Holbrook: The slow Samaritan and an overfed dog (column)
Luke, my dog, was standing beside his food bowl, staring at me.
“What?” I asked. “Why aren’t you eating your food?” His head hung down and his big brown Labrador eyes rolled up to look at me with a confused, “something is not right” look. Exasperated, late for work, I had no time to figure out what was going on in his doggy brain.
As I raced down to the basement, and then back upstairs again looking for my car keys, all of a sudden it came back to me: I had filled up his food bowl when I first woke up. But I had been in such a rush all morning that I had forgotten, and gave him breakfast a second time as I was getting ready to leave.
Now I understood the look: “I don’t usually get breakfast two times in the morning. What’s going on?”
In these past few months I’ve been juggling several jobs, waking up at 5:30 a.m. to take care of one story I need to turn in; rushing off at 9 to Silverthorne where I work at a cookware store part time; zooming home in the afternoon to write some more. I am usually in bed before 9, and up at 5:30 to start again.
I am feeling completely frazzled.
A few days ago, I happened to tune into a TedTalk given by psychologist Daniel Goleman who coined the phrase “Emotional Intelligence.” Goleman recounted the results of a research project conducted at the Princeton University Theological Seminary on the topic of compassion. The research subjects, all seminary students, were given the assignment of preparing a sermon. Half the group would give a sermon on “The Good Samaritan,” the parable of the traveler who stopped on the road to help a stranger in need whom others had passed by; the other half of the students would give a sermon on a general bible topic.
The students were then sent off, one by one, to give their sermons in another building. On the way, each one passed a man who was raggedly dressed and hunched over on the path, moaning, clearly in need.
What happened next? How many of the students stopped to help? Did more of the students who had been working on the topic of the Good Samaritan stop to help?
As it turned out, the deciding factor as to who stopped and who did not was this: How rushed did each individual student feel? Those who were in a hurry and preoccupied didn’t stop; those who proceeded more calmly noticed the man in need and paused to see how they could help.
Goleman’s premise is an optimistic one: that we humans are, in fact, wired for compassion. Then, other things get in the way, or short circuit our best intentions. Our tendency is to cram too much into our days; we allow ourselves to be distracted by the seductive glow of our computer screens, the irresistible chirp of incoming messages on our phones.
This morning, as I write this, it is Dec. 21, the darkest day of the year. The turning point after which we move, imperceptibly, towards longer days and towards the light. And while not much is different — I am still up early writing before I race off to the store — this morning I put aside half an hour before the sun came up to wrap myself in that pre-dawn darkness and to think about what old and outworn thoughts and behaviors I would like to let go of as this year ends. Who would I like to become and what would I like to create as the sun comes up on the New Year?
Certainly I hope to be a human being who is more compassionate, with greater capacity for observation and awareness. Someone who is a little less rushed, exasperated and self-absorbed.
And maybe today I am off to a good start. Today, I let Luke out for a short walk, and then fed him just one breakfast.
Christina Holbrook lives in Breckenridge.
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