The Four Harmonious Friends

Tucked away in the Himalayas, is the marvellous kingdom of Bhutan. There’s a well-known story and painting which features prominently in many homes and monasteries around the country. The painting is of four friends; an elephant, a monkey, a rabbit and a bird, who in the beginning were not friends. They argued about who had the right to a tree bearing delicious fruit.

One day a man came by and overruled them all and claimed ownership of the tree. Instead of going their own way, they chose to become friends and plant their own tree. The bird planted the seed. The rabbit watered the tree. The monkey fertilised it and the elephant protected it. The seed grew and grew until it became a tree bearing fruit.

Now they had a problem because while they could see the fruit, they couldn’t reach it. So, they made a tower by climbing on each other’s backs; first the elephant, then the monkey, the rabbit and finally the bird. Through their friendship and co-operation, they were able to share and enjoy the fruit. In Bhutan’s national language, Dzongkha, the story is called ‘Thunpa Puen Zhi’. In English, it means ‘The Four Harmonious Friends’.

For me, there are a few lessons to be gleaned from this story.

Firstly, that ‘ownership’ is a flawed and fragile concept. Everything we believe we own, can be taken away in an instant. Nothing is permanent. A sense of entitlement and ownership creates individualism which leads to separation and conflict.

The second lesson, is that conflict has a purpose. Conflict is simply about having a variance in opinion and beliefs. When escalated, it can lead to combativeness and even war. On the other hand, if managed well, it can lead to greater understanding and true harmony.

Thirdly, is the lesson of interdependence and co-operation. We cannot exist in this world without each other. We are hard-wired for connection and belonging. We want to feel valued and share our unique gifts with others. We deeply desire to be in communion and community.

Community is the elixir of life and communitarianism is the way forward as we build a new society that works for all. It starts where we live and work right now.

What lessons did you take from this story? I’d love to hear them.

If I can be of service, please reach out. I’m here. I care.

With love




PS If you missed my recent podcast Conversations on The CoronationListen here

About me: I’m a Purpose Educator and author of The Purpose Project. I help leaders attract and retain the best people by harnessing the power of deep purpose and storytelling. I do this through The Purpose Project for Companiesa customised consultative process for co-creating a new purpose statement and The Purpose Project Coursea 7-step online course to help employees bring their own why to work.