The Busy Samaritan

I’m reading The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judith Shulevitz. It’s the kind of book I would like to write someday—personal narrative interspersed with musings and research about this peculiar, challenging, life-giving, counter-cultural practice called Sabbath-keeping.

The whole thing is worth a read, but one piece has haunted me for several days. Consider it a parable of a parable.

Shulevitz writes about a study done at Princeton Theological Seminary on the Good Samaritan. The study sought to determine what makes a person react as the Samaritan does in the parable. The researchers performed personality tests on a group of students, then told half of them to report to another building, where half would give a talk about the Good Samaritan story, and the other half would talk about their future career as pastors. They were broken down even further: one third were told to hurry because the seminar had already started; one third were told they were on time but they shouldn’t dawdle; one third were told that they had plenty of time but ought to head over there anyway.

Meanwhile the researchers had placed a man in an alley nearby, who coughed and groaned ub clear distress when each student walked by. His story was that he’d just taken some medicine for a respiratory problem and was waiting for it to kick in.

After the data was analyzed, only one variable could be used to predict whether someone would stop to help the man. It wasn’t personality, and it wasn’t whether they had the Good Samaritan on the brain.

It was how hurried they were.

The researchers found that even those who had not stopped had seen the man, but several who were hurrying did not register that he needed help until well after they had passed him. “Time pressure narrowed their ‘cognitive map’; as they raced by they had seen without seeing.”

It would seem, Shulevitz concludes along with the researchers, that “ethics becomes a luxury as the speed of our daily lives increases.”

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8 thoughts on “The Busy Samaritan

  1. Marci Glass says:

    I have a friend who preached a Sabbath sermon this summer using that study. It really gave me pause.

  2. Seems yet another reason to strive for mindfulness and presence in our daily lives, to nurture that awareness of where we are rather than where we think we need to be.

  3. juniper says:

    “ethics becomes a luxury as our speed increases….” this gave me a shudder. wonder how often I have have rushed past a need without even seeing it because I was looking at the clock.

    also: dude, that will SO preach!

  4. […] in my day, while not overstuffing my time such that I am going too fast to be flexible and aware. I wrote recently about the ethical consequences of being in too much of a hurry. But I find it a profound gift to think of punctuality as a spiritual discipline, a way of loving […]

  5. […] in my day, while not overstuffing my time such that I am going too fast to be flexible and aware. I wrote recently about the ethical consequences of being in too much of a hurry. But I find it a profound gift to think of punctuality as a spiritual discipline, a way of loving […]

  6. […] One of my father’s favorite expressions was “nature abhors a vacuum.” Apparently this comes from Aristotle, and I am not scientifically literate enough to know whether that categorical statement is still correct. But it’s a useful idea spiritually, that things often come to us more effortlessly if we create space for them. Or perhaps the corollary is more helpful for me: that when I fill my life up with too much activity, too much distraction, too much stuff, then there is no space to receive the unexpected gift, the bit of grace, or even the opportunity to serve. […]

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