This morning I did a Junior School assembly on the issue of dealing with conflict:
Explain that about two hundred years ago, it was common for rich or upper class men (the women were too sensible!) to settle a disagreement by having a special sort of fight. Ask if anyone knows what that was called, and what happened, etc.
If someone thought they had been offended by another person and that person refused to apologize, then the person who had been wronged would take a glove and slap the other person on the cheek with it (if appropriate you could demonstrate on a member of staff who’s agreed in advance!). That was the sign that was a challenge to a duel.
If you refused the challenge of a duel then you would be known as a coward. You would lose your honour and respect in society. Duels were often held at dawn in remote places, because duelling was against the law and they didn’t want any witnesses. People were seriously hurt or killed during the duels. We may think it’s mad to behave like this and risk being a killer or being killed just because of an argument, but that’s just what was expected in the society of that time – you might think it’s a bit like gang culture today!
Use five volunteers to show how a duel worked: the two combatants, each with a supporter or ‘second’, and one referee. Begin with the challenge using the glove, as described above.
The referee offered the participants a choice of weapon: pistols, swords, etc. The one who was challenged got to choose what sort of weapon would be used, and the other one (the challenger, who asked for the duel) had to accept this decision and use the same weapon. The referee’s decision on the outcome was final.
If they were using pistols, then starting back to back each combatant would walk five or ten paces away from each other, then turn … and ‘Aim, ready, fire!’
If there was no clear winner, the referee would be asked for their decision who had won.
Ask the children if they think duelling is the best way to settle an argument. Talk about how disputes can escalate and have big consequences.
Now talk about giving offence, apologizing, turning the other cheek (remember the glove?) and being prepared to back down if you’re wrong and being ready to compromise (which isn’t cowardly and sometimes takes more courage).
Optional: Use Jesus’ teaching on turning the other cheek, or ‘Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword’. Explain that these are hard things to understand but Jesus was saying that a peaceful and non-violent answer to any problem is always the best and that is what we should aim for.
What kind of an animal are you? Are you a teddy bear, an owl, a fox, a turtle or a shark?
What on earth am I talking about? Well, apparently we deal with falling out with other people in different ways, so I’ll explain.
Think for a few moments about what you do when you fall out with your brother, sister or friend. Do you ignore the situation, get angry and want to hit out, or do you try to talk about it?
So are you one of these animals? (Pause between each of the following animals to give the pupils a chance to think. Depending on the school, it may be appropriate to get the children to discuss in twos or threes which animal they think they are.)
A teddy bear always gives in to others.
An owl works with others to find an answer that makes everyone happy.
A fox encourages everyone to give in a little, in other words, to compromise.
A turtle avoids arguments, even when in the right.
A shark wants to win at all costs – and doesn’t care what it takes, or the feelings of the other person.
We might think that it’s important not to fall out with other people, always to be friends, never to argue. But, actually, sometimes what’s more important is how we fall out. Learning how to have arguments with people in the right way is an important part of growing up and of playing our part in our world.
For example, a friend in school steals the pencil of another friend. Do we say nothing, and try to keep the peace? No. But a teddy bear would, teddies always give in. A turtle would ignore the fact that there is a problem in the first place. And a shark would go over and hit the friend. Then bring the pencil back.
Obviously none of these ways is right! We need to be an owl or a fox. An owl would get everyone talking to each other to find a solution, and a fox would get everyone to give in a little, get the pencil back and maybe get the friend to lend the pencil for a little while.
Everyone sometimes feels a little angry, or wants to fall out with someone else. Even adults find it difficult to be happy with everyone all the time. The important thing is to find ways of dealing with falling out that help to sort out the problem.
We can’t always ignore how we feel, nor should we ignore bad behaviour, such as a friend stealing a pencil. But if we learn how to talk to other people about how we’re feeling rather than ignoring them, sulking or, even worse, hitting or saying horrible things, we will have learned something very useful for the whole of our lives.
So let’s be owls or foxes – talking about what makes us upset or angry, giving in a little, making sure other people are happy as well as ourselves.
Time for reflection
We’ve had fun with duels. Sports and games can often be a type of duel. As long as we remember to play fair and respect our opponents, these can be great ways to have a contest and remain friends.
But do arguments and games ever go too far? How can you be a person of peace?
Think about a time when you fell out with a friend or family member. What could you have done differently that would have made the situation better?
Help me to be a person of peace.
To have fun with games and sports and contests,
but always be friendly and respectful of other people.