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Lessons from the Good Samaritan experiment

How much do we really know about ourselves? How do we react when we are calm and tranquil? How do we respond when we are anxious and worried?

In the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’, Jesus spoke about how a man was robbed and wounded by thieves as he travelled from Jerusalem to Jericho. As he lay on the ground, half dead, a priest came by but ignored him. Another individual, a Levite, also came by and after looking at him, walked on. Then finally, a Samaritan came and had compassion on him. He helped him and brought him to an inn. He told the host to take care of him and that he would pay the fees when he returned.[1]

In an experiment modeled after this parable, half of the subjects were asked to speak on the Good Samaritan parable while the rest were given another topic. Of the two groups, some were told that they had more than sufficient time to walk to the recording location, others were told that they would be just in time while the rest were told that they needed to hurry because they were late. On the way to the recording location, they encountered someone who was in obvious need of help. For all who were assigned to speak about the ‘Good Samaritan’, here was a golden opportunity to apply the lessons of the message they had prepared. In their haste to deliver the speech, however, many did not stop to help the person in need. In fact, only 10% of the subjects who were told that they needed to hurry actually stopped to help. In contrast, 63% of subjects who were not in a rush stopped to help. For those who were in a moderate rush, 45% stopped. The conclusion was that subjects who felt they were pressured by time were less likely to offer help than subjects who were not in a hurry.[2]

Now in contrast, if these subjects were presented the case in a tutorial room when they had the luxury of taking their time to think, they might have responded very differently. However, the fact that most of them did not in reality would come as a rude surprise to many and perhaps more importantly, themselves.

Perhaps there is something here that educators can also learn. Sometimes, it's not about knowing more about the subject content or pedagogical approach. It's about knowing and managing yourself better - in various situations.

[1] In this parable, Jesus was answering the question ‘…who is my neighbor?’ For the full parable, please refer to Luke 10:25 – 37.

[2] Gilbert Harman "Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology: Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error." In Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1998-99, 99, pp. 315-331.

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