From the Principal

It's All About Compassion - On Being a Good Samaritan


I spoke to our staff last week about what it means to be a Good Samaritan and I quoted some work referenced by Malcolm Gladwell on this topic. In his book ‘The Tipping Point’, Gladwell describes a study conducted by two Princeton psychologists on the key drivers for being a Good Samaritan. The psychologists worked with seminary students giving them questionnaires about why they chose to enter ministry. They then designed a social experiment where students would come across a man slumped in an alley, head down, eyes closed, coughing and groaning. The question was which of these students would stop.

The assumption was that each of them would stop and at least try to offer assistance. The reality was quite different. Time seemed to be the determining factor, with students who were in a rush only stopping 10% of the time. It seems that their faith seemed less important than their next appointment. What made the difference was having time. When the students were less rushed or had time it was found that 63% of them stopped to help.

It seems to me that many of us are just like those busy students. We get caught up in the busyness of life, and compassion and care of others can take a back seat. We might think that we are compassionate yet, too often, our lives are dominated by our schedules. With time pressures being such a major part of modern life we can find that we are too busy to notice the needs of those around us. This can include partners, children and ageing parents. As a consequence our relationships can suffer and we can find ourselves leading fairly lonely lives.

The solution is probably easier said than done and it begins with compassion for ourselves. Yes you did read correctly, in order to be compassionate to others, we need to be compassionate with ourselves. This means finding time and space for our own thoughts and feelings, giving ourselves permission to stop and take a rest, and occasionally even putting our own needs ahead of those who depend on us so much. As is often quoted, the safety drill on planes tells us to put our own oxygen masks on and then assist others. I think the same goes for compassion.

Showing compassion to others is not as hard as it sounds. It’s the little things that count and can often fall off our radar. Something as simple as a smile and a kind word can be enough to make a person’s day. Basic courtesies such as opening a door for someone or incorporating the word thank-you into our daily interactions are all wonderful start up strategies for living a more compassionate life.

We often hear the terms ‘paying it forward’ and ‘random acts of kindness’ being used to describe behaviours that are examples of compassion being lived out. Some people make kindness and compassion a daily habit and seek out opportunities to help and support others. Another very valuable commodity to gift is our time. This was what was lacking in the seminary study. Students were too busy and could not afford the time to ‘walk the talk’. Please don’t underestimate how much people value your time and your presence. I don’t think there is a greater gift we can give to our children, our parents and our families than our time. If we were to combine this with the gift of time to strangers then, I believe, we are well on the way to becoming Good Samaritans.

Have a great week.     

Dr Frank Pitt


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