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Are We Free?

Everything has a consequence

by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2013)

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To consider whether 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. ‘Freewill’ is 5.37 minutes long and is available at:


  1. I wonder how many decisions we have made already today.

    Did we decide how we were going to get to school or maybe what excuse we would use for not having done our homework?

    Did we, though, consider how we were going to speak to people this morning, or how we were going to react when a parent asked us to get up, or how we were going to behave when we got to our lesson?

  2. The thing is that, although we are ‘free’ human beings with the ability to choose and do what we want to do, what we actually do or don’t do affects others.

    Our parents might have a good or bad day because of how we responded to them this morning. We may be in a mood with ourselves because we knew that we needed to do our homework, but now we’re fully expecting to get into trouble!

  3. Our choices, thoughts and actions all have an impact on us, but they also affect the people around us. This happens the other way round too.

    Someone’s decision not to invite us to their party may make us feel sad and worry that they don’t like us. However, that person’s decision may not have been a simple choice: perhaps they had to limit the number of friends at the party because their parents couldn’t afford to invite everybody.

  4. How we speak to our peers, parents and siblings may affect what kind of day they have and the kind of day we have too. This can even happen from lesson to lesson.

    The way we feel about a particular teacher may mean that we work or don’t work for them. Maybe we like the subject, so we enjoy it and work hard in the lessons and on our homework. Our enjoyment of the subject may affect how we behave and how much effort we put into it. It may also influence what we choose to do later on in our lives, such as what A Level and university choices we make and what career path we take.

  5. I also wonder if our choices, and whether we are free to make them, come from the experiences that we have had throughout our lives. We may adore a certain style of music because our parents have it playing all the time. Equally, we may hate it for the very same reason! We may really enjoy the same kinds of activities that our parents do in their spare time or else decide that what they do is not for us. Either way, what we have experienced enables us to make either an informed choice or a rash one.

  6. This all sounds very like a philosophical theory called determinism, which is the belief that all events are caused by things that happened before, so people have no real ability to make choices or control what happens. Determinism means that 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 that we are truly free to make our own choices – or whether we are simply predetermined, with our ‘choices’ 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, so I didn’t have any choice in the matter!’

Time for reflection

However, we really and truly do have a choice. We could have decided to be nice to our sister this morning because we’re horrible to her every other morning. Perhaps we think that she’s annoying or she borrowed some of our stuff last week without asking . . . Despite these things, we can choose to break the mould.

We can choose not to 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 can have a positive or negative effect on others, so we should use our freedom wisely.

Ask the students the following questions.

- What choices have you already made today?
- Were they good or bad choices?
- What were the consequences of those choices?

Pause to allow time for thought.

Ask the students the following questions.

- What choices are you needing to make at the moment?
- How are you going to make those choices?
- Are there people to whom you could talk who could help you?

Pause to allow time for thought.

Publication date: February 2021   (Vol.23 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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