A brief outline of the USA’s political system and the idea of checks and balances is laid out in this assembly for key stages three and four. It encourages students to think about the checks they need to make on their lives and what living a balanced life means

Resources

You will need two readers.

Engagement

Reader 1: When the American nation was beginning, a group of key people got together to write down how they would like the new country to be run. They put this into a document called the Constitution.

Reader 2: In this document, they said that there should be a person who would be elected every four years who would be called the president. At the moment, we are in an election year where Americans will choose who will take over from George W Bush. The candidates from the two biggest parties are Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama for the Democrats and John McCain for the Republicans.

Reader 1: As well as the president, the document set up two parts of a parliament called the Senate and the House of Representatives, which together are called the Congress. The president does not work here, unlike in the UK, where the prime minister is a member of the House of Commons.

Reader 2: The people who wrote the Constitution also set up a Supreme Court, where judges could rule on laws that were passed by the Congress or by the president.

Reader 1: The three parts of government − the president, the Congress and the Supreme Court − were designed to provide what was called checks and balances. Each part was supposed to make sure that no one part got too much power. They wanted to try to stop the abuse of power they thought they had seen when they had lived in the United Kingdom when the king had been in control.

Reader 2: What was needed was a balance. The people needed to know that no one could take too much power.

Reader 1: They also needed to know that, when things did go wrong, there could be influences for good to change things.

Reader 2: Where do we need to find balance in our lives?

Reader 1: Where might we help others to live a better life?

Reflection

Leader: The American political system is designed to bring balance to a country. Yet it is not just countries and their politics that need it. Getting a balance in life is very difficult. In Buddhism, the story is told of Prince Siddhartha, the person who became known as the Buddha. When he lived in the palace, he lead an easy life, where all his needs and all his wants were satisfied. He lived in a beautiful place, had a lovely wife, and a son. He was wealthy and powerful. Yet inside he felt empty.

So he left the palace and decided to give up every comfort he had there by following a group of travelling holy men. Yet again he did not feel fulfilment. Going from one extreme to another had not helped him at all. He decided to leave the holy men and go and reflect on what life should be.

When he was alone at a place called Bodh Gaya, he had an experience that Buddhists call enlightenment. He saw the truth. If you wanted to live a fulfilling life, you needed not to go to the extremes of pleasure (as he had experienced in the palace) or of pain (which he had had when he was with the holy men), but there needed to be what he called a middle way, balancing these two ideas.

There are times when we need to allow ourselves to totally relax, like on holidays and at parts of the weekend. There are times when we need to work harder, when it might even feel quite painful to do so. When an exam is on, it is a good idea to revise and give up some time you might normally relax in to put in some more effort. It is short-term pain for long-term gain.

The way to get a balance in your life is to try to see things in terms of short- term and long-term goals, then trying to make sure you meet them. If you try to do too much at the same time, then you will find things very difficult, indeed, and you will get very stressed. You need to plan – if you have a great many projects or coursework, you need to make sure that you plan so that you don’t end up doing everything you need to do at once.

So, try to live your life in balance, and you will find that you will feel much more fulfilled. You might like to ask a parent, friend or teacher to help you to develop a sense of balance if you are struggling to do so. They might be able to help you work out what is urgent, what can wait for a few days, and what needs to be thought through carefully before proceeding.

Response

You might like to use this as a prayer or an affirmation:

It is easy to go to extremes To work too much Or to work too little. To care too much

Or to care too little.

But life should be about balances, About finding what the Buddha called The middle way, where people do not

Do too much or too little of anything.

This is the way to happiness, This is the way to fulfilment

So that people can see the real way to live.

May I be a person who shows, in their lives The balance that I should, The balance that encourages people to be the best they can be

Without putting pressure on them.

When I don’t do enough or When I do too little, May I check myself and change to the way that

I should live, rather than the extreme way I had been.

Amen.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2008

About the author: Cavan Wood

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