In mid-December 1970, two psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson conducted an experiment inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the biblical parable, thieves beat and rob a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, leaving him naked and half dead by the side of the road. A priest passes by and crosses the road rather than help the wounded traveler, and a Levite, a religious functionary, does the same. Then a Samaritan—in those days a religious outcast—comes upon the scene, applies balm and bandages to the victim's wounds, loads him on a donkey, brings him to an inn, nurses him through the night, and the following morning leaves money with the innkeeper for the traveler's continued care.
Darley and Batson thought that the tale was based on some notions of human behavior worth testing. They reasoned that the priest and the Levite were probably preoccupied with religious thoughts as they traveled down the road, and given their high social standing might have been in a bit of a hurry to get to their next appointments. The two psychologists speculated that the Samaritan was probably thinking about more mundane matters at the moment of ethical decision and, might not have had so demanding a schedule as those of the priest and the Levite.
To test their hypotheses, they gathered a sample of 40 students from the Princeton Theological Seminary. In individual sessions, half the students were given a copy of the parable of the Good Samaritan and told they would be required to deliver a sermon on the subject in a few minutes. The other half were told they would be talking ad lib about employment opportunities for seminary students. All subjects were told to report to another building to deliver their speeches. Some of the students were told that they should hurry because the panel was waiting on them. The others were led to believe that they had a comfortable amount of time to report to the test site.
On the way to the test site, each student passed a poorly dressed figure slumped in a doorway, head down, eyes closed, not moving. As the students passed, the man coughed twice and groaned.
Sixty percent of the seminarians walked on without offering help. A student preparing a sermon about the Good Samaritan was no more likely to stop than the students given a less lofty topic, and on several occasions students going to talk on the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the man.
Only 10 percent of those who were told to rush to the test site offered help, while 63 percent of those who thought they had a few minutes to spare offered aid. In examining psychological tests, the only factor that seemed to predict helping behavior was degree of hurry.
The psychologists were drawn to conclude that as the speed of daily life increases and there is less of a margin in a person’s life, ethics become a luxury.
To further emphasize this study, a majority of Jesus' ministry was from one interruption to another. How can we practically respond to this?
Decluttering and leaving margin in the daily schedule will go far on this one.