Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Evil of Hurry

Some time ago I ran across this behavioral experiment on Richard Beck’s blog. It is fascinating because it speaks to my main curiosity – the pathology of human “evil.”

In 1973, John Darley and Daniel Batson published one of the most famous papers looking into human 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 me because the study centered on a modern-day recreation of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here's a sketch of what they did:

The study involved seminarians preparing for ministry. The students were randomly split into two groups. The first group was asked to prepare a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the second group prepared a sermon that had nothing to do with helping others. The students were then scheduled to deliver this sermon at a given time and place. When they arrived at the place, they were told that the location had been changed at the last minute and that they were to go to a new location. At this point, the students were split into three groups. A third were put under strong time pressure, told that they needed to get to the new venue in a hurry. A third was put under moderate time pressure. And finally, the third group was told that they could take their time getting to the new venue. Along the route (an alleyway) to the next venue they 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 person would cough twice and groan. Basically, they showed signs of abdominal pain. As the students passed the key variable was recorded: Would they stop to check on the groaning person?

What a great study! A controlled simulation of Jesus' 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: Almost everyone will stop. These are all seminarians! They are good people, bound for the ministry. Most will stop.
2: Those who were thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan will stop. Half of the seminarians had a sermon about the Good Samaritan in their heads. Those thinking about Jesus' parable would be more likely to recognize the situation.
3: Those who were less hurried will stop. 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 striking. No hurry: 63% offered aid. High hurry: 10% offered aid. Some seminarians in a hurry literally stepped over the groaning person on the way to deliver their sermon on the Good Samaritan!

So, here are some observations about this study:

First, 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 “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, the Jerusalem to Jericho study makes this observation: Most people pursue spirituality as a hobby. Life with God is a leisure activity that compliments our cozy suburban lives. It’s compartmentalized along with baseball, football, PTA, and work. Why do I say this? Because hobbies and leisure activities are what we pursue when we have “free” time on 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, rather than a central and urgent feature of your life.

Third, hurry is a form of evil, if evil is defined as lack of empathy for other human beings. Hurry turns us into self-interested, callous jerks. Love sometimes involves slowness.


Our life..... said...

funny coming from a man that likes to drive fast and is always moving and is never still :)

Charles North said...

I know. That is the definition of irony! I meant to include a disclaimer that said my observations indict me pretty severely.

Anonymous said...

This is quite a dramatic show of irony in how we act, the seminary student on his way to teach a lesson on the Good Samaritan, who hurries past someone in such obvious need.
But after thinking about it a little I kept coming up with situations in our everyday lives.

I don’t usually find myself in an alley but how about those people at church services that we miss because we are so busy teaching class, corralling children and getting after church meals ready. You know…the visitors or even members that tend to hang on the fringes, those “needy” not so pretty folks that sometimes we avoid.

Those people are in our midst, the invisible ones that are hurting and come hoping that there is some shred of truth in Christianity. What do they sometimes see? Busy rushing members hurrying to meetings or lunch after the last prayer. My list on Sundays is a mile long and I wonder if stopping to really talk to someone in need is a part of my schedule. Maybe their abdominal wounds are not so obvious but their emotional pain and desperation is just as serious.

What about our children? How many times am I so absorbed in my own life that I miss needs that they have. If they are ignored long enough they quit coming to me with their questions and problems. How important is my latest hair bow order or blog post if I’m missing opportunities for deeper relationships and teaching those spur of the moment lessons that can be easily missed.

I’m guilty. I avoid because I don’t have time or maybe I just don’t want to get involved. Maybe it is pure selfishness. “I have enough people depending on me; don’t complicate my life with more needy people”. On occasions that I stop long enough to listen to the Spirit I hear him ask me…”What would Jesus do?”

Thanks for the reminder Charles.

Charles North said...

