Being a Good Samaritan

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is well known. In short, a man lies helpless and injured in the road. Religious leaders rush past offering no assistance, while a Samaritan stops and offers the wounded man succor and solace.

What makes one person stop to help while others rush by? Is it the belief that helping is the right way to show up in the world? A religious mandate even? Or is there more to it?

In a famous study at Princeton, researchers evaluated a group of seminarians, specifically discussing the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and then sending them to a task, indeed to lecture on the very parable, where they would necessarily walk right past someone needing help. Even with the parable fresh on their minds, the future pastors for the most part walked right by. Presumably these were nice people who intended to spend a lifetime in service. And yet, they walked right by. They acted in a way incongruent with their professed beliefs.

A surprising result to say the least. But the conclusion from the experiment was that the biggest influencer in whether they stopped to help was not their religious beliefs or their innate kindness, but their perception of time. The more of a hurry they were in, the less likely they were to help.

So how does this inform our choices?

A general kind intent to help is not enough. We are all the Princeton Divinity Students rushing to our next important task and potentially neglecting the plight of others right in our path. We must slow down the clock and really see the people around us. And we need to be ok with the idea that our plans and schedules might be disrupted. Surely stopping to help someone in need will change your day, will inconvenience you, and cause you to spend time and perhaps money in an unplanned way.

But the help you might be able to offer someone in need could be invaluable.

How long?

It has been 54 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. As long as between the date of his death and 1914. A long, long time. Yet here we are still fighting for the world he envisioned, a world where people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

We must press on.

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” Martin Luther King, Jr., told an overflowing crowd in Memphis, Tennessee, on 3 April 1968, where the city’s sanitation workers were striking. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” Less than 24 hours after these prophetic words, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray.

https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/ive-been-mountaintop

Today, take a moment with his favorite hymn, the hymn he requested shortly before his death, “Take Me Home, Precious Lord’ and gather strength to continue his fight, all of our fight, toward the promised land:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYUwO6_lysw

Hope, and hope again.

What is hope, really, but a persistent insistence that things can be better, that there is more to it, that the final answers are yet to be revealed. Emily Dickinson describes hope as

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.”

And this feels right. Hope sits there perched, singing, warming our souls and keeping us fed. A wordless song because we may not even have the ability to put our emotions into words or know what it is we hope for. And this is a positive, persistent hope, but somewhat passive, waiting.

And yet, we know, too, that hope gets its fingernails dirty because while hope sits on the periphery expectant, it can also be in the fray fighting for a better world. That kind of hope is captured by Matthew @CrowsFault:

“People speak of hope as if it is this delicate ephemeral thing made of whispers and spider’s webs. It’s not. Hope has dirt on her face, blood on her knuckles, the grit of cobblestones in her hair, and just spat out a tooth as she rises for another go.”

And this, too, seems true. Hope keeps our souls fed but also prompts our entering the arena, helping us to do the hard work to make a better world for all.

Let 2023 be a year of hope, perched and singing to our souls, but also inching us forward to do the hard work, offering our time and talents, to bring about a better today.

What we do today.

It’s a new day. How will you greet it?

Maybe yesterday was sodden with anxiety, frustration, sleeplessness, anger.

It’s a new day. How will you fill it?

Maybe yesterday, you made some mistakes, maybe big ones.

It’s a new day. How will you manage it?

Today is a new day. Breath it in. Savor it. Consider the possibilities of how you greet, fill, and manage it in such a way that it is a beautiful day.

Seeking opportunities for love.

If you look for thorns, you’ll see thorns. If you look for love, you’ll see it all around you. And if you look for opportunities to make a difference, to shower people with love, and to take a stand for all that is good and right in the world, those opportunities will be there.

What opportunities do you see in the day ahead?

Deep listening.

When was the last time you felt heard?

Listening, truly listening–without an agenda, without interrupting, without offering solutions or fixes, without criticism or judgment–is a rare thing. But it is vital to relationships. And it is a gift to be in a position to listen. Someone is trusting you with their story, their feelings, their hurts and hopes. That is precious. How can we best listen to each other?

In this thoughtful article, Martha Caldwell offers advise for listening compassionately in the classroom that really applies well to any situation. As a compassionate environment transforms a classroom, it too transforms any relationship. Consider her suggestions:

1. Be fully present. We bear witness to someone’s felt experience by giving them our complete and undivided attention. Paying full attention when someone is speaking creates safety and focus in the classroom. Compassionate listeners maintain complete silence and pay attention not only to words they hear, but also to facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, noticing even the silences between words.

2. Know listening is enough. Listening with deep attention involves a calm, relaxed state of mind, free of the desire to “fix” someone or solve their problems for them. It does not involve giving advice or intervening in any way. If our minds are busy coming up with solutions for the speaker, we fail to truly listen.

