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Honest or Dishonest?

The challenge of honesty versus dishonesty

by Jan Edmunds (revised, originally published in 2009)

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To encourage us to tell the truth.

Preparation and materials

  • Optional: you might like to display the poem in the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly, in which case you will also need the means to do so.

  • Optional: you might like to have two children to represent the two brothers in the story in the assembly. The children should keep a points tally by holding up their hands, counting on their fingers or marking up the score on a whiteboard.


  1. Begin by saying that you are going to tell the children a story. Afterwards, you would like to know what they think about it.

    The Story of Two Brothers

    Once upon a time, there were two brothers. One was rich and one was poor. They almost always disagreed.

    ‘Do you think it pays to be an honest man?’ asked one of their neighbours. The poor man thought that it was right to be honest, but his rich brother believed that the only way to get on was with lies and deceit.

    The brothers decided to make a bet to see who was right. Whoever won the bet would get all that the other owned. So, they set off in search of an answer.

    The first person they met was a farm labourer, who told them that he had worked hard for his master, but had been cheated by him and now had nothing. That was one point for the rich brother.

    Next, they met a wealthy merchant, who told them that he had become rich by telling little lies here and there, which he felt had done no harm. That was a second point for the rich brother.

    Next, they met a priest, who said, ‘The ways of the world are wicked. Where can you find honesty in this dark age? Honesty certainly does not pay.’

    ‘I think Ive won our bet,’ said the rich brother. ‘Now you must give me all that you have.’

    The poor brother did not have much to give, but because he was honest and always kept to his word, he kept his promise and went out into the world empty-handed. He had no home or money and he soon became cold and hungry.

    He went into the nearby forest to find shelter and something to eat. While he was sheltering beneath a tree, he overheard voices. They belonged to three little elves who had been doing some wicked things.

    One was boasting that he had told a farmer that the only way he would get his labourers to work for him was to beat them.

    The second elf boasted that he had blocked the river upstream with stones. The people of the local village could not work out why they no longer had a water supply. The elf told the people that if they paid him handsomely, he could restore the water by magic.

    The third elf told the king that his daughter had promised to marry the son of his worst enemy in the next kingdom. So, the king imprisoned the princess in a high tower and declared war on his neighbour. The elf told the king that if he gave him 20 sacks of gold, he would cast a spell on the princess so that she no longer wanted to marry his enemy.

    The elves danced around feeling very proud of themselves and the mischief they had caused. The honest brother was shocked by their dishonest ways and felt determined to help the people they had tricked.

    First, he went to the farmer whose labourers were unhappy and were not working well for him. The poor brother told the farmer that if he treated them kindly, they would work much harder for him. This he did and soon, the labourers worked twice as hard and received more pay as the farmer became richer and shared his wealth with them.

    Next, the poor brother went into the village and asked for help to move the stones that were blocking the river. He and a group of villagers found the place and worked hard for many hours removing the stones. Soon, the water began to flow again into the village. The people were very grateful to him.

    After that, the poor brother went to see the king. He told him that his daughter was innocent and that he should not make war with his neighbour. ‘You are an honest man,’ said the king. ‘You have shown this in the way you have helped my people, so I believe you.’ His daughter was released from the tower, the king made peace with his neighbour and the poor brother was made a hero by the villagers.

    The poor brother was invited to live at the palace. Not long afterwards, he and the princess were married. When the rich brother heard of this, he went to visit his brother to see if he could share in his good fortune. The honest brother told him truthfully how he had overheard the elves boasting about their mischief. The dishonest brother decided that he would go into the forest, find the elves, hear their plans and become a rich hero like his brother.

    He found the tree and heard the elves talking, but rather than remaining out of sight, the rich brother approached the elves. As soon as they saw him, they could sense that he was dishonest. The elves were full of mischief, so they told the dishonest brother that if he gave them all his money, they would take him to a cave where he would find gold and jewels beyond his wildest dreams.

    The dishonest brother handed over his riches and the elves took him to the cave. There, he found a lot of bulging sacks. He eagerly opened each in turn, only to find that they were filled not with gold and jewels, but with common stones. He was left with nothing.

    He went back to see his brother, who had now become king. ‘Well,’ said the honest brother, ‘I think you have discovered for yourself whether it pays to be honest or dishonest.’

    The dishonest brother was sorry for what he had done. He went on to live a modest life in the village and at last, he became an honest man.

  2. Ask the children what lessons they can learn from the story.

    Ask the following questions.

    - Why did the brothers decide to have a bet?
    - Why was the farm labourer unhappy and how had the merchant become wealthy?
    - What did the priest think about the world?
    - Who won the bet?
    - When the poor brother was sheltering in the forest, what did he overhear?
    - How did he help the farmer, the villagers and the king?
    - How was he rewarded?
    - What happened when the dishonest brother met the elves?

Time for reflection

Ask the children to listen to the words of the following poem.

Little Lies

Sometimes, we think it’s easier to tell a little lie.
We find it hard to tell the truth, however we may try.
We’re just afraid to take the blame,
We feel remorse, we’re full of shame.
We should not cheat when things go wrong,
Just face the facts, own up, be strong.

Dear God,
Please help us to be honest and true
In all the things we say and do.

Publication date: October 2017   (Vol.19 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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