Everyday Evil, Part 6: Hurry

In 1973, John Darley and Daniel Batson published one of the most famous papers looking into helping behavior. The study was entitled From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior.

The Jerusalem to Jericho paper is of interest to us because the study centered on a modern-day recreation of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here's a sketch of what Darley and Batson did:

The study involved seminarians preparing for the ministry. The seminarians were randomly split into two groups. The first group was asked to prepare a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The second group prepared a sermon on a non-helping religious subject. The seminarians were then scheduled to deliver this sermon at an appointed time and place.

Upon arriving at the place the seminarians were told that the location has been changed at the last minute and that they were to go to a new location. At this point, the seminarians were split into three groups. A third of the seminarians were put under strong time pressure, told that they needed to get to the new venue in a hurry (high hurry). A third was put under moderate time pressure (intermediate hurry). And finally, the third group was told that they could take their time getting to the new venue (low hurry). After this hurry manipulation the seminarians were pointed to the exit and directed to proceed to the next venue.

Now, along the route (an alleyway) to the next venue Darley and Batson had placed a person who showed signs of distress. Specifically, they were sitting slumped against the wall, head down and eyes closed. As the subject passed, the confederate would cough twice and groan. Basically, they showed signs of abdominal pain. As the seminarians passed the key variable was recorded: Would they stop to check on the groaning person?

What a great study! A controlled simulation of Jesus's parable. Even the use of seminarians is a nice touch, echoing the priest and Levite in the story.

Well, who stopped to help? There were three main predictions that were being tested:

#1: Most everyone will stop. These are all seminarians! They are good people, bound for the ministry. Most all will stop.

#2: Those who were thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan will stop. Recall, as they were walking to the new venue 50% of the seminarians had a sermon about the Good Samaritan in their heads. Thus, conceivably, those thinking about Jesus's parable would be more likely to recognize the situation more readily.

#3: Those who were less hurried will stop. That is, the biggest predictor of helping would be the hurry-manipulation. Those who have the time, help. Those who don't have the time, don't.

So, what is your guess as to the outcome?

It was #3. The single biggest factor in helping was hurry. The relevant contrast is below (% who stopped)

No hurry: 63% offered aid

High hurry: 10% offered aid

And, incidentally, some seminarians in the high hurry condition literally stepped over the groaning person on the way to deliver their sermon on the Good Samaritan!

I would like to make three observations about this study:

First, as we have seen throughout this series our virtue is contextual. We are a different kind of person when we are hurried versus when we are unhurried. There is no "real" you. There is, rather, hurried you and unhurried you. And, as your family, friends, and coworkers can attest, hurried you and unhurried you are really two very different people.

Second, Jerusalem to Jericho makes this acute observation: Most of us pursue spirituality as a hobby. That is, Life with God is pursued as a leisure activity. Why do I say this? Well, hobbies and leisure activities are what we pursue when we have free, expendable time our our hands. But when we have "stuff to do," we tend to place our hobbies to the side. They are not allowed to interfere with our urgent agenda. If so, then the Jerusalem to Jericho study suggests that helping others, for many, is a hobby. It's something to do on weekends, when you have some spare time. This is a penetrating diagnosis. Too many Christians treat altruism as a hobby, rather than as a central and urgent feature of their life. In short, you know Life with God is no longer a hobby when altruism is allowed to interfere with your life.

Third, hurry is a form of everyday evil. Hurry turns us into self-interested, callous jerks. We need to be reminded that love involves slowness. Love has a speed, a pace. And that speed is slow. Philip Kenneson makes this point in his book Life on the Vine when he quotes Kosuke Koyama:

God walks 'slowly' because he is love...Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is 'slow' yet it is lord over all other speeds since it is the speed of love.

Slowness. The speed of love.

May you move slowly today.

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9 thoughts on “Everyday Evil, Part 6: Hurry”

  1. Amen to that! Don't know if you ever watched the movie, "Our Town" it has a haunting message about time and death. I wrote about it on my blog. Anyway, this is something that should be taught more in our Bible classes.

