17. Assert yourself

"Wanting to please others is a noble sentiment at the root of civility and an indispensible ingredient in happy relationships.  However, just as crucial for our happiness is the ability to establish firm personal boundaries."  --Dr. Forni



  1. On a series of index cards, write passive pharses, assertive phrases, and aggressive phrases--one phrase on each card.  Post three areas on the board or wall.  Label them "Passive," "Assertive," and "Aggressive".  Distribute cards to your students.  Ask students to match their cards to the correct category on the wall.  Discuss the results.  Does everyone agree with the arrangments?  If not, consider moving some phrases to different categories.
  2. Play Robots.  Divide students into groups of three.  Group member should decide who will be the robots, who will be the robot controller, and what the robots' warning sound will be.  Robots move forward in a straight line until they bump into an obstacle (or another robot.)  When this happens, the robot should make its warning sound.  When the robot controller hears the warning sound of one of his robots, he should rush to the robot, redirect him, and set him in motion again.  After a few minutes robots and controllers should switch.  Switch again until everyone has had a chance to the robot controller.  Did you enjoy playing the robot or the controller more?  Why?  What makes a good robot?  What makes a good robot controller?  (Best New Games)
  3. Play Car Car.  Have students pair off.  One person should stand behind the other and place his hands on the front person's shoulders.  The front person will be the car.  The back person will be the driver.  The car should close his eyes and move forward, while the driver should gently guide the car around the room.  After a few minutes cars and drivers should trade roles.  Which role did you like better--car or driver?  Why was it important for the driver to drive assertively and not passively or aggressively?  (Best New Games)
  4. Role play some situations where a person might need to act assertively.  Carefully choose two students to play out the scenario.  In addition to the role players, choose two students to be "assert-o-meters".  The assert-o-meters should stand with their hands pressed together above their heads, forming a human needle.  One meter should be assigned to each player.  As the role play progresses, the assert-o-meters should monitor the tone of their assigned players--from passive (leaning and pointing to one side) to aggressive (leaning and pointing to the other side.)  The goal is to act out the situation in a way that keeps the assert-o-meters reading "assertive" (pointing straight up.) 


Discussion questions:

  1. According to Dr. Forni, what are the three elements of a successful assertion?
  2. What is the difference between being assertive and being agressive?
  3. How does this rule relate to the rule, Be Agreeable?
  4. How does this rule relate to "Respect even a subtle no?"
  5. How does asserting yourself help us to be more civil?