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Hard Truth Aesop

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"... I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience."
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (final line)

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", "It's okay to Be a Whore to Get Your Man", or "Sometimes Violence Really Is the Answer".


The "hard" in "Hard Truth Aesop" does not necessarily mean "wrong"; the lesson may be both true and well-supported in context, but it frequently jars the audience since they weren't expecting it. They may not be able to argue that the lesson is wrong, but they'll still walk away feeling a bit uncomfortable.

At the same time, though, Aesops that contradict general morality are often controversial (at best) for that very reason. Sometimes, an author thinks they're delivering a hard truth, but the audience doesn't see it that way - or they're split about it. Since one person's hard truth is another's dangerous falsehood, examples belong on this page regardless of whether their Aesops are true, and regardless of how much the audience is convinced that they are. The important thing is that the Aesop is considered "family-unfriendly" in its cultural context.


Note also that being "jarring" is not necessarily the same as being pessimistic. Some more optimistic Hard Truth Aesops might be, for instance, "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,") or, "Having sex reduces stress and makes you happier, so go have some." Note also that how the Aesop is conveyed may be what makes it a hard truth one: for instance, Good People Have Good Sex almost always gets a far 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 figure out is exactly the one the writers wanted them to catch. Nor is it the same as Broken Aesop, wherein a show contradicts or otherwise undermines its own (again, usually family-friendly) moral. An unusual moral also doesn't count if it's played for laughs (Spoof Aesop).


Due to Values Dissonance and Society Marches On, a moral that is family-unfriendly in one time and place may be very family-friendly in another (or vice versa), especially morals about social mores or civil rights (see Fair for Its Day). This list is for morals that were family-unfriendly even for the culture for which they were written. A prime target for dropping anvils.

Contrast Don't Shoot the Message, when the intended Aesop is desirable or liked, but is criticized for being poorly implemented by the work.

See also Unfortunate Implications and The Complainer Is Always Wrong.

Note: Understand that not everything needs or has an Aesop. A depiction is not an endorsement; a character behaving in a certain way does not mean the show is saying that behavior as good (let alone telling the audience that they should do the same). If you are drawing absurd conclusions from a story which doesn't have a moral, take it to Warp That Aesop on Darth Wiki.

Works with their own pages:


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Beastars has a couple that are actually stated by characters:
    • Pacifism is noble, but it only matters coming from someone who's 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.
  • Black Clover: When Juno and Asta ask the Wizard King about what they must do to achieve his rank, he gives the answer 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, has a talk 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 prioritzing her own 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.
  • At the end of Eden of the East, Akira (the hero) makes a comment to the effect that Japanese have great potential but need someone to rule them to unlock that potential. In the end, though, it actually 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.
  • Digimon Adventure 02 had 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 would 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 episode's Aesop: that lying is sometimes perfectly okay, if you have a good reason for doing it.
  • 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 there will be an absence of conflict. Needless to say, Kiritsugu was bothered by the implications that humanity is not capable of ever lasting peace. Played With that the Grail had been corrupted such that it would twist any wish it could into a wish for worldwide destruction.
  • The famous ghost train episode of Ge Ge Ge No Kitaro 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.
  • Goblin Slayer teaches that coexistence is sometimes impossible, and sometimes Violence Really Is the Answer. It's made very clear that goblins, despite being sentient, will not stop attacking other species until either they are all gone or they have wiped out every other race in the world. Some of the more idealistic characters have to learn that showing mercy to defeated goblins only means they'll attack you or others again, and the only way to ensure they're not a threat anymore is to kill them all.
  • In Grave of the Fireflies (which takes place in the final year of World War II in Japan), all the adult 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 really 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 in order to survive, especially when you have someone else to take care of.
  • 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 own 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.
  • Kakegurui:
    • The Debt Swapping Game Arc has Yumeko stating that if someone doesn't do anything to get out of a bad situation, specially when the opportunity to do so presents itself, the person likely deserves to be in that position.
    "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 really are a meek, obedient house pet. Or maybe, being in a short leash is how you want to live your life."
    • 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.
  • The Lost Village: The end of the series has the message that everyone copes with their issues in their own 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 "Peace is a nice ideal, but you have to be willing to fight because the world is full of bad people who delight in tormenting others". Indeed, the Grand Finale basically has Kamille getting over his earlier "Why do we have to keep fighting?!" attitude and killing the Big Bad.
  • While the manga and anime itself has 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."
  • Naruto has Kakashi at one point tells his students that "thinking you get it and actually getting it are two different things." Basically, it's a saying that there's no hard substitute other than experience yourself to teach you in ways a mere lecture can provide for you.
  • Plunderer:
    • 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. Rihito became a cold, inhuman murder machine so that the rest of his classmates wouldn't get blood on their hands so that they could fulfill their promise with him of never killing.
    • 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.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica has everything has a cost, there's no such thing as true selflessness, it's better to admit ones selfishness than deny it until it's too late to get what you want, and truly selfless acts requires sacrificing oneself in order to pull it off.
  • The Rising of the Shield Hero:
    • Sometimes choosing the lesser of two evils is the right thing to do, and that good deeds done half-assedly can cause serious harm. Three of the Four Heroes go about performing good deeds throughout Melromarc, but because they don't stop to consider or mitigate the resulting consequences, said good deeds snowball into utter disaster as soon as they're gone, leaving Naofumi to clean up the mess by being more thorough and putting more thought into his actions. Naofumi is also a slave owner, but because he treats his demi slaves well and because Melromarc is such a racist hellhole towards demis they're actually safer and better off than they'd be free because they're under Naofumi's physical and legal protection. Contrast with Motoyasu, who wants to free Naofumi's slaves by force even though he'd be putting them at risk, simply for the short-term gratification of feeling like a hero (and because he's creepily obsessed with one of them and wants her for himself, believing she'll join his party out of gratitude if he frees her.)
    • Malty demonstrates an uncomfortable Aesop about the ability of humans to change: some people are never going to learn from their mistakes, turn over a new leaf, or even stop being a Jerkass...they can and will keep going until they've destroyed themselves and alienated every single person who might have cared enough to help them, and you can't do anything about it except get out of the way.
  • 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.
  • 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!"
  • 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 may have been saying that to further convince Mai to leave her old life behind and remain in the DOMA cult.
  • My Hero Academia 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 own 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.
  • 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 setting out to Marineford to save Ace from execution, his abilities are simply outclassed on 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 for naught, 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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 is 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.
  • X-Men:
  • The Mega Man 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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."

