Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Standing up for our beliefs
by Helen Lycitt (revised, originally published in 2004)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to consider the importance of standing up for others and speaking out for what we believe.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a tin or jar of fruit or dessert (for example, chocolate rice pudding) that has had its label replaced with a pet food label.
- You will also need a tin opener and a fork.
- Have available the Chariots of Fire theme tune by Vangelis and the means to play it during the assembly. It is 3.34 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY3XiM7oGj0
- Note: this assembly contains two stories, one in Step 5 and the other in Step 10, but you may prefer to use only one, depending on the time available.
- Start the assembly by appearing rushed and unprepared, and explain to the students that you were held up in traffic on the way to school. Ask the students whether they mind you having your breakfast while leading the assembly.
- Produce your tin that has a pet food label, open it and, without looking, proceed to take a mouthful. Wait for reactions.
The students should hopefully be appalled and you can play up to this by looking surprised, hurt or embarrassed. Tell the students that it actually tastes quite nice and that they shouldn’t knock it until they’ve tried it.
Then, as if it has occurred to you that it may seem a little strange, ask whether there is anyone in the audience who doesn’t believe that you really are eating pet food. Ask for a show of hands.
- Ask the students who have their hands up which of them is prepared to put their money where their mouth is and try some. (The number of hands should drop dramatically!)
- Ask a volunteer to come to the front and taste the food. Make sure that they close their eyes, and then ask the volunteer to tell everyone what the food tastes like. When they have confirmed that it isn’t dog food, thank them for their courage before asking them to return to their seat.
- Read out the following story.
Charles Blondin was one of the world’s greatest tightrope walkers. On 30 June 1859, he performed one of the most amazing stunts the world has ever seen.
Before a great crowd, Blondin walked a tightrope stretched across Niagara Falls, on the Canada-USA border. The tightrope was over 335 metres long and was rigged 50 metres above the Falls on one side and 82 metres above on the other side.
During later attempts, Blondin introduced variations to his feat of tightrope-walking. One of these involved him crossing the Falls one way and then asking the crowd whether they believed that he could make the crossing again, but this time carrying a man on his back.
They all shouted, ‘Yes!’ because he was the greatest tightrope walker in the world. So, Blondin asked for a volunteer – but no one spoke up! No one was prepared to trust Blondin and put what they believed into practice.
Eventually, one person did agree to go. He was Harry Colcord, Blondin’s manager. He alone had full confidence and trust in Blondin’s skill as a tightrope walker.
- In this story, everyone in the crowd said that they believed in Blondin’s abilities, but when they were challenged to prove it, no one moved. People weren’t prepared to put their belief into action.
- Every day, people say that they believe in things, but are these beliefs important enough to do something about? Perhaps we are genuine in our beliefs, but pressure from those around us – our friends outside school, our family, our classmates – stops us from putting our beliefs into action.
- For example, perhaps we believe that it’s important to revise hard for our exams, but our friends have persuaded us against doing so. Perhaps we believe that it’s important to help and support younger students, but pressure from others has led us towards bullying instead.
- Ask the students whether any of them have heard of the film Chariots of Fire.
Play the Chariots of Fire theme tune.
- Explain that in 1981, Chariots of Fire won the Oscar for Best Picture. Tell the students that you are going to tell them a story about one of the film’s main protagonists. This man had the courage to stand by his beliefs and act on them, even in difficult circumstances.
Chariots of Fire tells the story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams. Eric Liddell was born in 1902 in China, the son of a Scottish missionary. He was educated at Eltham College and Edinburgh University, where his outstanding speed earned him seven caps in the Scotland rugby team. After leaving university, he became a Scottish athlete and was known as the ‘Flying Scotsman’.
Liddell was selected to represent Great Britain in the 100 metres at the 1924 Olympics in Paris. He would have been the favourite to win the event because he was regarded as one of the world’s greatest 100-metre sprinters. However, he refused to take part - not because he was injured or felt unable to do it, but because the heats were to be run on a Sunday.
Liddell was a Christian, and he believed that it was wrong to do any activity on a Sunday except worship God. He held this belief so strongly that he was prepared to give up a great opportunity. Instead, he spent the months leading up to the Olympics training for the 200- and 400-metre races, although his times for these events were modest by international standards. However, to everyone’s amazement, Liddell took the bronze in the 200-metre final before going on to win the gold medal in the 400-metre final in a world-record time of 47.6 seconds.
- Liddell’s courage to stand by his beliefs was rewarded with amazing success. He believed that God was with him, guiding him. Later, he followed in his father’s footsteps and went to China to tell people about God.
Eric Liddell had strong beliefs, he showed commitment to those beliefs and in the end, his courage and faith paid off.
Time for reflection
Ask the students to be quiet for a moment and consider whether there are things in their lives that they need to have the courage to act upon.
- Do they need to make a stand with their friends against bullying?
- Do they need to go against peer pressure in any way?
- Do they need to be willing to stand up for someone who is less popular?
- Do they need to consider what they believe about God and be willing to explore this more?
Let us not be ashamed to stand up for what we believe.
When others laugh at us or try to make us feel silly,
Give us the courage of our convictions.
Help us to act on our beliefs,
And not allow others to compromise those beliefs.
Help us always to follow the right path.
‘You say’ by Lauren Daigle, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIaT8Jl2zpI (4.30 minutes long)