Updated: Mar 16
An old experiment by John Darley and Daniel Batson illustrates very well the factors that determine our behaviour when it comes to helping another person who is in trouble. The participants in the experiment were students at a priesthood college. The experiment took place in two buildings. In the first building a questionnaire about religious personality traits was administered and then the students were sent to the other building.
Some of the students were told that in the other building they had to give a lecture on the Good Samaritan, and the other students were told that they had to give a lecture on career opportunities after seminary. If you were in the Good Samaritan group, you were expected to be more helpful. The researchers also included time pressure. One part of the group was told that they were actually too late for the lecture in the other building, another part that they were just in time, and the rest that they still had plenty of time.
Between the two buildings, one by one, the students found a person in need of help. Only 40% of the students stopped to help. The interesting thing about this experiment is that the deciding factor for whether or not to come to the rescue was not which story had been prepared but the degree of time pressure the student felt at the time. If a student felt they had to rush, they would walk on and pay no attention to the person visibly in need of help. In some cases, the student even stepped over the victim to hurry to the other building. If the student was more relaxed and did not feel any (great) time pressure, he gladly offered to help.
A better world therefore starts with slowing down. A better world begins with mindfulness. Despite all the promises of automation and technology to make our work and lives more peaceful, we have collectively become busier in recent decades. We often have a chronic feeling of having to hurry: eat quickly, run an errand, pick up the kids quickly, cook quickly, check our email quickly, quickly, quickly.
A lot is demanded of us, or rather, we demand a lot of ourselves. Because being busy is not just about work. In addition to our careers and ambitions, we also want to stay fit, have interesting hobbies, a vibrant social life, a healthy and exciting sex life, a harmonious and happy family, adventurous trips and holidays, immerse ourselves in worldly matters, and plenty of variety in life. As a result, life seems to speed up. We cram more activities into an hour, more tasks into a day, more sightseeing into a trip. Every gap in time is immediately filled up again like a footstep in the wet sand along the shore.
All this is not without consequences. Certainly not if life doesn't turn out the way you want it to. The figures of the annual burn-out cases do not lie. And what about all the other stress-related complaints such as heart disease, physical (back) problems, obesity, complaints due to smoking, drug and alcohol addiction, etc.?
There is more to life than acceleration. There is so much that passes us by in a hurry. Mindfulness lets you experience that you do not necessarily have to do special things to have new experiences. You just look with new eyes. Approach ordinary things with special attention. The ordinary minutes, the silence between the sounds. Mindfulness takes you out of your head and anchors you in the moment. Islands of rest and relaxation throughout your day. Living the minutes of your life for real. Space is created and your sights open to what is there, right in front of you. You see opportunities to feel the happiness and satisfaction that comes with helping another. In this way, we can feel that we are alive, from breath to breath, and that for all our ambitions and goals, we are first and foremost human.