    Fairy Tales 
  • In many old fairy tales and folk tales (especially the ones featuring a young or powerless protagonist), the moral is "Lie, cheat, and steal to save yourself or your family. If you do it well enough, you could become royalty." Modern versions often Bowdlerise this, eliminating the original moral.
  • 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."
  • While we're at it, Cinderella itself. Charles Perrault announced at the end that the moral was: Good looks and all sort 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 it leaves intact is Little Red Riding Hood's Aesop of "Don't talk to strangers," who 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 than 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 fable:
    • 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) should not attempt to fight its natural instincts and pursue cooperative ventures ; Mother Nature made 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 Heel–Face 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.
  • 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 really 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 peacefully settled.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • Child of the Storm Plays With this.
    • The first book and the first twenty chapters of the sequel have quite a few, namely: dishonesty is sometimes the best policy, selective truth-telling and manipulation is/can be much more effective than full disclosure, quiet assassinations are a good way to make sure that your enemies don't come back to haunt you rather than risking a Cardboard Prison, the ruthless get ahead where the good do not always, torture is effective (but only if you can be sure of when someone's lying), and pragmatism is almost always the better course than following moral convictions. Oh, and the world is a harsh place, so you'd better learn to survive from an early age, as it'll save a lot of pain later. However, the series also makes plain that these lessons aren't a good thing, from a moral standpoint, more a regrettable necessity, and the effect that they have on Harry's moral compass is consistently noted to be somewhat disturbing.
    • More to the point, the sequel partially undermines these: dishonesty is repeatedly hinted to be coming around to bite the heroes (Harry especially) in the arse, the Exact Words and manipulations of Doctor Strange induce more than one Heroic BSoD and create mistrust between him and everyone else, redemption sometimes is genuinely possible through the Power of Trust and Power of Love (and as Harry tells Clark,it takes real strength of character to offer mercy to even the vilest of villains), and while pragmatism has its place, cynicism is not a superpower - it's a good way to survive, but as Harry emphasises, it is not a good way to live, and that therefore, Rousseau Was Right.
  • Faery Heroes includes a minor lesson against both Turn the Other Cheek and 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.
  • 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 actually 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.
  • Shattered Reflection: This Fire Emblem Awakening story has 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.
  • My Little Pony: Totally Legit Recap: Sometimes children shouldn't blindly listen to their elders, because they may be selfish jerks that are full of crap.
  • The short Fallout fan video "Friendship!" parodies this, by teaching the viewers an important lesson about friendship is 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.

