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Suggested Responses to Discussion Questions for
Learning Guide to THE WITNESS

See the Quick Discussion Question.

1.  See Questions Suitable for Any Documentary Film.


2.  Eddie Lama said that he believes that a miracle is a change in perception. What was his change of perception? Suggested Response: He started to realize that animals had feelings, that they hurt when they were sick or injured, that they tried to avoid death, that they loved their offspring and didn't want to be parted from them. This caused him to change his behavior, to align his life with his values, to campaign against fur, to stop subjecting his cat to a smoke-filled environment, and to stop eating meat.

3.  What human capacity did Mr. Lama demonstrate in this movie? Suggested Response: Mr. Lama demonstrated the human capacity for growth and change. He showed that people can have an epiphany and change the way they live.

4.  While millions of people have taken care of an animal for a friend, it has been a life changing experience for only a very few. Why did taking care of a kitten for a weekend lead Mr. Lama to change his life in very important ways? Suggested Response: No one knows for sure, but here is a likely theory. There were parts of Mr. Lama's personality that were unfulfilled by his life, buried under compromises and not brought out by the circumstances that he faced. For Mr. Lama, in particular, the part of his life that was unfulfilled was the need to express love and caring for beings that were dependent and defenseless. Taking care of the kitten released these feelings and gave Mr. Lama the understanding that full self-realization required him to recognize and act on his love for animals. From this beginning, Mr. Lama went from not having pets to taking care of several pets; from walking past injured animals on the street to caring for them and finding homes for them; from not thinking about the torture involved in the fur industry to parking his van on the street and showing people movies of animals being tortured; etc.

5.  Has your life ever been changed by an event or a realization that you had? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question.

6.  Mr. Lama lives his life differently than most people. He spends much of his free time advocating for animals and he is a vegetarian. Do you know anyone who has beliefs that cause that person to act in ways that are different than most of the people around them? What are those beliefs? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question, however, the point is to discuss these differences with understanding, so long as the actions are legal and don't hurt others.

7.  When he accepted the Courage of Conscience Award Mr. Lama said, "In my lifetime I have been both the oppressor and the oppressed, both the fomenter of discord and the advocate for peace. Both the perpetrator and the victim. But most significantly, I have been both the silence and the voice. It is the human voice that is the primary tool for change." Have you, like Mr. Lama, been both the oppressor and the oppressed, the fomenter of discord and the advocate of peace, or both the silence and the voice? Describe two situations in which you have been one or the other. Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question.

Social-Emotional Learning Questions:



1. In relation to wearing fur, what do PCAs mean when they say that: "It's the most trivial of our interests vs. the most vital of theirs". Suggested Response: People wear fur coats because they think that fur makes them look good and because the fur feels good. In the modern world when we have so many synthetic and plant based fabrics that keep us warm, we don't need to use fur. The interest in wearing something that looks and feels good is relatively unimportant when compared to the cost to the animals: a miserable life in a small cage and a gruesome untimely death; or an untimely and painful death caught in a trap. The interests of the animals sacrificed for a fur coat are the most fundamental interests an animal can have, the interests in life and the interest in being free from torture.

2.  In the modern age, when fibers from plants and synthetic materials are available to keep us warm, should people wear fur? What are the arguments against wearing fur and the arguments for wearing fur? Suggested Response:
Arguments Against Wearing Fur: Moral decisions involve weighing the benefits and detriments to the various persons and animals who have a stake in the decision. See Making Principled Decisions. Some people like the way fur looks and the way it feels. However, for the animals killed for their fur, it's a life of torture confined in a small cage and then death, often a horrendous death. For the relatively few "lucky" animals who live in the wild and are then caught in a trap, it is an early and brutal death that can be agonizingly slow.

In a capitalist system, there will always be pressures to economize and keep animals in poor conditions or to kill them in cheap, inhumane ways.

Arguments for Wearing Fur:

(1) Animals are not people and any pain that they suffer is not important. Fur coats and other clothing are beautiful and warm. Wearing fur enhances the lives of people.

(2)Animals kill each other in nature, and when humans kill animals for fur, it's just part of nature. People have killed and skinned animals since the human race began.

(3) The fur industry provides jobs and a good livelihood for many workers. These jobs would be lost if people didn't wear fur.

(4) Government regulation could prevent the most cruel practices of the current fur industry. Just as regulation of the food industry and the pharmaceutical industry protects the public health, regulation of the fur industry will protect the animals.

(5) There are many fur coats in existence now. Some have been in families for generations. Those animals have already died. It would be a tremendous waste to just throw the coats away.

Rebuttal: (1) People with pets, especially dogs and cats, place certain animals within the sphere of moral concern. Farm animals (especially mammals and birds) and fur bearing animals have complex social systems, and strong family bonds. Some animals mourn their dead (e.g., cows). Pigs are smarter than dogs. How can we justify not taking account of their pain, fear, and sense of loss?

(2) The death of an animal in nature caused by a predator who kills only for the food that it needs is very different from the death of an animal in the fur industry, in which thousands of animals are raised in small cages, live a life deprived of any contact with their natural environment, and are then brutally killed. Moreover, in nature, animals have a chance. Very few animals have any possibility of prevailing against people armed with our ingenious traps, powerful guns, concrete and steel cages, high fences, electric shock machines, etc. In addition, as human beings in society, we remove ourselves from the primitive state of nature as much as we are able. Humanity, with its protections for individuals, such as doctors, hospitals, police, schools and comfortable houses, are not places where survival of the fittest is acted out. Instead they are places in which we seek, as much as possible, to rise above the amoral state of nature.

