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Worst or best?

Students are encouraged to consider their reactions to the success of others.

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


Students are encouraged to consider their reactions to the success of others.

Preparation and materials

None required.


  1. How many TV channels do you think there are? I’m not going to hazard a guess about the total, but it does seem that new channels have appeared each time I scroll down my Sky/Virgin menu. The total is certainly in the hundreds.

    One issue for channel producers has been creating enough material to fill the many hours of broadcasting time. A favourite format in the past couple of years has been that of creating a list-based programme. We’ve had:

    100 best films/comedy series/children’s programmes, etc.
    100 funniest TV moments.
    100 best goals.
    100 best rock anthems.
    Britain’s best views.
    100 most embarrassing moments.

    And many, many more variations on the format. These are very cheap programmes to produce since they use clips from previous broadcasts, interspersed with comments from C-list celebrities and stand-up comedians. It’s not very hard to fill at least two hours of prime-time TV. And best of all, audiences love these programmes, since people like to make lists. The programmes guarantee a reasonably sized audience, which then attracts the advertisers, who provide the money for the channel to keep broadcasting.
  2. An interesting variation on the list format was given the title ‘The 100 Worst Britons’. I wonder if you can guess who were the top four in the list? Take student responses until the correct answers have been given or time runs out.

    Number 1 was Tony Blair. Below him came Jordan, Margaret Thatcher and Jade Goody. (Pause)

    My first reaction is to say that the programme has obviously been given the wrong title. To be the worst implies that a person is a failure, that they haven’t achieved anything in their life. Despite their political mistakes (and some may disagree with that judgement) it can’t be denied that both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair revitalized their respective political parties, gave decisive leadership to the country during times of confusion and placed Britain in a prominent position in international politics.

    Jordan took her physical assets and, through clever marketing, created a career in modelling, fashion, writing and celebrity. Jade Goody is the most remarkable of all. She became a huge media celebrity by just being a celebrity, with little to offer in terms of acting, modelling or any other talent or asset that we usually associate with the word ‘celebrity’.

    Every one of these people is, in actual fact, a huge success in their field.

    So what should the programme have been called? I’d suggest a better title would have been: ‘The 100 Least Popular Britons’. That’s the problem that each one of these four people has to face: despite their achievements, they are not particularly popular among the great British public.
  3. Which brings me to a bigger issue: how many successful people do we regard as popular? For every successful sports personality, singer, politician, actor, businessman or woman I could mention, there would be those of you who could point out some flaw in their character, some personal failing, some skeleton in the cupboard or tactless remark.

    It seems that we find it hard to celebrate success without finding a way to cut these high achievers down to size. There are areas of the media whose entire purpose is, in fact, to dish the dirt on people in the public eye. We buy their newspapers and magazines in their millions every day.
  4. We can see a parallel version of this happening at times here in our school community. Successful students are sometimes wary of reactions to their success. I’m talking about:

    The student who comes top in a test.
    The winner of the race.
    The girl who goes out with the number one boy.
    The star of the school musical.
    The winner of the award.

    What these students are wary of is the sniping, the sly comments, the notes left for others to see or posted on message sites.
  5. What’s clear is that, for some of us, the success of others is hard for us to cope with. Why might this be?

    For some, its roots lie in disappointment at our own failure. For others it’s jealousy of something we can’t attain. For some it’s frustration that we’ll never (apparently) share such success because of our background or chances in life. For others it’s a ‘them and us’ scenario. The successful are always the teachers’ pets, the privileged. They don’t belong with us.

    Such reactions may be understandable, but they clearly are neither justifiable nor helpful in building a community.
  6. So what might be a more constructive approach? Spend a moment considering the following thoughts. You may wish to turn them into a prayer:

    Be thankful for whatever recent achievements you’ve heard about by members of your form.
    Be sorry for those times this week when you’ve tried to destroy someone’s reputation or spread rumours.
    Make a plan to take some action that arises out of today’s assembly. It might be to congratulate someone or tell them how much you value their friendship.
    Be inspired by someone else’s achievement and set yourself a target for today.


‘What Have You Done Today to Make You Feel Proud?’ by Heather Small.

Publication date: February 2008   (Vol.10 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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