Are We Ever Truly Free?
by Helen Bryant
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To consider whether or not what we do is ever really free from consequences.
Preparation and materials
- Have available the song ‘Freewill’ by Rush or another appropriate song of your choice and the means to play it at the beginning and end of the assembly.
- I wonder how many decisions you have made already today.
Did you decide how you were going to get to school, how you were going to give your excuse for not having done your homework?
Did you, though, consider how you were going to speak to people this morning or how you were going to react when your parents asked you to get up or how you were going behave when you got into your lesson?
- The thing is, although we are ‘free’ human beings with the ability to choose and do things that we want to do or don't want to do, what we do or don't do ultimately impacts others.
How you responded to your parents this morning may have meant that they are going to have a good or a bad day, all because of how you responded to them.
You may be in a mood with yourself because you knew you needed to do your homework, but now you're fully expecting to get into trouble. No? Excellent!
- Our choices, our thoughts and our actions all have some impact on us, but also on the people around us. This also happens the other way round.
C's decision to not invite you to his or her party makes you feel sad and that you’re not liked. It might be that C has no choice but to limit the number of friends at the party because his or her parents can't afford to invite the whole year.
How you speak to your peers, parents and siblings may affect what kind of day they have, the kind of day you have. This can even happen from lesson to lesson.
The way you feel about one teacher in particular may mean you work or don't work for him or her. Maybe you like the subject, so you enjoy it and work hard in the lessons and on your homework. This may mean that enjoyment makes a difference to how you behave and how much effort you put into the subject as a whole. It may also influence what you choose to do later on in your life. What career path you take, what A level and university choices you make.
- I also wonder if our choices, and whether we are free or not to make them, comes from the experiences that we have had throughout our lives. You may adore a certain style of music because your parents have it playing in the house, the car and so on. Equally, you may hate it for those very reasons. You may really enjoy the same kinds of activities that your parents do in their spare time or else decide what they do is not for you. Either way, what you have experienced allows you to make either an informed choice or a rash one.
- This all sounds very like a philosophical theory called ‘determinism’ – that is, the belief all events are caused by things which happened before them and people have no real ability to make choices or control what happens. So, essentially, what we have done before will, at some point, have a direct effect on what comes afterwards and that cannot be avoided.
This calls into question whether we humans really do have free will – meaning we are truly free to make our own choices – or we are simply predestined, predetermined, based on things such as upbringing, socialization and psychological factors. This may lead some of you to say, ‘I was going to be horrible to my sister today before I woke up, it was predetermined, I didn’t have any choice in the matter!’
Time for reflection
As with all of these things, we really and truly do have a choice. You could have decided to be nice to your sister this morning, because, actually, you're horrible to her every morning, because she is annoying or because she borrowed your clothes last week without asking . . . Despite these things, you can choose to break the mould.
You can choose to not behave in the same way, not say something that will hurt others, not just go along with something for an easy life when that would be wrong.
Every action has a reaction, whether we mean it to or not. So, we should exercise our freedom to choose and our ability to break the mould, maybe occasionally ploughing our own furrow, but we must also remember that our actions may have either a positive or negative effect on others, so, we need to exercise our freedom wisely.
‘Freewill’ by Rush