Living volcano

“Is a volcano a living or non-living thing?”

After my Year 4 ethics students discussed this question with a neighbour, I asked for a show of hands. To my surprise, the majority voted for living.

Can a volcano move around? Yes, lava flows and continents move slowly.

Does a volcano breathe? It smokes and steams and lava expands and contracts.

Does a volcano have feelings, does it think, is it conscious (clinchers I thought)? But the students said we don’t know, how can we tell, it it might but differently to us.

At that point the whole class was in happy agreement, a volcano was a living thing. Outnumbered and liking their confidence, I decided against imposing the ‘correct’ answer.

In the weeks following, their response to the volcano question stayed with me. Whether from their sense of mischief and fun, or from a deeper intuition, they provoked me to examine my own quick classification of a volcano as non-living.

What if these ten year old children are right?

Isn’t understanding the earth as a complex and vastly interconnected living system an emerging world view? A volcano forms a part of the earth so it must be living in some sense. And ultimately, what value is there in separating living from non-living, other than to justify treating the non-living as lesser?

I notice there’s an art in staying open to surprise, respecting the unusual, allowing an awkwardness to dwell within and perhaps grow into new insight.

Our adult busyness often causes us to miss these moments, these small gifts, perhaps as a result making each of us a little less of a living thing …

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