As recent political events have shown, sometimes you’re in a position where whatever you choose to do is going to upset someone. This assembly keeps away from the political issue, but presents the dilemma in familiar terms

As children develop emotional and social skills they learn how to make difficult decisions responsibly. The introduction to this assembly refers briefly to the difficult decisions that politicians have had to make in recent days, but the story deals with the way that in our everyday lives we are constantly faced with the fact that pleasing one person, or doing our duty by them, may disappoint someone else.

(The assembly addresses the SEAL aspects of empathy and social skills.)

We’ve had a lot of politics in the news recently. Some people like that, others think we’ve had too much of it. But what’s certainly true is that the people who lead our country have had some difficult decisions to make. And they’ve been the kind of decisions where, whatever you decide, someone is going to be pleased and someone else is going to be upset.

But it’s not just politicians who have that kind of problem. We all do and, as you grow up, you have to learn how to deal with difficult decisions – the kind of decisions where whatever you do you’re going to upset somebody. Here’s Molly trying to think her way through something that’s bothering her.

‘OK, Molly,’ said Grandad. ‘What’s up? I know when you’ve got something on your mind.’

‘Well, I’ve got this problem, Grandad’, said Molly. ‘I’m going to upset somebody.’

‘Oh, right,’ said Grandad. ‘That’s an easy one. Just don’t upset them. There, that wasn’t too difficult was it?’

‘Oh, Grandad,’ said Molly. ‘You’re winding me up. You know it’s not going to be as simple as that. No, I’ve got two things I’m supposed to do, but I can’t do both. And whichever one I choose I’m going to upset somebody.’

‘Well,’ said Grandad. ‘I have to say that’s a difficult position you’ve got yourself into. And I also have to say that I’ve been in that position myself many times.’

‘Really?’ said Molly. ‘When were you going to upset somebody?’

‘Well,’ said Grandad. ‘There was the time when your mum was in junior school, and she was reading in a school assembly. She wanted me to be there to hear her, and I wanted to go, but at the same time I was supposed to be taking an elderly neighbour to the hospital for her appointment.’

‘Hmm,’ said Molly. ‘That’s not really a problem is it? You couldn’t let the old lady down. A hospital appointment is important. So I guess you didn’t get to the assembly?’

‘That’s right,’ said Grandad. ‘It wasn’t a difficult choice to make. But your mum was still upset. So you see even though it was an easy choice, it still ended up upsetting somebody. But anyway, tell me about your dilemma.’

‘My what?’ said Molly.

‘Your dilemma. That’s what it is when you have to make a choice between two things and you can’t easily see which is the right one. Dilemma. It’s got ‘di’ at the front of it, which is from the Greek for two. There’s lot of words like that – diversion for example. Anyway, what’s your dilemma?’

‘Well,’ said Molly. ‘Next week is Mum’s Auntie Joan’s big birthday party. All the family are going to it. And I know Auntie Joan is really really looking forward to all of us being there. We’ve never all been there together, with her and all the cousins and that. She wants to get a really good photograph. And I’ve heard her saying to Mum on the phone how glad she is that me and my brother are going to be there.’

‘Right,’ said Grandad. ‘I know all about that because I’m going too, aren’t I? Auntie Joan’s treating everyone to Sunday lunch and she’s really excited about it. So what’s your dilemma? And before you start, I’m getting a bad feeling about this.’

‘There you go,’ said Molly. ‘I told you somebody would be upset. Now it looks as if you’re going to be upset as well.’

‘OK, now just go on,’ said Grandad.

‘Well you know I’m in the big dancing show at the Albert Hall, with all the other dancing schools from all over Britain?’

‘Yeees,’ said Grandad. ‘Go on. I can see where this is going.’

‘Well, Miss Rachel, who runs the school, wants me to do a special bit in the display, and the big rehearsal is on that day, on the day of Auntie Joan’s do. And if I don’t go, Miss Rachel will be really upset, and so will the other kids in the show. They won’t be able to practice properly if I’m not there.’

‘Well, Molly,’ said Grandad. ‘I really….’

‘Yes, I know,’ said Molly. ‘You don’t know the answer to that. It’s one of your sayings.’

‘Well, actually, I don’t,’ said Grandad. ‘OK, let’s just go through it. Auntie Joan has set her heart on seeing you at her birthday do. Miss Rachel and the girls are relying on you to turn up for the big important rehearsal. Well, you’re right about one thing, Molly.’

‘What’s that?’ said Molly.

‘You’re certainly going to upset somebody. I can’t see how you can avoid it. When do you have to decide by?’

‘Tomorrow,’ said Molly. ‘Mum has to let Auntie Joan know so she can tell the hotel so they can do the right number of dinners.’

‘What does your Mum say?’ said Grandad.

‘She says it’s up to me. She says I’m old enough to make up my own mind. She says whatever I decide she’ll support me.

‘Well,’ said Grandad. ‘That shows what a difficult decision it is. If it was easy, your Mum would just tell you which one is right, but she’s like you, she’s not sure.’

‘So what do you say?’ said Molly.

‘Well, here’s my advice,’ said Grandad.

‘You’re going to tell me what to choose?’ said Molly.

Grandad shook his head.

‘No chance,’ he said. ‘Think about it. I don’t know enough about your dance and the dancing school to be able to make a sensible decision for one thing. My advice to you is to talk to as many people as you can who might have something sensible to say – your mum, your dad, even your brother bless him. You might even phone up Auntie Joan and talk to her. No harm in that.’

‘And then what?’ said Molly.

‘And then, you make up your mind,’ said Grandad. ‘You know this is what real life is like Molly. It’s full of difficult choices. You can’t go through life without upsetting somebody. But I tell you this. Auntie Joan loves you, Miss Rachel has a lot of respect for all your hard work. Your Mum and I know you’ll try to do the right thing. So whichever you decide, even though someone will be upset, they’ll know that you haven’t tried to do it on purpose. And they’ll get over it. Just make sure that when you decide, you tell the disappointed person first, yourself, and say you’re sorry. Don’t just leave it.’

‘Well, Grandad,’ said Molly. ‘I see what you mean. But I thought you might tell me what you would have done.’

‘Oh, I know what I would have done,’ said Grandad. ‘But I’m not telling you. This is one for you to decide. Like I say, this is what real life is like.’

Well, what do you think Molly decided to do? I’m not going to tell you, because I don’t know. But it’s a good example of one of those things that happen to us from time to time. Molly has several things to bear in mind. How would each of the people involved feel about her decision? What effect will her decision have not just on peoples’ feelings but on the running and success of the event itself?

In the end, whatever Molly decides, it’ll come out right, because everybody knows she hasn’t tried to upset anyone, and if she could have avoided doing it she would. So let’s leave her there, thinking hard, and see if we can decide what we might have done.

A prayer
Lord, there are times when life is really difficult, and in trying to please one person we upset someone else. Help us to deal with life’s problems with care and kindness, and with a sense of real responsibility.

A thought
There’s a saying that goes ‘You cannot do right without doing wrong.’ That’s not always true, but it often is.

Things to think about
To follow up this assembly you could:

  • List the arguments for and against each of the two choices Molly has to make.
  • Discuss how important Molly’s own feelings are in this.
  • Role-play Molly’s conversation with the disappointed person when she’s made the decision.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

About the author: Gerald Haigh