tiempo

If we are in a hurry, we should be on our guard when taking any decisions- we run the risk of turning our back on the values that we hold dearest. This was the conclusion of a famous experiment in social psychology carried out by Darley and Batson in 1973. 67 students at the Princeton Theological Seminary were divided into two groups. The first group was asked to give a talk about the Good Samaritan- the person who helped a man who had been attacked by robbers and left for dead. The second group, on the other hand, was asked to speak about job opportunities. As experiments in social psychology always include some kind of hidden ‘trap’ to find out how we really act, in this case the researchers put the participants under time pressure. Some of them were told that they were late for the talk and that they had already kept their audience waiting for several minutes; another was told that their audience was ready and waiting; and a third group was simply asked to go to the place where the talk would take. In other words, the researchers created conditions of extreme, moderate and low pressure for each group. However, all three groups underwent one common experience: as they crossed the campus to go to the building where the event would take place, ‘by chance’ they all walked past a man slumped in a doorway, who was coughing and moaning…

Now, which students stopped to help the unfortunate man? One factor that influenced their actions was the talk they were going to give: 53% of those whose subject was the Good Samaritan helped the man, compared to only 29%of those who were going to talk about job opportunities. However, the time pressure the participants were under was an even bigger factor. Regardless of the subject of their talk, only 10% of those who were under extreme time pressure came to the aid of the man, compared to 45% of those under moderate time pressure and 63% under low pressure. As the researchers observed, “Some literally stepped over the victim on their way to the next building!” The conclusion is clear: haste can cause us to ignore our principles. If this happened to the seminarians, who’s to say it won’t happen to the rest of us?

Time (and financial) pressure can prevent us acting in accordance with our beliefs. In our urge to reach some particular goal, we can end up betraying our ideals; to make matters worse, we’re not even aware that what we’re doing it. How many seminary students who were in a desperate rush were capable of even noticing the man in trouble? Extreme haste causes us to have tunnel vision: literally, we don’t see beyond what we’re looking for. For this reason, our commitment to our values is really put to the test in stressful situations or when time is very short. It is precisely in predicaments like this that we should sound the alarm. We need to find a moment’s respite to reflect (difficult admittedly, but not impossible) in order to be able to see further than our own narrow interests and to stop obsessing about time. Now, there are some people who like to cram their day full of activities and to always be going against the clock. This gives them an adrenaline rush and the feeling of living more intensely. However, it also risks making them lose touch with their true values. Furthermore, it is possible that acting in coherence with our beliefs is one of the cornerstones of feeling at peace with ourselves.

It is possible to believe in something and still fail to live up to it.

Dr. Gregory House, fictional TV character

Take-aways

  1. Be careful when you’re under pressure, and think about the values that underpin the decisions you end up taking.
  2. Ask your friends whether you actually practise what you preach… You may be in for a few surprises.
  3. Give yourself enough space so that you don’t risk sacrificing your principles.

Round-up

Being in too much of a hurry can lead us to forget what we hold to be most important in life.

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