlike the setting's other Enslaved Elves who long for freedom and resent their human oppressors, has internalized racism, feels elves are just Playing the Victim Card, and dislikes anything elven in nature because she was shamed for not being "elfy" enough by other elves her whole life. Sera demonstrates the uncomfortable truth that oppressed minorities can be bigoted toward and oppress each other too.
Sera: "Never be as good as we were!" Well, who's we? I'm doing just fine!
- Vivienne is a hardcore Chantry Loyalist Mage who supports the Circle of Magi (literal prison towers guarded by Templars), she supports this partly due to Internalized Categorism, partly because she feels that free mages encourage the public's fear of magic by abusing it with Blood Magic, Demonic Possession, Power Incontinence, and killing sprees... and partly because she gained considerable political power through the Circle system. The Aesops delivered are:
- Some restrictive systems are Necessarily Evil to educate and monitor certain members of the population so they aren't a danger to themselves or others, and help them become more productive members of society.
- Or, conversely: Vivienne demonstrates that some minorities support oppressive systems that enslave their fellows because it's what gives themselves more power.
- Evan's Remains. The game's major Aesops as demonstrated through Clover is that life can be brutally unfair to some of the best people around, and that immortality is non-existent; all you can do is cherish the time you have with a person before they pass away.
- Fallout 3. There is a quest called Tenpenny Tower, about a luxurious hotel inhabited by prejudiced humans and a nearby gang of civilized ghouls (a form of monstrously mutated human) who want to live in it. There are three ways to solve this quest — Two of them involve killing either party and being rewarded by the other for it. The final option is, through a lot of tedious diplomacy, to convince the humans to let the ghouls live alongside them, and it ends with the two species coexisting peacefully and happy-happy. Except, a few days later, all the human inhabitants have been slaughtered by the ghouls. Sometimes the oppressed, when presented with the opportunity, can be just as inhuman as the oppressors.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, there are four possible factions that you can join with: Caesar's Legion, the NCR, Mr. House, and Yes Man. While Caesar's Legion is treated as the defacto bad group and are pushed far into the category of evil, the other three have flavors of what one would call "good" about them while retaining some bad. The NCR is the strongest military, but unfortunately are also heavy on taxes and some settlements crumble under their protection as a result. Mr. House definitely has the best assets and can help humanity rebuild, but he's in it for entirely selfish reasons and ultimately he will rule New Vegas under his current policy of "money talks" and leave the slums as they are or purge them, and Yes Man's ending has New Vegas purged of all three other factions and declaring independence, but as General Oliver points out: there is absolutely no infrastructure and will likely crumble with no way to retain its independence. As such, there's the hard truth that there is no golden ending, no happy way to resolve all the problems. Like real life, there's not always a perfect answer, it's just about weighing your morals on which answer you choose and accepting that as the reality of your decision.
- Far Cry 5: "Being independent and trying to fix everything yourself can make things worse." This is exemplified by both the Deputy and Sheriff Whitehorse and Joseph Seed. The former going in unprepared and trying to arrest him only escalates tensions, while the latter is more obsessed with forcibly converting all of Hope County to their cause rather than minding his own business and taking care of his flock. All of this leads to a war in the region and the deaths of countless people on both sides. All of this leaves everyone distracted and wasting so many resources that, when World War III breaks out and nukes start falling all over the region, everyone is caught with their pants down and only Seed and the Deputy manage to survive.
- There's also the lesson that our lives are flooded with so much irrelevant information that it's making it harder for us to see the big picture. If you stop and listen to the radio, you can hear many broadcasts about the current state of the world, particularly escalating tensions with North Korea, the Middle East, and Russia, to the point that American citizens are being asked not to travel overseas and that war may be inevitable. This is something nobody in Hope County seems to draw attention or prepare for while they're dealing with Eden's Gate, a comparatively small conflict that could've been avoided if both sides simply chose to walk away.