I hope writing this doesn't make me seem like a hypocrite, but being in a constant hurry is the biggest obstacle to effective ministry for me.

casey said...

i don't think you are a hypocrite at all. it may be something you struggle with. i know you accomplish alot and do alot of good work i know God smiles about. whenever i have come to you really needing to talk or just wanting to chat about nothing, i have never felt rushed or like you had something better you needed to be doing. and i feel that is an important part of your ministry. i know it isn't all you do. but i appreciate when you take the time. i didn't want you to think it ever went unnoticed. thank you. :)

Charles North said...

Wow! Thank you. I always seem to be in a big hurry!!

Denise said...

This is so real to me right now. I have been thinking how busy I have become and how much that has taken away from real personal relationships in my life. Not having time to stop and listen to others or go visit at the hospital, or to cook a meal, keeps me from being the hands and feet of Christ that I am called to be. The "evil of hurry" is real and such a successful tool used to pull us away. Just think what our family fellowship would be if we stopped and took the time to get involved with each other....to really listen and make the time to grow our relationships with each other.

I asked about a family I had been missing the other day and found out that they just had quit coming because they felt no one would miss them. That stabbed my heart because I have been there and felt that way in my past. But more than that, I had missed them, but had done NOTHING because of my busy life, to reach out to them. How many others have I not stopped and ministered to because of "my" busy schedule? I have got to do better and we as Christ's body must get involved in each other's lives and in the lives of those we come in contact with.

Kerrie, your words fit me too well, so I will repost them with my spirit being very convicted. I feel these too often and it is selfish of me...."I avoid because I don’t have time or maybe I just don’t want to get involved. Maybe it is pure selfishness. “I have enough people depending on me; don’t complicate my life with more needy people”. On occasions that I stop long enough to listen to the Spirit I hear him ask me…”What would Jesus do?”

What a great reminder and a call to action! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes taking care of family is priority and sometimes that is all you can manage and still keep your head above drowning level. The wonderful thing about being the body of Christ is that we fill in for each other like a family. When we are able, we all do our part and it works out.

It amazes me how at times I've been in your situation and not able to do much more than take care of my own family. My heart wants to do more but for different reasons I have to accept that I have enough on my plate. God provides through others then when we can't see a way! If we ask God to use us where he needs us I really believe the Spirit will direct us each day to do his work. Imagine if we all listened to Him more how God could so perfectly provide for each situation!

All it took was one of the 3 men in the story of the Good Samaritan to provide what the injured man needed. Sometimes we are that Good Samaratan and sometimes we are not.

I know for a fact the influence you've had on so many lives and right now that includes your daughter and her upcoming wedding.
You are one of the most unselfish people I know. Slow down and enjoy your family and the precious time watching your first get married!

Denise said...

Thanks Kerrie! I know you are right about where I am in my life right now, but the bigger picture still bothers me. I don't ever want to be too busy to care about those around me that are hurting and that need to see Jesus. I also know how easy it can be for me to hide behind my "duties" as a mother and not take the time to see what others need. We all must reach a balance but I fear I have all too often been too busy to even see the ones put in my path to minister to. I don't want to find out that someone else has slipped away because I was too busy tending to my many projects to reach out to them and let them know they are valuable to me. It is time for me to slow down! Thanks again....d

David said...

Charles, I am reminded how so many times, David Wray at ACU tells me that when you don't have any time to even do something leisurely you enjoy that gives you energy, you have made yourself too busy. Now this is not an excuse to be lazy or an excuse to spend more time with music (my hobby), but a reminder that an unhurried life has times for rest. Rest gives us energy, brings us closer to God, and lets us open our eyes long enough to see the big picture. In fact, another word for rest is Sabbath, a commandment from God that still hasn't lost its need. It was supposed to be the one time during the week that heaven was recreated on earth, but you cannot do that without rest.

Thank you again for a convicting post

Thats whats going on here said...

well we know you are not in a hurrt to post another blog.....

Charles North said...

Ha, Ha. That, too, is ironic.