How Nice People Come Across as Insensitive Jerks

by Andy Wood on December 5, 2007

in Allocating Your Resources, LV Cycle, Time

insensitiveTake a look in the mirror. There you’ll see somebody you hope comes across as decent, caring, and human at least. Godly at best.  Imagine, however, that you could look through the veil at the thoughts of people around you. Chances are, sometime over the last several weeks, you walked right past them. Absorbed in your own world, you dissed ‘em. And though you were clueless, they caught it.

You jerk.

You aren’t alone. I just learned about an experiment done at Princeton Seminary that tested people’s natural impulse to be good to others. A cohort of students were in a room together, preparing for a sermon on which they would be graded. Half were preaching from the parable of the Good Samaritan, the other half on anything they chose. The experiment was what they would do if they were on their way to preach and passed a man who was apparently hurt. Would they stop and help him?

Generally speaking, the answer was, no. And get this – those preparing to preach on the Good Samaritan didn’t do any better than the others.

The only hopeful variable was time. Of those who were told they were running late, only one in ten stopped to help the man. But those who knew they had plenty of time stopped to help at a rate of 60%.

Wow. The difference between being a caring, sensitive helper and an apparent insensitive jerk? Time. More to the point, my perception of how much time I have to be interrupted. Being in a hurry narrows my focus and can completely shut out someone standing right next to me who is in obvious pain. I become oblivious to the obvious.

We often talk about “taking the time” and “being interruptable.” But the truth is that I can’t take the time or be interrupted by somebody I can’t see. And I pass people without seeing them on a daily basis.

So how do I “take the time?” It starts by making the time. That’s what Margin, the book, is all about. Building margin into our time, money, etc.

A lot of this “I don’t have time” reaction is self-imposed, based on subjective and sometimes completely inaccurate information. It’s the result of what I say to myself. It’s amazing the physiological and psychological difference it makes in me when I hear myself say, “It’s OK. We’ve got time.” I relax. I see more. I sense more. I become more sense-itive.

But sometimes the perception that I don’t have time is based on some cold, hard data. I really do have to be somewhere in five minutes. What do I do?

Build margin. Leave earlier. Don’t insist on jamming every waking moment with something to accomplish. Spend some time “sharpening the saw.” Or listening. Or just watching people.

Put the words “I must” up in a safe place. Use only on special occasions.

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