- Happens in Final Fantasy XIV in Endwalker during the Garlemald Arc. Prior to this, Alphinaud and Alisaie are told by their mother that sometimes, words won't be enough and that need to speak with their actions. After attiring in Garlemald on a mission of mercy to provide aid and help stop the Telophoroi, the Eorzeans are met with nigh-on suicidal resistance from the remaining Garleans, many of whom see the Eorzeans as vultures who have come to pick over the remains of the Empire. Several Garleans die tragic, avoidable, and utterly pointless deaths rather than accept that they're there to help, and even high-ranking Garleans refuse to engage with them because they see Eorzeans as backward savages who will turn on them the moment that the Telophoroi are dealt with. Alphinaud and Alisaie eventually realize the truth to their mother's words and come to the conclusion that action, not words, are what are needed to convince the Garleans that they're there to help.
- Discussed in Final Fantasy XV. After completing a quest involving the hunter Dave's aunt Kimya, Kimya tells the party to pass along a message to her nephew- that he should believe in himself and make his own decisions. After finishing the quest, the party discusses Kimya's advice, as well as the fact that she'd had a falling out with her own sister (the former leader of the Hunters) over using methods to fight demons that her sister didn't approve of.
Ignis: "Do not follow. Trust yourself." Sound advice.
Gladio: Reasonable enough, if a bit obvious.
Prompto: Though you could say that's what led Kimya to start a family feud.
Noctis: How can you trust yourself to always be right?
Ignis: Not as sound as I thought, perhaps.
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses: You cannot satisfy or save everyone. Regardless of which house Byleth chooses or who they side with, they are guaranteed to make enemies with at least some of the playable cast by the time the war beginsnote , and while Byleth can convince some party members to defect to their side, none of the routes conclude with the entire playable cast surviving to the end.
- Mega Man Legends has a terrific one that comes from the villains. After their Last Villain Stand (Or so you think) against The Flutter when they're shot down, Tron apologizes for failing and Tiesel says "Don't worry your pretty little head over it, Tron. We tried our best, but sometimes your best isn't good enough. We lost fair and square. That's life." While it's jarring and not as optimistic as "you can achieve anything", it's also sound advice that not only teaches "you will fail sometimes, get used to it" but also that there's no shame in trying your best and failing.
- Middle-earth: Shadow of War has two tropes as its main themes: Necessarily Evil and He Who Fights Monsters. Essentially, someone needs to Shoot the Dog
but no matter how necessary the action is, you can expect to suffer horribly and be reviled for it. Summarized neatly in the Arc Words spoken by Shelob.
Shelob: "How much are you willing to sacrifice?"
- NieR: Automata has an existentialist theme of "The world is cruel, unforgiving and meaningless, and just the act of being alive in such a world is terrifying, but it's still possible to find purpose in a purposeless world, or find new purpose if your purpose is lost."
- Palette features a "Just So" Story about the moon, explaining that it waxes and wanes as part of its efforts to match the sun and stars. However, it can never become as big as the sun or as small as the stars, and is constantly changing in a futile effort to maintain either charade. The moral of this story is presented as "Don't try to become something you're not."
- Papo & Yo has an intentional one, as the game is a thinly-veiled metaphor for the author's relationship with his alcoholic, abusive father.
Caballero: I heard these beautiful words from [my] therapist: "When someone wants to hit bottom, there's nothing you can do to stop them." When someone is self-destructive or destructive of others and you want to stop them, there's nothing you can do. They're looking for something there. They're getting something out of that destruction, and if you stay with them, you're gonna get destroyed. So the only thing you can do is let them go, and it is the most painful thing you can do in your life.
- Both Persona 2 Innocent Sin and Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth deconstruct this trope by showing that there are hard truths that cannot be accepted at all and how one shouldn't ever be forced to face them.
- In Innocent Sin, Maya never accepted her Shadow as an aspect of herself, making her unique among the series' playable characters who've interacted with their Shadows. To do so, she would admit that she hates her childhood friends and blame them for the Alaya Shrine incident where she was almost burned alive in an arson attack. She instead chose to insist that her Shadow is an impostor created by the conflicting rumors about her involvement in said incident.
