Stop to be Kind

Long ago, a famous study was conducted at Princeton Theological Seminary. Students were randomly assigned to give a talk about job opportunities or the Good Samaritan bible story. Each was instructed to give his talk in another building, with varying time conditions from “you’re late” to “no rush.” In an alleyway between buildings, each seminary student passed a man, coughing and moaning, while slumped in a doorway. The research question: Which students would stop to help?

It didn’t matter whether students were prepared to talk about jobs or the good-samaritan parable (which addresses helping a person in need). The study showed just one statistically significant result: The more time people felt they had, the more likely they were to pause and be kind.

This study is famous because of its irony: Seminary students, prepared to talk about the Good Samaritan, chose to not be a good samaritan if they were in a hurry. I can relate to the irony. Some days, I rush around the house, scattered and frustrated, just before teaching mindfulness. Or I experience harsh self-judgment just before teaching self-compassion meditation. Almost always, I notice the irony, which makes me smile and invites a pause. A small pause has big impact.

Though the Princeton study was done 45 years ago, it’s still applicable today. There’s a feeling of “not enough time” that ripples through our culture. When we’re in a rush, we rarely stop to be kind. Urgency disconnects us from our heart. External conditions create some of the busyness, but not all. We have far more choices than we realize. A three-breath pause takes 30 seconds, and in this short space our awareness expands. We reconnect with our heart and what matters most. Maybe, even while hurrying to the next thing, we pause to help a stranger, and this kind action inspires others to do the same. Gradually, instead of fear and urgency, we spread love and compassion.

If you stop to be kind, you must swerve often from your path.
— Mary Webb, novelist and poet

Here's a guided meditation for when life feels busy: