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How do we measure a (hu)man

by Helen Bryant

Suitable for Key Stage 3/4


To look at whether or not our worth is measured by more than just grades. 

Preparation and materials

  • Find the poem ‘The measure of a man’ (Anon), which can easily be changed to make it ‘The measure of a woman’.
  • Have available the song ‘Seasons of love’, sung by the cast of Rent, and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.


  1. Twelve hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes. I wonder if anyone knows what that adds up to? If you were listening to the music that was playing as you came into assembly, you might be able to answer that question.

    It is a year, a whole year, in someone's life.

  2. I wonder how we measure someone's worth? The song gives us some pointers. Do we measure it as daytime? Cups of coffee? For some of us there will be more coffee than others.

  3. I wonder how you measure your worth or the worth of someone else? For those of you who have sat exams recently, is it measured by your results this summer? Is your value measured simply in terms of the grades you achieve? Is it measured in terms of how many top grades you have or which university you get into?

  4. Interestingly, both those who follow various religions and those who take a secular view believe that a human life has ‘intrinsic value’, which means it has nothing to do with what you can and can't do. Its value stems from the very fact that you are a conscious, thinking and feeling human being.

  5. We believe that human beings have – to borrow the phrase used in the American Declaration of Independence – certain ‘inalienable rights’. The first of these is that all humans are equal and of equal value. We gain our value simply from being human.

  6. Most religions agree, except that they feel we have added value as God is somehow involved in our creation and so life is God-given, sacred and precious. Note, though, that, regardless of belief, we all feel humans have a special value attached to them.

  7. Let's return to the song we heard at the beginning, which urges us to measure a human life not in terms of the things he or she does, or minutes or hours, but love. The love we have for ourselves and the love we give and share with others.


Time for reflection

I don't see the point in measuring my life in terms of time any more. I'd rather measure it in terms of making a difference.

These words were said not by a celebrity, but by a young man who was given only a short while to live. Stephen Sutton's wish to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust went viral and his story was told all around the country and the world. In the end, he personally raised nearly £4 million pounds for the charity.

As you will probably know, he recently lost his battle with cancer. I wonder which of us, if we were given the devastating news that we had just a short while left to live, would simply give up and give in or fight, as Stephen did?

As he said, how we really measure someone is not by the grades they have achieved but by how they make a difference and the legacy that they leave behind.

Use the poem ‘The measure of a man’ (Anon) as a meditation.


‘Seasons of love’, sung by the cast of Rent

Publication date: August 2014   (Vol.16 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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