- In Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth: Rei also denied her Shadow as it'd be like admitting she lived a short and meaningless life full of pain and suffering that ultimately amounted to nothing. The other characters try to convince her to accept it only for Rei to briefly transform into her Shadow, complete with golden eyes and demonic voice, to tell them off.
- The central point of Persona 4 is that life is not fair. No matter how hard you work, you're not guaranteed any reward, and others can and will be better than you without even trying, and part of growing up and becoming an adult is accepting that fact. The villain Adachi refuses to accept that, and lashes out at the world he believes he deserves something from by killing. The Investigation Team, all of which do learn this moral throughout the game, explicitly compare him to a spoiled child throwing a tantrum for not getting his way.
- Persona 5 has the main message that sometimes society and people are so corrupt and evil that the only way to make real change is to force them, sometimes through unethical means like vigilantism—and while forcing someone to take responsibility for their actions may not be taking the high road, it changes society for the better just as much as if they had decided to do it of their own free will.
- Both Persona 2 Innocent Sin and Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth deconstruct this trope by showing that there are hard truths that cannot be accepted at all and how one shouldn't ever be forced to face them.
- Phantasy Star IV has a Secret Test of Character that ends with the lesson that negative emotions like hatred and rage aren't evil, they're a necessary aspect what it means to be human.
- Bianca's entire character arc in Black and White is about learning the unfortunate truth that not everyone can become stronger than they already are. Bianca spends the first half of the game being the most excited of your friends to get a Pokémon and start her journey as a Pokémon trainer, even running away from home to do so. But while she's adequate, she's far from being on par with you or your mutual friend Cheren, and no matter how much she tries, the gap just continues to widen until she's forced to admit to herself that she'll never catch up, giving up her dream. This would be a downer if it wasn't for the uplifting follow-up aesop: "even if one goal doesn't work out, you can always work towards a new one." After giving up her attempts to be a trainer, she spends the second half of the game trying to find a new goal in life, soon discovering that her real passion lies in Pokémon research rather than battling. At the end of the game, she's an intern at Professor Juniper's lab, and by the sequels, she's a full-time lab assistant.
- The postgame Eevee sidequest in Sun and Moon provides some stunningly harsh and sober lessons about getting older that the game makes very little attempt to sugarcoat. In summation: you will get old someday, and as you do you'll likely have to give up on your interests and dreams from when you were younger and settle for a boring, mundane career as your priorities change to adult things like getting the bills paid (especially if you have a family) as shown by about half of the old trainers involved. There's a good chance your mind (the Jolteon trainer) and body (the Umbreon and Leafeon trainers) will simply start giving out on you as you age, and even if you manage to stave off aging on the outside with cosmetics, your body will continue to age on the inside (as shown by the Leafeon trainer). And finally, you will die someday (the Sylveon trainer already died and the one you battle instead is her granddaughter). The whole sidequest carries the somber implication that as the times go by and new generations take over, it's most likely that your accomplishments from when you were younger will be forgotten and will end up meaning nothing in the long run.
- While Red Dead Redemption has a few over-arching Aesops, the side quests mostly promote a philosophy of "Be careful doing nice things for people, because it may not end well for all involved". While there are some examples of a good deed having a genuinely good outcome, most do not follow this line of reasoning. Give an inventive aviator the means to create his flying machine? Congratulations, you just gave him the means to fly off of a cliff to his doom. Rescue a seemingly love-struck Chinese immigrant from cruel indentured servitude? Good job, you find out later his "love" is an addiction to heroin. Decide to rescue a mountaineer from rampaging Sasquatch? Nice work, you just single-handedly reduced a peaceful species to a single suicidal survivor. This even applies to minor side-activities, where stopping to help someone on the side of the road can get you either killed or left horseless. While mostly played for the sake of dark humor, the general message is the same; people will manipulate your sense of justice, honor or altruism to deceive you and sometimes the worst thing you can do for a person is giving them the help they seek.
