Is hatred important?

I had a marvelous philosophy session with a fourth grade class at Whittier Elementary School yesterday, in which we read the chapter of E.B. White’s Stuart Little in which Stuart becomes an elementary school substitute teacher for a day. In the chapter, Stuart asks the class to reflect on what the “important things” are. After we read the chapter, I asked the students to take a little time to think about what they think are the important things. Some of what they suggested are as follows:

Trees, plants and wildlife
The economy
A good book
The afterlife

We then launched into a 40-minute conversation (I wish I’d taped it) about the suggestion that “everything is important.” The student who made the suggestion said that the world is structured so that everything in it matters, even the bad things like hatred. Why is hatred important? Many students commented that hatred serves important purposes – like releasing energy, causing wars which then keep down population and stimulate the economy, and allowing for love – several students claimed that without hatred love is impossible, that you can only know an experience if its opposite is also possible. We explored the nature of hatred – what is it exactly? How is it different from dislike? Is it the same, only stronger? Can you dislike someone you’ve never met? Can you hate someone you’ve never met?

One student remarked that love and hate are almost the same thing, that if you hate someone they play an important role in your life and you direct great energy toward them, in the same way you do toward people you love. This is why everything is important, some students suggested, because without all of the emotions, ideas, objects and beings in the world, the world would fail to have balance. We ended the session with the students writing reflections on the question, “Is everything important?”

Children are so inspiring!