In these uncertain times of job losses, salary cuts and business failures, our levels of resilience will be tested like never before. Here’s what fairytales can teach us.

The saying that ‘fairytales’ do come true, forgets that all fairytales have dark beginnings and it is often only through the sheer resilience and persistence of the characters that their grim realities turn into a happy ending. It’s probably truer to say that happy endings do come true, and fairytales are just life.

Take the story of Hansel and Gretel. Raised in poverty by parents who, amid their despair, decide to lose their two children in the forest rather than watch their children starve to death (in some versions it is the decision of the stepmother). One of the children overhears and gathers white pebbles to guide them back home.

Here are two children who, even couldn’t be blamed for feeling rejected and abandoned by their parents, steadfastly and persistently decide to make their way home to those self-same parents. And yes, the parents come into good fortune and can feed their children again until the money runs out and it’s back to the forest.

The second time around, the birds eat the breadcrumbs and the children are truly lost. But it is the thought that they cannot return home that saddens them, not that their parents abandoned them and left them to die. Some versions of the story have them stumble upon the cottage of a witch, whom they overcome to return home with jewels (and joyful, the stepmother has died). In others, it is an economic turn of events that enables everybody to live happily ever after.

The version that is the most salient is the one in which the parents — just before the children make their way home the first time — come into money from a long unpaid debt. The second time around, they return home with jewels and a fortune in gold.

The lesson in resilience is this:

  1. Keep faith in your relationships with the people closest to you (even if you feel they have abandoned you).
  2. Prepare and then plan for the worst (a pocketful of white pebbles was an act of planning and preparation)
  3. Keep going because we never know what good fortune is around the corner (giving up never crossed the children’s minds).
  4. Don’t walk alone (in the darkest times it would have been easy for Hansel and Gretel to turn on each other).
  5. Don’t take the vagaries of misfortune and good fortune personally (if anybody could have fallen into this trap it was the children, but they didn’t).

Of all these, the old nugget of persistence in the face of adversity rings true. Good fortune or a turn of events is always around the next corner, provided we keep going. In the words of Winston Churchill, “When going through hell, keep going”.

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