Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

What It Means To Be Human

Once upon a time, a man was attacked by bandits and left for dead by the side of the road toward Jericho. 

A priest and temple worker saw the man, but did not stop. Only a Samaritan, a member of the most hated community, tended the man’s wounds and brought him into an inn.

That’s the biblical story of the Good Samaritan. And the inspiration for a study about the likelihood of helping others in an emergency.

Two Princeton University psychologists called John Darley and Daniel Batson wondered what caused the priest and temple worker to pass the hurt man by the side of the road.

Perhaps the two were in a hurry and the Samaritan was not. Or maybe the religious leaders simply didn’t practice the virtues they preached.

Whatever the reason, the psychology duo would find out.

The two recruited various students studying to be priests and had them fill out a survey. Among other things, the students had to give the main reason behind their religious lifestyle: to help others or to get into heaven?

Once the seminarians finished the survey, the participants were told to give a brief talk on a biblical topic in a nearby building. Some participants were asked to speak about the importance of clergy, and others were told to tell the story of the Good Samaritan.

But before the students even left the room, an experimenter would look at his watch and give one of three responses: 

  • “They’re still setting up the room. But you may as well head over there now.”
  • “If you leave now, you’ll be right on time.”
  • “You’re running late. Better hurry.”

On the way to the sermon, the speakers would inevitably pass a man slumped in an alleyway four feet wide. To reach the nearby building, you had to literally step over him.

As the students reached the alley, the slumped man would loudly cough and groan. 

Which of the test subjects do you think will stop and play the Good Samaritan?

If you’re like most people, you thought whoever got into priesthood to help others and who is about to speak on the Good Samaritan.

You probably didn’t take the time constraint into consideration. Almost no one does.

And ironically, time is the deciding factor.

Over 60% of the soon-to-be-priests stepped over the groaning man without stopping. 

Of the students in a rush, only 10% helped. Of the students who were early, 63% helped.

What’s the lesson the two Princeton psychologists want you to learn?

That the deeply rooted beliefs of your heart and the current thoughts of your mind are secondary to the demands of the situation.

To be human and in a hurry means to be cold to the suffering of others.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach