This week’s assembly considers the extent to which we might expect too much of people and reminds us that we’re only human. It challenges listeners to show a little more compassion in their lives

Resources: Four readers and a leader

You may also like to show any images which are likely to be around of those appearing downcast who have not managed to rise to the expectations others have had of them. By the time this assembly is delivered it’s likely that such images will exist of eg World Cup and other sporting ‘failures’ etc.


[Two teachers sitting in a staffroom]

Reader 1: Oh for goodness sake! Look at this piece of homework. What a mess. You would think he might have put some effort into it seeing as how he chose the subject in the first place and he says he wants to study it at university. Doesn’t look like he’s all that committed to it as far as I can see.

Reader 2: Oh lighten up a bit… he’s only a kid, and it’s nearly the summer holidays. He’s probably just tired out – or maybe enjoying the sunny evenings instead of sitting hunched over a computer writing about something that doesn’t really matter all that much to him anyway, or probably to anyone to be perfectly honest.

Reader 1: Since when did you get so thoughtful, kind and sweet-natured? If I remember rightly, it wasn’t that long ago that you were complaining about your class not knowing the difference between an acid and an alkali. If I remember correctly, you said something like ‘It can’t get any simpler, but they still can’t get it… I give up I really do.’

Reader 2: I know, but maybe I’ve mellowed a bit since then. Perhaps we just expect too much of the students. They’re just young after all, and maybe their lives shouldn’t be revolving around dusty old books or tiresome exercises about things that your average teenager doesn’t really find all that exciting.

Reader 1: Oh come on, I don’t think their parents would see it that way at all.

Reader 2: I’m sure you’re right about that, but shouldn’t we just lighten up a bit and give them a bit of a break?

Reader 1: I think a break is exactly what you need. I think you need your holiday.

Reader 2: No, come on. Ease up a bit. They’re just children… and they’re only human.

[Two pupils sitting in a commonroom]

Reader 3: Two weeks! Two whole weeks! And it’s not as if it was exactly a big piece of homework or anything!

Reader 4: What are you on about?

Reader 3: This piece of homework. He was so keen for us to get it in on time. Actually, when I say that, I mean he threatened us with all sorts of horrors if it was handed in even a few milliseconds late – and he’s still not marked it and given it back to us… and it’s been two weeks!

Reader 4: Does it really matter how long he takes to mark it? It’s not as if you’re likely to get an A for it or anything, are you? And besides, he may be a teacher, but even he deserves a life outside school. I don’t see why he should put his whole life on hold just so that he can mark your work and get it back to you ten minutes after you’ve submitted it.

Reader 3: That’s his job.

Reader 4: Yes, it’s his job, but he hasn’t handed every waking moment of his life over to it. It’s just what he does. Give him a break – he’s a teacher, not a marking robot responding to your every assessment need.

Reader 3: When did you become the teachers’ champion? He’s not doing his job is he?

Reader 4: Yes he is, and pretty well if you ask me – given that he’s calmly put up with you for a year. But he is entitled to live his life too. It’s nearly summer for goodness sake – lighten up… he’s only human.


Leader: The World Cup tournament is in full swing now. Only a week ago, the nation held its breath as the England team had to secure a win in order to stay in the tournament, and avoid making an early journey home. Before they had even kicked a ball in their game against Slovenia, however, the rumours of arguments and disagreements between players and manager were out for all to see. Tales of rebellion within the ranks were rife and everyone wondered if these apparent splits within the team would have a negative effect on their performance and count against their continued participation. The hopes and dreams of all England were balanced on a knife-edge – not just the football talent of the team, but apparently their ability to behave like saints and avoid any disagreements and fall-outs.

Despite this, they won and lived on to fight another day…but is the pressure off? Far from it. There still seems to be a national expectation – or a burden perhaps – placed on these young men’s shoulders. (You may wish to alter this depending on the outcome of the subsequent match/es)

France, of course, fared less well – finishing bottom of their group. These recent former winners suffered much criticism back home in France for their failure to progress to the next stage. Experienced players were summoned to explain it all and tales of divisions within the team also abounded. France as a nation, it seemed, expected them to do much better than they did.

And Wimbledon is in full swing. Britain’s Andy Murray similarly has the pressure of a whole nation on his shoulders. Could he be the first British man to win the tournament, or will he crash out early – another Brit who didn’t quite make the top slot? Will he be able to drape the Union flag around his shoulders after a win in the finals? (Amend according to Murray’s fortunes, of course) Or what of many times-winner Roger Federer – will he add to his record of grand slam wins? Or will the pressure to do so simply be too much?

But how fair is all this pressure on these athletes? Are they not, after all, only human? Of course, they are very skilled professionals, and very highly paid at that – so perhaps we should be able to make high demands of them. But perhaps those demands should be reasonable ones. Should we automatically expect the so-called big teams or top players to do well – or should we remember that they are only human?

Most of the world’s religions place a very high value indeed on the idea of compassion for other beings. This means remembering that we are all only human and no matter how successful or competent we seem to be, we’re still vulnerable humans underneath it all with our own weaknesses and needs. It’s about allowing people to fail, allowing them not to match up to our expectations or even their own expectations… allowing them to be… only human.


Reader 1: How often do you expect far too much of people – put them in the spotlight; expect them to perform; expect them never to fail and always to match up to our – perhaps occasionally – unrealistic expectations?

Reader 2: How often do you forget that people aren’t superheroes – not able to do the impossible – not invincible and unbeatable?

Reader 3: How often are the demands you place on others realistic and helpful to them – or how often are they demands which are beyond what they can cope with and which make their lives unhappy?

Reader 4: How often do you remember that the people you deal with every day are only human?

Leader: Could you perhaps show some compassion today? Perhaps it’s in being more understanding of someone in the public eye who has lots of pressure placed on him or her by our expectations; perhaps it’s someone in your school or your family who you expect too much of. Perhaps it’s just about remembering that we’re all only human.

Leader: Listen to this prayer.

Help me to remember that my expectations of others should be realistic onesHelp me to remember that people are only able to do so muchHelp me to think carefully about the demands I make of others

Help me to remember that everyone is… only human


This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2010

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.