3. Respond with acceptance. Deep listeners are motivated by the desire to understand how others feel and how their experiences have affected them. Their genuine interest and heartfelt concern make it safe for others to share their vulnerabilities because they sense that what they say will be received without judgement.

4. Understand conflict as part of real-life learning. A learning community in which people are encouraged to be honest and express how they feel involves a degree of risk. Conflict may arise. Sometimes this happens, and working through difficult feelings may take time. However, when we stay connected and stick with the process, conflict can be a catalyst for positive change. When conflict can be resolved, relationships often become stronger.

5. Ask authentic questions to learn more. By asking open-ended questions like “What was that like for you?,” “Can you tell me more about that?,” or “What were you experiencing?,” compassionate listeners guide speakers to share more deeply. These questions are motivated by the desire to honestly learn more (as opposed to reinforcing preconceived notions). If they think they may not have understood something, listeners can repeat back what they think they heard and ask for clarification. “Did I hear that right?”

6. Be gentle with yourself. Deep listening involves compassion for yourself as well as for others. Accept yourself and your internal feeling responses without judgement. Allow yourself time to process and learn.

7. Treat the candidness of others as a gift. Honor the trust others have placed in you and keep what you hear confidential.

Today, listen deeply and be grateful that someone is trusting you with their story.

Our children’s future

None of us knows what the future holds. But we do know the values we hold dear—honesty, integrity, love, compassion, empathy, respect, tolerance. As we raise our children, we instill these values. As adults, we model these values whether we win or lose, succeed or fail, sink or swim. Watching us, they learn, and, as they go forward into their futures, they will bring these values to their own decisions. If each of us does this, we will leave the world a better brighter place for our having been here.

Loneliness epidemic.

Loneliness is an epidemic. That heart to heart connection with others, our world, our communities is lost as we race from one To Do to the next. Superficial greetings take the place of deep conversation, and we substitute more for better.

When was the last time you felt truly heard by another person–not heard so they could diagnose you or give you instructions for how to do better–but heard as though someone paused to notice the real you, the deep down you?

When was the last time you paused to consider another person, not as a means to an end on your own journey, but as a person with their own dreams and heart desires, their own wants and needs, their own untold story hoping to be heard?

When was the last time you paused to consider the world around you, from the beauty of nature to the miracle of your own next breath?

Perhaps our loneliness epidemic would be eased if we all were to slow down and notice each other, pause to realize we are here for each other,  and be vulnerable enough to allow ourselves to see and be seen.

Mary Oliver’s poems open us in so many ways– to nature, to each other, to our own hidden places. Perhaps this one on loneliness will speak to you today:

Loneliness

When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,

like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.

Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.

Let grief be your sister, she will whether or not.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.

A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.

Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.

In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.

Live with the beetle, and the wind.

~ Mary Oliver ~

From Shari: what have you noticed today that helps you feel connected?

Infinite hope.

We humans are an inventive bunch. When confronted with limitations, we’ve always found a way to persevere. Communication was once limited to face to face, but then we thought up written alphabets, mail, books, telephone and telegraph, radio, TV, internet, and now Zoom.

We’ve adopted new virtual ways to hold meetings, teach class, and stay connected. We persevere, and most important, we always look for ways to help, using the gifts we have and perhaps stretching them to fit the limitations of our new normal.

As we make our way through this new normal, rather than mourn the lost way we used to connect, perhaps now is the time to adapt and stretch to fit our present reality. How can we be present for each other, particularly for the youngest and most vulnerable among us, in a way that works right now today?

From Shari: what are some new ways of doing things that you’ve found helpful in our current world?

For me, Zoom has been a godsend. I’ve been able to attend a virtual reunion, participate in book clubs, stay connected with friends, and make author visits to schools all while maintaining appropriate social distance. I’ve also found I’m writing more snail mail.

Be compassionate with yourself.

If one of your friends were struggling with the problems you are facing right now, what words would you offer in support? Would you call them names, berate them, remind them of all the other times they messed up just like this and how, honestly, can they ever expect to get anything right, ever?

Probably not. Right? But often this is the way we talk to ourselves. We replay all our other mistakes in our minds, call ourselves stupid, sink into our shells scared to face the world.

But why do we do this? If the words we would offer our friend are what we think would help, why are we so reticent to speak kind encouraging words to ourselves? Maybe today is a good day to try a different approach.

Be a kind friend to yourself. Offer yourself words of support and encouragement. Focus on all the many times you got things right. Tell yourself the truth: you are precious and beloved.

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From Shari: These are hard times. For many of us, these are the hardest times we’ve been through.

What are some of the things that are helping you deal with the stress? What are some ways you’ve been able to help others?