This secondary SEAL assembly asks pupils to consider their moral actions

This assembly explores our moral actions – specifically the extent to which they are motivated or mitigated by the notion that we can act without others knowing about it. It links to the recent launch of Google Maps’ Street View service in the UK. It challenges listeners to question their actions and the extent to which our behaviour is related to the possibility of being ‘caught out’.

Resources

(All links sourced at 0850 on 20/3/09)

Engagement

[One pupil is at the front of the assembly room. Some schoolbags are lying about at the front of the room and he (Reader 2) is stealing something out of one schoolbag – in this case it’s sweets, but schools can substitute this example if they wish. As he does so, another pupil (Reader 1) appears…]

Reader 1: What’re you up to then?

Reader 2: Shhhh! Somebody will hear you… What’s it look like I’m doing?

Reader 1: Taking something out of your school bag is what it looks like to me [looks closer]. Oh, or maybe not… Taking something out of someone else’s schoolbag more like!

Reader 2: Well done Einstein… Anyway, what’s it to you?

Reader 1: Doesn’t bother me – as long as it’s not my bag, that is.

Reader 2: Nah, it’s not yours. Anyway, it’s just a few sweets out of his stash – he’ll never even notice they’re gone. He’s got too many in the first place, I’m just helping him out a little.

Reader 1: Well then, give us one here. I’m starving – it’s been ages since breakfast and those PE teachers have run me into the ground. I need a sugar boost.

[Reader 2 hands a large handful of sweets to Reader 1 and they both chuckle as they munch them. At this point another pupil arrives…]

Reader 3: What you two doing so sneakily back here?

Reader 2: Just having a small break for a quick sugar boost to keep our energy levels up for maths this afternoon.

Reader 3: [Looks more closely and then down at the open bag] Hang on – that’s not your bag…. And those aren’t your sweets. You nicked them!

Reader 2: Oh call the police why don’t you! [Reads as if a news bulletin] ‘Major crime committed at [name of school]. Between eight to ten toffees were stolen by two masked men armed with highly dangerous weapons in the form of two very sharp pencils.’ It’ll be top priority for Scotland Yard or MI5 [both laugh].

Reader 3: That’s not funny. They’re not yours. Put them back.

Reader 1: Fine, I’ll just spit them back out into my hand – won’t be quite so tasty the second time around [mimics being sick].

Reader 3: Funny ‘ha ha’. Put the ones you haven’t scoffed back.

Reader 2: Now, I think you’re missing the point here mate – no one saw us take them, and so no one saw you not take them. So when we say that you did it, it’ll be our word against yours, won’t it? And there’s two of us!

Reader 3: But it’s wrong to nick stuff.

Reader 2: No one saw us and it’s going to stay that way isn’t it…?

Reader 3: Just because no one saw you take them, that makes what you did is OK, does it?

Reader 2: Seems about right to me.

Reader 3: You’re not serious?

Reader 2: Oh yes I am, and you’re not going to say anything about what you saw are you… Or I might have to find you another time when no one’s watching…

[Depending on your school’s context or the year group, an alternative ‘softer’ ending might be more appropriate. If so, try replacing the above last line with the following]

Reader 2: Oh yes I am [looks behind Reader 3] but here’s [insert name of teacher in your school] coming… Time to get going! [Readers 1 and 2 run away, dropping the sweets at Reader 3’s feet].

Reflection

Leader: Have you ever done something which you know is wrong and carried on doing it – because you thought that since no one could see you, no one would ever know? [Pause]

Very often people will act in ways which are wrong just because they think that no one can see them and therefore no one will ever know. This could be something quite simple like pocketing some money found on the floor, or perhaps a much more serious crime. Both are often based on the idea that, because no one sees, they’ll get away with it.

Last week, Google launched its Maps Street View services. You can now go online and look in detail at most streets in 25 cities across the UK. The service apparently includes technology which blurs registration plates on cars as well as blurring out people’s faces.

The images are not in real time, so you don’t see what’s going on right now – what we see of UK cities are photos taken by cameras on top of Google’s cars sometime over the last year. However, some people argue that individual people or their cars might still be recognisable, and shown without their permission.

People in the USA, who were also concerned about the invasion of their privacy, have already challenged the service in the courts there and failed.

Now, no one’s suggesting that the opponents of this service are doing so because they’ve been doing things they shouldn’t, but the subject does raise some interesting and important questions…

When we are acting morally, or as we should, should it matter whether we can be seen or not? Or, is it OK to do something wrong as long as no one sees you?

In most of the world’s religions, there are teachings which relate to the consequences of our actions. Some religions talk about our conscience – an ‘inner voice’ – which gently speaks to us when we are acting in ways that we shouldn’t. reminding us that what we are doing may still be wrong even if no one sees us do it.

Other religions teach that it is not possible to ever do anything ‘unseen’ because there is a God who sees everything, and we will have to answer for our actions one day.

Some eastern religions talk about karma and karmic consequences – the belief that whatever we do has effects on us and others – which may determine the whole shape of our future existence, and theirs.

In fact, in all of these religions the act of doing something wrong has consequences – [stress this] whether any other living thing sees us do them or not.

Some people argue that one way to judge whether an action is right or wrong is to consider what someone important to you might think if they saw you doing it – would they be proud, shocked, or even ashamed?

So the next time you decide it’s ok to act in one way or another because ’no one’s looking’, perhaps you should think again. Perhaps you should use some other method to decide if what you’re doing is right or wrong. Perhaps you should completely rethink what makes something right or wrong in the first place.

Response

Leader: The next time you have a moral choice to make in a situation where ‘no one’s looking’, consider these questions:

Is what you are doing right in itself? Would you be happy if someone acted this way towards you? What would others think of your actions if they could see you?Would your action be acceptable if everyone could see it?

What might the consequences of your unseen action be?

Let us act in the light of day and not hide our wrongdoings in the darkness

[Amen]

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2009

About the author: Joe Walker is Head of RE & Psychology at Liberton High School in Edinburgh. As well as being a well-known author he was winner of Secondary Teacher of the Year at the Scottish Education awards 2005.

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