    Films — Animation 
  • Bee Movie: Successfully advocating for a cause might actually 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.
  • 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 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 teaches that living a life of happiness, wonder and simple pleasures is simply unrealistic beyond early childhood, and that everyone will have some bad experiences that shape them for better or worse. It also teaches that sadness is a necessary part of life and that growing up means losing some parts of childhood and dealing with complex emotions, which will make you a stronger and more rounded person. Even more family-unfriendly: it also teaches you that trying to always live up to your family's expectations of you can drive you crazy, or at any rate destroy your sense of yourself.
  • Monsters University:
    • Well, current-societal-attitudes unfriendly, at least. You can be successful without a university education if you work hard and make your way up through the ranks over time. Not really a negative one at all, since it's not as though it's telling people to slack off; Mike and Sulley's path is harder than that of the graduates, though they make it eventually.
    • 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 in the traditional sense, much like the message of Wreck-It Ralph. 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 have a point. Jerks like ROR are correct in pointing out Oozma Kappa lack traditional Scaring build despite clearlybeing 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.
  • Coco 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). Also, be careful who you look up to, as some famous people had to do very unscrupulous things to get where they did.
  • Considering how Zootopia is a commentary on modern-day prejudices using mammals in place of humans, it was kind of inevitable. The movie demonstrates that intentionally or not, anybody is capable of being a carrier of prejudice (up to and including the main characters themselves), even those who are open-minded and/or suffer the most from it. While it's harsh, and not really a thing anybody wants to admit, it's pretty much how prejudice works in the real world. Fortunately, the blow is softened in a couple of senses; 1), it shows that anybody can overcome their biases if one acknowledges and actively works on moving past them. 2) Some bigoted characters are able to become more open-minded and accepting of other groups when given the time and encouragement, such as Judy's parents and Chief Bogo.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Avengers: Infinity War, both Loki and Gamora agree to hand over infinity stones to Thanos because they can’t stand to watch him torture their siblings. They are both killed not long after they essentially bargain with Thanos to spare their siblings’ lives. Every other character who tries to keep Thanos from getting the infinity stones falters in some way that is tied to caring for another person, or grief over losing someone who was killed by Thanos. Thanos, on the other hand, is willing to kill the only person he loves for his cause, and gets everything he wants in the end. In sum, caring for others can prevent you from doing what must be done to save the day.
  • Crossing Delancey:
    • From Izzy's perspective: if you try to be an independent-minded modern woman who can make her own decisions on life and love, maybe you shouldn't—your meddling elders may be right after all and you really should be with the nice Jewish guy they pick out, even if he's a lowly, seemingly boring pickle-seller.
    • Or, from Sam's (the pickle seller) perspective: if you're a really nice guy who's genuinely interested in the woman you've been introduced to, be prepared to be dragged though the dirt and feel like a complete schmuck before you can finally end up with her. (Amongst the things Izzy does to him: invites him out on a date just to pawn him off on her best friend; when she finally invites him back to her apartment for some time together, letting in the married neighbour who keeps coming round when he falls out with his wife, and with whom Izzy is heavily implied to be sleeping; third, standing him up on a date because the author guy she's been after tries to woo her.)
  • The Dark Knight: Sometimes it's better to have people believe in a lie if it serves a greater good and prevents widespread despair. When your society's greatest hero turns evil and then dies, lying to everyone that he met a heroic death can be the lesser evil; in this case, giving Gotham hope and keeping dozens of guilty criminals off the streets. The sequel subverts it, however.
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • Early on in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Martha Kent gives Superman a rousing speech about being a hero, and a symbol, and then abruptly ends it by saying, "Or be none of it. You don't owe this world a thing. You never did." Although it's obvious from the context that what she's saying is "having super powers does not mean you are obligated to be a hero, especially to those who won't appreciate it" and "be a hero because that's what you feel is the right thing to do, not because people demand that you should"; people have had Comes Great Responsibility beaten into their head by superhero media for decades, so it elicits a very strong reaction.
    • The aesop of SHAZAM! (2019) is "Your real family is the people who care about you," which is family-friendly, but early in the movie, a social worker adds a blunt addendum: If someone's not making an effort to be part of your life, give up on them and move on (even if it's the mother that you love). Sometimes, there is no compromising. There are no misunderstandings that can be cleared up. Sometimes you might not even get closure.
  • In the third Halloweentown movie, Dylan (a half-human warlock who Does Not Like Magic) bonds with a girl named Natalie, only to have a minor freak-out when he discovers that her real form is a furry pink-skinned troll. Naturally she's offended and points out that from her perspective, he's pretty weird-looking himself. They eventually make up and are going to kiss at the end of the movie...only to agree that they're Better as Friends, because they each find the other too gross. Despite the general theme against Fantastic Racism in these movies, the point seems to be that physical attraction is an important component in a romantic relationship (with most, that's true, unhappy though such an aesop may be).
  • Liar Liar:
    • As good a quality as honesty is, being brutally honest all the time will piss people off and get you into as much trouble as lying all the time.
    • Sometimes lying to someone is better than telling them the truth. As explained by Fletcher when he talks about how a pregnant Audrey asked if she looked fat and he said no, and that if he'd told her she looked like a cow, it'd have hurt her feelings.
    • Max then says "My teacher says that real beauty is on the inside". Fletcher responds "That's just something ugly people say". It's pretty much irrefutable that physically attractive people usually fare better in society and are treated more favorably than average-looking or unattractive people, even if their beauty is only external. The (in)famous scene with the woman in the elevator also demonstrates this.
    Woman: Everybody's been real nice.
    Fletcher: Well, that's because you have big jugs...
  • Mrs. Doubtfire: Sometimes, divorce actually is the best option for a struggling married couple, especially if children are involved since the couple being apart from each other can help them not spend all of their time fighting one another in order to be the parents that they need to be for their children. Likewise, most couples who get divorced don't get back together. Also, two people who are way too different from one another cannot function together as a romantic couple, especially not in the long run.
  • Rambo IV: Sometimes Violence Really Is the Answer. Naive pacifistic missionaries try to go into Burma and help stem the violence, after being detained Rambo brought in a group of mercenaries and had to massacre dozens of enemy soldiers in order to retrieve them.
  • Rocket Science viciously deconstructs the popular "try your hardest and you can overcome anything" moral. Some obstacles just can't be surmounted no matter how hard you try. And sometimes you just Don't Get The Girl. Oh, and life isn't fair.
  • TRON: Legacy: Creating an open and free system that is accessible to everyone isn't always a good thing, because all entities are not created equal, and some entities, when given infinite rights and access, will use them to force their will upon others, and remove their infinite rights and access. Sometimes proprietary is the way to go.
  • Utøya: July 22:
    • There are no safe places left anymore. Tragedy can strike at any time, at any place. Very terrifying, but sadly true.
    • Doing what's right comes at a cost. In the worst case, you die for it. That doesn't mean it's wrong to do so, but you must be aware of the cost.
    • No matter how clever and brave you are, if you are caught in a shooting, and don't have skills useful against attackers, you run or hide ASAP - trying to play a hero will get you uselessly killed.