- Remember Me tells us that painful memories, particularly painful, traumatic ones, are still valuable to us as people because they make us who we are.
- Sonic and the Black Knight has the message that We All Die Someday, so we should make the most of the time we have left.
- One of the major Aesops in Tales of Symphonia is about knowing when to quit, and that sticking to your beliefs isn't always a good thing. Lloyd and the Big Bad act as basically a Deconstruction of the Determinator trope, with Lloyd eventually learning that he needs to change his outlook on the world and becoming a better person as a result, while the Big Bad stubbornly refuses to change to the bitter end, even when his sister, who he was enacting his schemes for, to begin with tells him that what he's doing is wrong and he needs to stop.
- Another Aesop is that when the oppressed rise up against their oppressors, they risk becoming oppressors themselves.
- During one cutscene, it is revealed that Exspheres are essentially the hardened essence of a dead human being and Lloyd becomes enraged at the prospect and tries to destroy his own, only to be quickly stopped by Kratos who points out that these objects are one of the few reasons they're even alive. It's not a particularly happy idea, but in a bad situation, sometimes the best tools you have can come from the worst possible places. Regardless of whether Lloyd agrees or not, he ultimately doesn't destroy his Exsphere, and eventually moves on from the revelation to use it in the best way possible. What we use may not always be a good thing , but it can still be used for good, especially if it already exists and thus can be put to good use. Of course, this is assuming that such a thing is in hands willing to do "good" with it, which ultimately is subjective given the people who made them, the Desians, see themselves as the chosen people carrying on the will of Cruxis against the humans that shunned and harmed them.
- Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World expounds on Regal's refutation of Mithos' plan to eliminate all racism by making everyone the same by having the human citizens of both Sylvarant and Te'thealla quickly develop a deep-seated hatred of each other, showing that bigotry will always exist in some form or another - it doesn't have to just be about race.
- Touken Ranbu: Changing history is bad, even if it's for the better. Your personal feelings on historical events ultimately don't matter, the past must be allowed to run its course and you must learn to move on, no matter how painful it makes you.
- Zero Escape: Junpei's subplot in Zero Time Dilemma basically goes 'Trusting people might fatally backfire on you, but trusting nobody will definitely kill you'. Even when the group he's in starts to actually work together, they do so not out of trust (or even mutual respect) but because they'll die if they don't and nobody has the time to think up a better plan.
- Boy Meets Boy ends with the lesson that people change, friendships don't last, and you'll probably have to settle for second best, because the love of your life simply isn't interested.
- El Goonish Shive had one at the end of "Death Sentence": When confronted with a bad situation, one shouldn't simply decide that the worst outcome is inevitable and plan for that. People should, by all means, try to make better plans so that things might end peacefully and without anyone getting hurt. However, what they need to remember is that sometimes that isn't going to work at all, and their plan might be doomed from the beginning, and so if their plan goes to hell, they should be prepared for the bad ending- but that doesn't mean that they should stop making plans where Everybody Lives. It's a pretty depressing message, though the rather idealistic character to whom it gets delivered accepts it (but not happily).
- One of the possible endings to Friendly Hostility teaches us that even with the best intentions, you can't force a relationship to last.
- Jack has a few overarching themes in its stories, mostly centering on the nature of sin, punishment, repentance, and redemption, understandable for a comic about Heaven and Hell. One of these is that almost no one is good enough to get into Heaven, and almost everyone who goes Hell will never get out not because of anything they do or don't do personally, but because Hell itself can screw them out of their chance at redemption.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal features in-universe humorous examples.
- For example, the hare put in far less effort than the tortoise, but still got second place, which is, you know pretty freaking good.
- The Uncomfortable Truthasaurus gives us several nasty ones. Not everyone has a talent or is smart, and the ones that have "special talents" had to work a lot to acquire said talents. What virtually everyone wants in a relationship is someone attractive and of high social status.
- Sluggy Freelance ends the "Aylee" Story Arc with An Aesop that you should always stand by and trust your friends, even if there's a very real chance they might destroy all life on Earth.
