EDITOR’S NOTE: Being a good parent at times takes superhero skills. To help you develop your own, “The Relational Book for Parenting” authors Saliha Bava and Mark Greene offer suggestions from their book. Go here to read more in this exclusive periodic series for City Dads Group.
We previously wrote about the power of considering context and how it helps us better understand and relate to each other. To better illustrate its value to your children (and, perhaps, you), we’re going to share a fable from our book The Relational Book for Parenting.
“The Fable of the Candle and the Moon” shows how context can affect what we might at first think is immutable, concrete or factual. It illustrates how the meaning of almost any belief or idea can change once we consider the surrounding circumstances. It also invites us to notice the playful power of shifting our interpersonal context, which takes place when we foreground different aspects of ourselves in relationship to our children.
Read this fable with your kids to open up a conversation. We offer some discussion tips after:
“The Fable of the Candle and the Moon”
One night, the princess sat with the jester, looking out of a high tower window. The sun had long since set. In the sky before them was the full moon. Far below, they could see the moonlit fields, the roads and rivers and forests, winding away into the distance.
“The moon is ancient. It has been in the sky since long before any living thing existed,” said the princess.
“The moon is huge, greater in size than any mountain,” said the jester.
“The moon is beautiful,” said the princess. “It is the subject of countless songs and poems and stories.”
“The moon inspires passion in lovers, young and old,” said the jester.
“Ew,” said the princess, making a face.
“Well, it does,” said the jester. “Someday you’ll appreciate that.”
“At night, the full moon is the most powerful source of light in the world.”
“Yes, it is,” said the jester. “Except when it’s not.”
“Oh, here we go again,” said the princess, rolling her eyes.
The jester took a nearby candle and holding it before the princess said, “How mighty by comparison is this humble candle?”
The princess scoffed. “I can blow it out with one breath. Can I blow out the moon?”
“Close your eyes,” said the jester.
The princess closed her eyes and smiled. “The moon is gone, but the candle is not,” she said. “I can still see its light. All right then, but you cannot deny that the moon moves the mighty oceans. That is a power you cannot deny.”
“Score one for the moon,” said the jester. “But I would ask you this. Can the moon wound you? Because I assure you if you hold your finger in this flame …” the jester said.
“Score one for the candle,” said the princess. “But I need only step away from the candle to be safe. The moon’s power spans the world.”
“True enough,” said the jester. “But what if I do this?” The jester held the candle up in the window. Its bright, flickering flame blotted out the moon.
“Now I cannot see the moon, nor the stars, nor the night,” admitted the princess.
“And think one step further,” said the jester. “Can you move the moon to your purposes?” He moved the candle before him in a slow circle, their shadows dancing a pirouette.
“No,” said the princess. “I admit, I cannot.”
The jester rose. “Come with me away from the window,” he said.
The princess followed. The jester blew out the candle, plunging the room into darkness. “I can only see the pool of moonlight on the floor,” said the princess.
“Would you like for me to relight the candle?” said the jester.
There was a moment of silence.
“Yes, I think so,” said the princess.
“Why is that?” said the jester. “Are you afraid of the dark?”
“No,” said the princess, “I would simply like to see your face.”
“Score one for the candle,” said the jester as he struck a match and lit it. In the glow of its light, he smiled.
“So, since we have to choose,” said the jester. “Is the candle or the moon more powerful?”
“Hmmm,” said the princess. “I’m not sure. Do I have to choose? They are both very powerful. But it would seem the candle is the winner. For without it, I cannot see my own family.”
“I’m with you. Why must we decide these things, anyway?” the jester responded. “I never settle my mind on anything. That’s why I am a fool. Come with me.”
Carrying the candle, he walked down the long staircase to the courtyard below. The candle lit their way to the main gate, where a soldier stood guard.
“Please open the gate. The princess and I would like to take a walk,” said the jester.
“I’m sorry,” said the guard, “but the king has forbidden the princess to be outside the walls after dark.”
The jester was startled, then he laughed to himself. He removed his jester’s hat and put on his crown.
“Your majesty, I did not see you there,” said the guard, opening the gate.
“Thank you for doing your duty,” said the king to the guard.
The king then removed his crown and replaced his jester’s cap. The jester and the princess walked out into the nighttime fields surrounding the castle.
“And now, about this most powerful candle,” said the jester. “We will use it to spy out the rabbits, foraging at the far edge of the fields.” The jester looked and saw nothing.
He turned to the princess. “I’ll try and hold it higher.” The jester stood on tiptoes. “Still. Not. Working …,” said the jester, stretching as high as he could.
The princess raised one eyebrow. “All right,” said the princess. “Your point is made.”
The jester blew out the candle and the nighttime fields leapt into visibility, awash in the light of the full moon.
“The candle in the castle is very different than the candle in the nighttime fields,” said the princess.
“Is it very different than the candle in the nighttime fields without a full moon,” said the jester.
“Ugh!” scowled the princess. “Will this never end? This compared to that, compared to this, compared to that. It drives me crazy, sometimes.”
“Me, too,” said the jester.
They stood in silence looking out at the fields. As the minutes passed and their eyes became accustomed to the dim moonlight, details began to emerge from farther and farther away.
“Score one for the moon,” murmured the princess. “And the candle would have made it impossible to spot them.” There in the distance, they could see rabbits grazing at the edge of the field. Occasionally, each rabbit, in turn, would raise up and look about, then drop back down to nibble on the fresh clover that grew there.
The princess and the jester watched wisps of clouds sweep across the moon. They heard the calls of night birds. A breeze rose and fell. It was a beautiful night.
“So, out here,” said the princess, “the candle has less importance, but in the rooms of the castle, the moon is of less consequence. So power lies neither in the moon nor the candle,” said the princess, puzzling out the answer. The power of either is determined by where we are in the kingdom.”
The jester’s smile was faint in the moonlight. “Very good! But know this. What things mean to us is more than just where we are standing. It is many things. Shall I change the importance of the candle in an instant?”
“Just when I thought I had the answer, father!” laughed the princess. “Please do.”
The girl’s father removed his jester’s cap and put on his crown. “Guard! Please join us in the field for our walk!” shouted the king.
“Yes, my lord,” responded the distant guard. “Where are you, my lord?”
The princess smiled. She took the matches from her father and lit the candle.
“Ah, there you are, my lord and lady!” called the guard, heading their way.
“Score one for the candle,” said the princess, laughing.
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Here’s how you can talk with your kids about where else they see context operating in the fable. Here are three ways to get the conversation started:
- location: inside or outside the castle
- intention: what the princess or jester seeks to do
- relationships: how those around the princess or the jester impact what they focus on
In the fable, the jester helps the princess see the power of context by being playful with a logic problem. Not only does the princess see the presence of context in factors like location, she also sees how more subtle contextual factors, like the choice to be playful, can affect how we relate to each other and form our beliefs. Finally, when we invite our children to play with complex ideas, we create the story for them that they are members of the community of creative thinkers.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Saliha Bava, PhD, is a couples and family therapist who you can follow on Twitter @ThinkPlay. Mark Greene is senior editor of The Good Men Project who you can follow on Twitter @Remakingmanhood. Their book on growing our families’ relationship capacities, The Relational Book for Parenting, is available on Amazon.
See their introductory video at http://ThinkPlayPartners.com.