  • Many of the original Aesop's Fables have this trope - in fact, 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 in order to save your own 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: arguing rationally with the powerful is useless, they'll just overwhelm 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 own 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 literally 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 brave survives where the coward dies (sometimes Driven to Suicide), or alternatively 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 contain 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 Contrived Coincidences or Applied Phlebotinum. Enforced in that 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, really.
  • Although Friedrich Nietzsche is not explicitly Social Darwinist, his revolt against conventional morality 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 in fact 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 totally indifferent to your suffering, so be sure to cling to those precious few bright spots for the brief time that they last!
  • 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.
  • 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 as they did in traditional fairy tales and adventure stories, and found relief only when he realized that the Aesop was "life is not fair".
  • Squeakers, a leg-crossingly uncomfortable book about a little squirrel with alarmingly fluttery-lashed eyes, teaches little boys the admittedly important lesson that they have to tell their parents about being molested. The (male) squirrel goes through days on end of hiding the shameful and hideous bald patches on his tail where a neighbor is tearing out fistfuls of his fur on the way home from school every day in exchange for, yes, nuts. Ahem.
  • A lot of Hans Christian Andersen stories:
  • 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 actually 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.
  • Tuck Everlasting: You'll eventually have to die at some point, young or old. Living forever is unambiguously a terrible idea.

  • "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.
  • 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.
  • 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 out 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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 that keep society running.
  • Galloway's arc in Bully focuses on the issues between two teachers: Galloway is friendly and well-liked, but an alcoholic, and 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 own 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep: Forgiveness can backfire (just ask Eraqus note  and Ansem the Wise note ), The Power of Friendship can fail (the main trio get a Bittersweet Ending/Downer Ending despite giving it their all), and The Power of Hate can be your best friend (it's what lets Terra create the Lingering Will, the ultimate Spanner in the Works against Big Bad Xehanort).
  • 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.
  • NieR: Automata has a 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The postgame Eevee sidequest in Pokémon 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.
  • 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 own 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.
    • 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.

    Web Comics 
  • 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 in fact 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 does accept 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.
  • 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".

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • A recurring aesop in Mister Metokur videos is that sometimes the people who make fun of you do legitimately have a point when they mock you, especially if you engage in behaviors that are self-destructive in nature or ones that incur harm in others (such as pedophilia or zoophilia).
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Family Unfriendly Aesop


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