(3) As for the possible losses of jobs, economics does not justify torturing and killing terrified beings who feel pain. In addition, if people don't spend their money on fur, they will purchase other clothing or other products. The fur industry is small and any workers who lose their jobs will be easily absorbed into the larger economy (4) There are presently no regulations effectively protecting the animals in the fur industry. Even if regulations were imposed, they will not always be enforced. Animals who are abused cannot protest their treatment. .

(5) It is true that animals whose skins make up the coats currently in existence have already died. However, if some people wear fur as a fashion statement, others will want similar clothing. This will spur demand for new fur coats and result in the torture and killing of additional animals. The best solution for the existing stock of fur coats and leather jackets is to give them to the homeless. These people need clothing and if they wear fur coats it will not spur demand. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has a program to do just this.
3. What are three major reasons why, for their own good, people should stop eating meat or at least reduce their consumption of meat? (None of these reasons relate to the ethical arguments made by PCAs.) Suggested Response: (1) personal and public health; (2) the fact that the meat industry is one of the worst polluters on the planet; and (3) consumption of meat contributes to food shortages and starvation because it takes 7 - 13 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat.

4.  Describe at least two of the ethical arguments made by PCAs against eating meat and using dairy products. Suggested Response: (1) The balancing of interests argument. People don't need to eat meat. Meat is not necessary for a healthy diet and so, if people eat meat it is for the taste or because it is something they have done all their lives and they never thought about how it affected the lives of the animals. In the overall scheme of life, indulging one's taste is simply not an important value. For the animals caught up in the factory farming industry, it's a matter of an early gruesome death; milk cows separated from their calves right after birth, time and time again; weeks and months in feed lots walking in their own excrement etc. Again, "It's the most trivial of our interests vs. the most vital of theirs". (2) The rights argument. The second ethical argument made is that animals, as sentient beings have rights to life and to be free of pain. Some PCAs believe that these rights are of the same level as the rights of human beings to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

5.  Someone proposed that the government should impose a pain tax on all furs and use the money collected for animal welfare. What do you think of this idea? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question. Probably, both sides would object to it. PCAs and many non-PCAs would say that it is bad moral and public policy to torture and kill some animals for the benefit of others. The fur industry would probably object to the tax because it would increase prices and reduce sales.

6.   Do you agee with Mahatma Gandhi's statement that "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated"? Suggested Response: The basis of Mr. Gandhi's statement is that animals have no power in human society, which dominates most of the Earth. Real ethics are displayed when there is no personal gain associated with the action or when the action involves some sacrifice. There is often no personal gain when people treat animals well. That is what is so wonderful about the love of a pet. When people care for other people, there are often elements of personal gratification, such as societal approval or social or financial gain. But that is not true when a person loves a dog or a cat, or a pet pig, cow or goat.

7.  The history of Western Civilization since the Middle Ages has seen an expansion in the groups to whom rights have been granted: aristocrats white men with property all white men all men regardless of race women. Some view the effort to expand rights to animals as the newest ethical frontier of our era, seeing themselves as the standard bearers for a new cause for social justice. Do you agree or disagree? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question. A good discussion will note that the extension of rights is generally preceded by the extension of the sphere of moral concern.

8.  Mr. Lama says to think globally and act locally. What does this mean? Suggested Response: We have to judge our actions as if many millions of people acted in the same way. We can't hide behind the fact that we are just one person with little power. If all the good people acted together, we'd be a mighty force and could change our world. This has been called "the power of aggregate concern",


See discussion questions relating to Life Changing Realizations.

Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)

1.  The Golden Rule is the basic standard for ethics in Judeo/Christian/Muslim religions. In fact, a form of the Golden Rule can be found in almost every major religion on Earth. Does it apply to animals? Suggested Response: Scientists are discovering more and more things about the intelligence of animals and their feelings. (See, for example, Minds of their Own: Animals are smarter than you think by Virginia Morell, National Geographic Magazine, March 2008.) The animals that we use for fur and even food are primarily mammals. Mammals are clearly sentient beings who feel pain and try to avoid death and discomfort. They care for their young and mourn when their young are killed or taken away. Birds, such as chickens and turkeys, have feelings as well. They go crazy when they are confined to small cages. Turkeys love music. There is no basis for condemning sentient beings to lives of pain and a brutal death.

2.   Have you ever been in a position in which your cries for help have gone unheeded? What happened? What did you feel? Suggested Response: Obviously, there is no one correct answer to this question. Mr. Lama tells about an occasion when he was accosted and robbed. As the thieves kicked and punched him, and no one tried to help him, he felt bewilderment, fear and a sense of complete emptiness. Employing a thought experiment in empathy, ask, " What might an animal feel in a typical situation in a fur 'ranch' or a 'factory farm'? What are the feelings of a mink, an animal who is meant to run on the ground and live in groups, when it is confined by the wire of a cage off the ground and isolated from its family? Try as it might, it cannot cut through the steel wire of the cage to get free. If it is lucky it will look out on the fields that are its natural home. If it is in a large warehouse its environment will be completely artificial. Or take dairy cows. They give more milk when they are kept in a perpetual state of pregnancy. The calves are dragged away from their mothers soon after they are born. When a cow tries to go after its calf, she is restrained. This happens time after time until the cow's body is worn out, her milk production declines, and she is sent off to be slaughtered and ground up for hamburger. What must that cow be feeling?

See Social Emotional Learning Question #1.


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

See Social Emotional Learning Question #1.

Last updated July 13, 2008.

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