The Crayon Box that Talked
By Zuha Shaikh
A girl goes into a shop and overhears crayons arguing. Yellow and green hate red and no one likes orange. So the girl buys the box of crayons and uses all colors to paint a picture all while the colors watch how others have contributed to the picture.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Zuha Shaikh
The Crayon Box that Talked raises underlying philosophical questions about difference, cooperation, and identity.
At the beginning of the story, crayons converse with each other and mention that they don't like certain crayons, especially orange who they dislike without any specific reason. This raises the philosophical issue of feelings. How do individuals develop attitudes or form opinions, especially that of disliking others? Some people might say that we dislike people who hold different opinions or values that we don't think are moral or that we think are wrong. Others might argue that we hold certain biases in societies where a sense of disliking might be based only upon explicit differences. It is also possible that we are more aware of differences in people who we see in our daily lives. In that case, we may be resentful towards a person who has different capabilities than us, especially if they can do things that we want to do but can't do, or things that we do but they do better. However, this story hints at another answer, that individuals base their opinions on the opinions of those who they like or trust. Hence, a bigger group collectively accepts the judgment of a smaller group or maybe even one person, which might be why no crayon in the story knows why exactly they dislike orange. This raises the philosophical issue that why and how do individuals value opinions that may be formed through faulty mechanisms? Or is there a correct way to opinions?
The crayons begin to like one another when they find out the other crayons’ capabilities in the girl’s drawing process. This raises a question about the nature of opinions. Are opinions and feelings rigid or flexible? Can they change in their essence over time? For example, can a sense of disliking turn into indifference or a sense of love turn into hatred? Many philosophers would say yes. If so, what are the mechanisms of this significant change in original opinions/feelings? How can a sense of intolerance change into acceptance? Maybe some people start liking people who are different when these different people help them or when they discover something new about these people that somehow changes their opinions. At other times, people might stick to circles and areas crowded by people who they perceive as similar. Hence, they don't get much of an opportunity to know different people better. For example, many Americans might not get to spend much time with some people in a different part of the world, but they still might not like them. Would it then be possible for such people to change their opinions?Philosophers argue that we are all somehow fundamentally and inextricably connected. If that is the case, should we be bothered by our own feelings towards a person or a group of people who are not connected to us by any relationship formed by friendship, family, work, study etc.? Should people change their opinions if having those opinions does not affect or disturb their daily lives?
When the picture was complete, green praised blue for being “so high in the sky.” Blue’s recognition shows that different people can have different skills and capabilities that are not immediately obvious because we may be biased in our judgments based on obvious differences. According to sociologists, human behavior can be divided into cooperation, conflict, and competition. We see the crayons begin with conflict and progress to cooperation over the course of the story. The first philosophical issue here is that how do individuals collectively shift between these phases of conflict and cooperation? Does a change occur inside us individually that somehow effects a change in the other person? Or do all individuals have to experience this change at the same time for a collective sense of conflict to turn into cooperation? The second important philosophical issue here is the inherent value of cooperation, the question whether people can achieve more by working together or working alone. Could the crayons have achieved the same result without cooperation? Maybe we can sometimes work better alone, why should we then try to cooperate?
The story also hints upon the philosophy of identity. What makes each crayon what it is? In metaphysics, philosophers examine how much things need to change before becoming a different thing. When colors from two crayons were mixed, the girl noted that it created something new. Is that thing something that did not exist before, so that when we mix blue and yellow it makes a new color, green? According to most philosophers, each thing has essential properties and accidental properties. Essential properties are those that if changed, change the identity of something. Accidental properties are those that can be changed without changing the nature of a thing. Those philosophers, who agree that essential and accidental properties exist, do not fully agree on which property goes under which category. Hence, it is important for us to discuss whether the same criteria can be used to evaluate humans and their identities. Essentially, is there something that if changed, we will not be who we are? What defines our identities?
Overall, this story can be used to discuss the concept of diversity and what makes it hard or not hard for people to like and work with different people. The discussion may not get to the third section on identity and that is fine. Philosophy of identity is an additional topic that can be used during philosophy discussions with older students.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
By Zuha Shaikh
“I don't like red!” said Yellow. And Green said, “Nor do I! And no one here likes Orange, but no one knows just why.”
We are a box of crayons, Each one of us unique. But when we get together…The picture is complete.
Colors changing as they touched, Becoming something new.