- Penny Arcade has one that combines an Imaginary Friend with a Precision F-Strike.
- Walkyverse has "Morals mean diddly squat without experiences to back them up which is a license to screw around and do stupid things".
- The Oglaf strip Bilge teaches one in a humorous manner. The plot is that a group of villagers have spent months building a ship to fight the Vikings, but the finished ship itself is utter crap and stands no chance in an actual fight. One of the villagers tries to get them to back out of fighting by saying, essentially, that no amount of hard work and determination can create good products without knowledge of how to properly make it. The other villagers ignore him, not wanting to have wasted their work, and promptly suffer a humiliating defeat.
A lot of people gave very selflessly to build this warship so we can go out and battle the Vikings. But the time has come to admit that hard work and hope are no substitute for actual knowledge, and that we've made a really shitty ship. If we sail this ship against the Vikings, we'll be massacred immediately. I suggest we break it up for scrap, never speak of it again.
- In Dragon Ball Z Abridged's rendition of Android 16's pep talk to Gohan before he goes Super Saiyan 2, it goes from an understanding speech about how it's not wrong to fight for what you love to 16 viciously ripping Gohan apart for acting like he's the only one of the cast who suffers, and for rigidly sticking to his pacifist principles instead of doing the right thing.
Android 16: Cell was right, you think you're better than everyone else. But there you stand, the good man doing nothing. And while evil triumphs, and your rigid pacifism crumbles into bloodstained dust, the only victory afforded to you is that you stuck true to your guns. You were a coward to your last whimper.
- The Aesop of "Why Lying is OK!" by Matthew Santoro is that some lies are necessary for society to function and that always telling the truth is a bad thing.
- Discussed at length in The Nostalgia Critic's "Top 11 The Simpsons Episodes", where he names "Bart Gets an F" his favorite episode of the show, in large part, because it's the rare piece of pop culture that's brave enough to teach "Failure is an unavoidable part of life — and we all fail sometimes, even when we try our very hardest." He argues that this is one of the most important lessons that anyone can learn, but admits that it's rarely used as An Aesop in pop culture because it's so much more uplifting to show a protagonist succeeding through hard work. In the same episode, Critic discusses this trope when naming "Homer's Enemy" one of the 11 best episodes of the show. He sums up the episode's moral as "Sometimes bad things happen to good people for no reason, and sometimes dumb people are rewarded more than smart people", but argues that the episode is brilliant because it faces such a grim message so unapologetically, and manages to make it surprisingly funny.
- Red vs. Blue: After all of the shenanigans of The Blood Gulch Chronicles, Church takes a moment to reflect on how he's learned that it's wrong to hate people based on arbitrary political or military delineations. Instead, you should strive to "despise people on a personal level." Obviously, it's not necessarily a great moral, but it still rings true to an extent in that one should not mindlessly hate just because they were told to.
Church: You should hate someone because they're an asshole, or a pervert, or snob, or they're lazy, or arrogant or an idiot or a know-it-all. Those are reasons to dislike somebody. You don't hate a person because someone told you to. You have to learn to despise people on a personal level. Not because they're Red, or because they're Blue, but because you know them, and you see them every single day, and you can't stand them because they're a complete and total fucking douchebag.
- CGP Grey: "Rules for Rulers" is one long, sobering explanation of why corruption, backstabbing, seemingly irrational decisions are Inherent in the System. Whether in a democracy or a dictatorship, power is mainly about controlling wealth and who gets it. If you want to hold onto power, you have to engage and even kowtow to powerful interests by giving them a share of the "treasure" (straight-up cash in dictatorships, more legal favors like subsidies and tax breaks in democracies). If you don't and instead spend that treasure on other things- such as improving the lives of your citizens- someone offering them that money will convince them to overthrow you. You also can't avoid systems of power, since they exist in everything from governments to corporations to tiny HOA's. The most you can do is just turn a blind eye to understanding them. But even after explaining this, it's also made clear that without power, you can't affect anything. If you want to see change, it's a game you have to know how to play.