The Rabbit in the Moon
By Rosalyn White
A generous rabbit gives up his most precious posession for a lost traveler and is lifted to the heavens where his generosity continues to shine for all time. .
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Jelena Spasojevic
There are several philosophical issues in the book, The Rabbit in the Moon – friendship, change, and courage – but the most prominent theme is the power of goodness, kindness, and altruism. The book gives a simple message that being good and kind is exceptionally valued. In fact, the story goes to the extreme by presenting the heroic self-sacrifice of the rabbit as something highly rewarded. In the third part of the discussion questions, children are asked to think about this message and to question it. Starting with more specific questions such as whether they have been altruistic, and discussing what it means to be altruistic, allows children to grasp the concept so that they can talk about it more abstractly (e.g. is it right or wrong to be selfless and to self-sacrifice, etc.). These questions are open and are designed to give the children an opportunity to think about who they are and what their rank orders are regarding selfishness and selflessness, as well as to reflect on other people’s opinions, and possibly adjust or change their own as a result of new information and ideas. In this discussion, through carefully raising open-ended questions, a facilitator is gently guiding the children into discoveries that might be contradictory to what they’ve known. For example, if children all agree that being selfish is bad, which is a possibility considering that in everyday speech this word has derogatory connotation, the facilitator could come up with an example that would question that opinion and therefore make children think and realize on their own that being selfish could be - and is - good at times. Or perhaps some children might question the example and show valid arguments against it, which would make room for deeper discussion and thus deeper understandings.
In this discussion children might be faced for the first time in their lives with questions about when it is OK to be selfish, when to consider being selfless, when (if ever) to risk your life for someone else, etc. Aside from teaching them to think and find the answers to hard questions, this ethical discussion about altruism is also useful in preparing them for possible conflicting situations in their lives – situations where it is necessary to decide on limits of their own selfishness (or selflessness), for example.
Ethics and social philosophy issues are intertwined in the discussion on friendship: the questions are designed to spark a conversation about the meaning of a good friendship and about the ways in which we all influence each other. Starting from their own experience, children can define characteristics of a good friend, and possibly prioritize some characteristics over others if asked to. For example, they could be asked, “Would you rather have a friend who is loyal or one who is smart?” which would then open up the separater issue of rating virtues. It is important to mention that this particular question set, just as all the others, is just a general frame. Thus, apart from answering these pre-made questions, the discussion itself might lead to more questions such as: Just because someone is our friend does it mean that this person is always good for/to us? Can someone be a bad person and still be a good friend? What makes someone a bad person? It’s also possible that many of the pre-made questions are not get answered or even asked, because the discussion takes a different course. The facilitator’s job here is to be open and flexible, to actively listen to the children, and to recognize interesting ideas that could be worth exploring further.
The second set of questions encourages a direct ethical inquiry into the virtues courage, fear, love, and their relations. This discussion (as well as the other two) presents a problem of conflicting qualities existing together – just because someone is being brave does not mean that he/she didn’t experience fear just a moment ago or perhaps still feels fear while working against it by being brave. Again, examples are presented as open-ended questions (e.g., What if X happened?) that will expose children to such ambivalent possibilities and could help induce children to think about the world in terms of shades of gray rather than black-and-white. Also, although the issue of love is raised in questions only in a relation to the fear (as a reference to the book’s lines that connect the two), the discussion might continue on, if appropriate, to ask what is love, how do we know that we love someone, or how do we know that we are loved.
The philosophical issues raised in the question sets - friendship, courage, fear, love, and altruism are existential - they are the essential part of our lives. Therefore, children will be happy to discuss them and will probably have a lot to say. In addition, with the community of inquiry they will learn actively by reflecting on their own thoughts and the thoughts of their peers - rather than passively as when reading a book or listening to a teacher. Finally, even if there is no one clear conclusion that the children can take away with them at the end of the discussion, they will still learn a lot about the concepts that were discussed. More importantly, they will learn how to stop and think, to question, and to consider different possibilities, explanations, and opinions.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
"Though he was not as strong as the elephant nor as bold as the lion, he possessed the kindest of hearts."
"Feeling only love for others, he had never been afraid for himself." (or) "And he leaped toward the blazing fire."
"Then in order to remind the world of the power of selflessness, he placed the rabbit in the moon, where he has dwelt from that day forward."