    But this rings true to the words Jesus warns us about when he separates the goats from the sheep. Remember what he tells those on his right, "when I was hungry you gave me something to eat, when I was naked you clothed me..." Notice what he didn't say, and that was, "when I was hungry you gave to the church pantry and the united way and they fed me, I was naked and you gave to the salvation army and they clothed me..."

    So I agree with you that we have made altruism another object to check off our list of duties that Christians are to do. Not only are we busy, busy, busy but we are in too much of a hurry to really notice who is in need and who is lonely and who can really help.

    For some reason, that verse, "BE still and know that I am God," is some really good advice we should take. Not just on weekends or on days off, but really take the time to enjoy what God has given us and how He is with us this very moment.

    Thanks for sharing this message today. Blessings.

  2. Richard,
    I wasn’t aware of this study but I’m not surprised by the findings. I think you drew a logical conclusion about Christian service based on this study. What I might add to your comment is a rehash of what I said a few threads ago. We all have symbols, patterns and templates of what we believe to be representative of proper behavior or how we should act. For example, we hold beliefs as to who we are, what skills we possess or what we think we are good at, how we are to dress, what is good to eat, literally everything about our lives even to what our lives mean. We picked and chose these beliefs from our upbringing and our culture.
    When we are in a hurry some of these beliefs come to the fore. “One should be on time”. Or, “I can’t let someone down, they’re expecting me.” Maybe, “I have to think of my future and I can’t let good opportunities pass me by”. You can probably think of more beliefs that we hold to be true. These are what are triggered by the time constraints.
    1. Our self is a symbol, a pattern.
    2. These patterns have causal potency. (I guess I’m still processing your earlier blog topic.)
    My point is, I agree with you but I wonder if we fail to act the Samaritan because we have more deeply ingrained patterns and beliefs that tend to come up first during times of stress that cause behaviors that aren’t consistent with what we think are the beliefs we hold most dear. Maybe if our priorities aren’t in proper order it only becomes apparent when we are harried. If we slow down we might live to a higher potential but we would still have those other patterns ready to be triggered in times of unexpected stress.
    Rick T.

  3. Richard,

    You're definitely on to something with "everyday evil". Today, the New York Times featured some pictures to be seen in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, with an SS-Obersturmführer and some lady friends ("female SS auxiliaries") frolicking and having a lovely time...at Auschwitz.

    Check it out here and here (via). It's chilling, but a great reminder of how 'ordinary' people are capable of atrocious behavior under the right (wrong) circumstances.

  4. It's interesting you should write these, because just last week I wrote a friend an admonitory email about the fact that he hadn't returned my calls in about six months. He wrote back a long confessional letter saying that he was completely drowning in busyness and unanswered correspondence, he knew it was making him an asshole but he couldn't see a way out of it.

    The letter drew to mind an article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker five years ago (not available online, alas), which draws on diaries and personal correspondence of the past to conclude that the problem of excessive busyness is a relatively new one, dating back to the late 19th century, even though of course people have always had lots of things to do. The article speculates that this came from a combination of knowing more people, and communications technologies that encourage us to chase each other around in this way.

    Gopnik is not a scientist or a historian, and it makes me wonder if this has been confirmed by any sort of systematic research. But it does make sense that in the past, friendly extrovert types would have had an upper limit to how many relationships they could have, while many today take on way more than they can possibly maintain. Certainly pastoral types like my friend are bound to have this problem even worse, since people keep turning to them for help and advice, and the seminary students may well have that kind of personality too. So all the hurry-related rudeness may actually be because they're nice people, oddly enough.

    I do wish that more attention were being given to this widespread modern problem.

  5. Acknowledging the problem is good, but what do we do to mitigate it? How do we make faith the "central and urgent feature" of our lives rather than a hobby? I think the answer may lie in working together and admonishing each other in our churches as a community of believers. But how can we do that when as the individuals comprising a church most of us are rather complacent?

  6. Richard,

    I would love to respond to this post but I must hurry along to a three-minute church meeting to vote about installing a Jesus treadmill and a Holy Ghost drive through. Later.


    George C.

    P.S. I know the lectureships are anything but hectic.

  7. Richard,
    To me, this goes right back to the conformity issue. That is, being late is non-conformist.


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