In this assembly, Joe Walker considers the extent to which we are all masters of our own destiny, as we begin another decade. The assembly challenges listeners to consider not how the next year might turn out, but how they might shape 2010

Resources: Three readers and a leader. The video clip of Dr Who’s regeneration may still be available on the BBC iPlayer.

Engagement

[Two pupils chatting on the first day back at school after the Christmas holidays]

Reader 1: [Grumpily] Hi. We’re back again…

Reader 2: [Cheerfully] Yeah. Have you ever thought about where you’d go and what you would do if you could travel in time?

Reader 1: Eh?! What is it with you? Normal people ask how your holiday was – how much snow you had, what did you get for Christmas, that kind of thing. With you – it’s the intricacies of time travel and their personal relevance!

Reader 2: Yeah, I suppose. But imagine you could go back in time – what would you do?

Reader 1: I guess I’d go and have a look at really famous people in history. Like Elvis, or some great king or something. Maybe I’d go and try to solve an unsolved mystery – like how they built Stonehenge and that kind of thing [can add local ideas here as relevant]

Reader 2: That would be quite smart – maybe we could go back and have a look at the dinosaurs and stuff… Or meet our own ancestors. We could take back the plans for some great invention they could pretend was their own which would make them rich and then we’d be rich.

Reader 1: You can’t do that – you’d be messing with time – who knows how it might end up then? It might lead to you never being born in the first place if things work out one way instead of another.

Reader 2: Yeah, right enough. Maybe we could go to the future then.

Reader 1: What would be the point in that?

Reader 2: Well you could get to see what happens – like what new inventions they come up with. Maybe there’s television that you can become part of through holographic projections? Maybe there will be cures for all sorts of diseases?

Reader 1: Hmm. But unless you’re going to stay there, there wouldn’t be much point in seeing it would there?

Reader 2: I don’t get you.

Reader 1: Look, imagine we could travel to the future. It would be a future where we had disappeared in the past – our lives would had ended the moment we set off for the future in our time machine. Who knows what effects this might have had on how things turn out.

Reader 2: What, just by us leaving the present?

Reader 1: Exactly. The moment we got to the future, we would change that, and the past, for good – how we can’t possibly know… but both would be changed forever..

Reader 2: Yeah, you’re right. But that means that every single little thing we do could affect the whole future of the world in ways that we can’t ever predict.

Reader 1: It does.

Reader 2: Bit of a responsibility that…

Reader 1: I like to think of it as an opportunity

Reader 2: Yeah… anyway… how was your Christmas?

Reflection

Leader: During the Christmas holidays, Doctor Who famously regenerated into his 11th version. As a Time Lord, he has the ability to travel back and forwards in time – which can sometimes be very confusing. There do seem to be certain rules about this – one being that if something has already happened he cannot change it – otherwise the fabric of time breaks down completely, and everything goes haywire. This actually happened in one episode where the character played by Billie Piper goes back in time and saves her Dad from an accident – with the result that time starts to fall apart, causing all sorts of chaos.

Of course, the whole problem with this is that as soon as Dr Who even appears anywhere in the past he has changed time already. Someone, just by seeing him, could follow a completely different course of events in their life – changing everything… forever. Interestingly in the episode just shown, the doctor’s last act before he regenerates – his ‘reward to himself’ he calls it – is to save a few people he knows – so changing time. But it’s not clear if this is in the past or the present.

Now of course, Dr Who is science fiction. We can’t go back in time. We can only go forward. But we can still change the course of everything that is to come.

At this time of year, people are full of predictions about the year ahead. Astrologers, who claim that the stars tell us everything, suggest vague ideas about things which might occur in 2010. People plan to go to the gym to get fit and lose weight because they predict that this will be the year when they make big changes in their life. People dream of what’s to come – and, most importantly, many people do something to make it happen.

Some people believe that ‘what will be, will be’. This means that they think that the future is somehow already written and cannot be changed. But there’s no evidence for this anywhere. In fact, all the evidence points to the opposite – that the future ends up being what it is as a result of the little things that people do. It’s one person with a big idea or a dream who changes the way things are. Almost all of the world’s great religions were started off by just a few people – or just one person. Most of the world’s great scientific developments were the product of the work of one person – sometimes someone who went completely against what everyone else thought was true. Great social changes, such as equal rights for women and racial equality, began with a small number of people who decided that the way things were was wrong and needed to be changed. [Insert any relevant local examples here.] They decided that they were going to make the future happen – not sit back and just wait for it to unfold according to some great cosmic ‘plan’.

As you sit here today, back at school, you might well be thinking about what the year ahead will bring. What will 2010 be like? What things will happen?

Perhaps those are not the right questions to be asking. Perhaps what we should really be asking is: ’What will I make of 2010?’ or ’What am I going to do to shape 2010?’. Sometimes, especially in our teenage years, we feel a little powerless to change things. It’s like everything is controlled by adults – everything is out of our hands and there’s nothing we can do about it all. Just how true is this?

Perhaps all of us are Time Lords like Dr Who. We can’t go back, but we can go forward, and, most importantly, we can affect how the future works out – and not just in the big things we do, but in the little ones. Every action has a consequence – and perhaps the little actions have bigger consequences than we might expect. But they all have the power to change the way things are, and so how things become. We can all change the future.

So how will you shape 2010? What will you do to change the way 2010 turns out? You are, in fact, the master of your own future. What are you going to do with it?

Response

Leader: As I look to the future and the year unfoldsIts joys and sorrows to conveyI dream of what might be, instead of what isAnd I hope, and I wish, and I prayThat things may be better for me and for allThat good people prosper and evil ones fallThat conflict will cease and peace will break outThat people will laugh, not angrily shoutOr squabble, but work for the good of the wholeLet good things be our future goalAnd as in my mind the future I seeLet me remember that it may well be

Created by my actions

[Amen]

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 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.

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