Strengths and Weaknesses
An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider that a perceived weakness can sometimes be a strength.
Preparation and materials
You will need two long garden canes.
Have available the song ‘The sound of silence’ by Simon & Garfunkel, and the means to play it at the beginning of the assembly. This can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zLfCnGVeL4 (check copyright)
As the students arrive, have the music playing and stand at the front of the room with the canes upright in your hand, appearing as nonchalant as possible. When the music stops, tell an anecdote about a playground incident that you have experienced, along the lines of the following example.
Story 1: the bullying anecdote
I had an experience this week that I was disappointed to see. When I was on duty, I saw two younger pupils playing about, as I thought. However, looking more closely, I noticed the smaller of the pupils looking a little distressed. I intervened and discovered that what had started out as a bit of fun had became more physical. The larger child was hurting the smaller child. I made sure that the older child knew exactly what I thought about the situation and they promised that it wouldn't happen again.
I also spoke to the smaller child. I asked them what caused it, how long it had been going on and what they had been doing to try to stop it. Fortunately, the problem wasn't that serious, but the child did say that sometimes, it is difficult to know what actions are for the best. The child said that, hopefully, if you walk away from something like this, rather than retaliate, the problem will disappear.
This was a very wise thing to say, and I was impressed. Walking away from a taunt requires great strength and, although some might see it as a weakness, it is a far harder thing to do than simply lashing out. Many great people have stood up for this principle - Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, to name just three - and their experiences have shown that peaceful non-violence is a strength rather than a weakness.
Point out that, although the two canes in your hands are nothing to do with the story, you wanted to give the students time to look at the canes and think about what they are. Ask the students what the canes are normally used for. After they have made a few guesses, tell them that, for the next story, you want them to imagine that the canes are huge chopsticks! They will help to illustrate what it could be like to live in heaven or hell!
Tell the following story, which is adapted from a Buddhist parable.
Story 2: the great banquet
One day, a very good man died and was transported to the Pearly Gates, where he was met by St Peter.
‘Hello,’ said St Peter. ‘Let me show you around.’
‘Thank you,’ said the man. ‘I would like that.’
So St Peter took the man through the Pearly Gates and there before him was a great banqueting hall set for a feast. The tables were groaning with food and all around the outside of the table, men and women were sitting with great, long chopsticks in their hands. However, instead of looking happy and enjoying the feast, as you might expect, they all had long faces and were thin and impoverished. They were busily using their chopsticks to pick up the food, but the chopsticks were so long that the people couldn’t get the food to their mouths, no matter how hard they tried!
Demonstrate this action with the garden canes.
The people shovelled the food onto their chopsticks, but it was always too far away from them. Even if they used the chopsticks to lift the food into the air, it just fell around their mouths and only the tiniest bits got in.
‘This is awful!’ said the man. ‘If this is heaven, let me out of here!’
‘But this isn't heaven!’ said St Peter. ‘This is hell. Let me show you heaven.’
St Peter took the man with him to another hall, next door. This hall had exactly the same setup as the previous one - same table, same food, same chopsticks - but the people, well, the people were different. They were looking happy and well fed. And then the man saw why. He saw that, when the people ate, they took their chopsticks (again demonstrating) and dipped them in their food, but instead of trying to get the food into their own mouths, they turned to their neighbours and fed them instead. One person took some food, then another and so on, so that everyone got fed.
‘Well,’ said the man, ‘so this is heaven. Heaven is the place where one person will help another, whereas hell is the place where people think only of themselves - and get nothing out of it.’
Time for reflection
These stories show that together, we can make things happen that we can't make happen on our own. Our strengths lie in doing things for others. This might seem like a weakness to some, but it is, in reality, the greatest strength that we can have.
Please help us to act with wisdom and integrity.
Help us to realize that our actions have an impact on others.
Please keep us from being selfish and thinking only about ourselves.
Help us to use our gifts for the benefit of other people.
Find out how people like Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King got their views and opinions across without having to resort to violence.
Consider the ways in which ‘small people’ can change things. As an example, take a look at the story of David and Goliath in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 17) and consider whether the qualities that David showed are for the best.
Consider and discuss how people should act if they want to change something. Examples could include bullying, too much homework, school uniform and so on.