It was later, and quite by accident, that I learned from an outside source what had happened on that day in question.
On that eventful morning, Avery and her mother were the first to arrive at the scene of a car accident. Her mother positioned her car with flashing lights to warn others. She got out of the car and sat down in the middle of the road comforting a woman who had been thrown from a vehicle. Avery observed everything from the safety of her car. It took several minutes for the ambulance and police to arrive. During that time Avery’s mother protected and comforted a perfect stranger. For several days thereafter this mom, with the help of her children, cooked and delivered multiple meals for the family of the injured woman—a complete stranger she met in the middle of a road.
Avery’s mom modeled for her daughter many values. This impressionable child witnessed compassion, bravery, empathy, kindness, love, responsibility, consideration, generosity, and determination. Avery saw an impressive automatic response to the circumstances at hand.
We would like to believe that our children observe and maintain the values we hold dear. We would also like to believe that our values are hard-wired and would surface automatically no matter what happens to us, but do they? The following experiment yields some answers.
This is the famous seminary experiment about the Good Samaritan.
Source: Darley, J. M., and Batson, C.D., "From Jerusalem to Jericho": A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior"
The parable of the Good Samaritan is an interesting example. What possessed the priest and the Levite to pass by the injured man by the side of the road? Possibly they were in a hurry and were filled with busy, important thoughts. Maybe the Samaritan was in less of a hurry. Or maybe the virtues that the religious leaders espoused were not something they followed themselves (unlike the Samaritan).
Seminary students were recruited for a study on religious education. First they completed personality questionnaires about their religion. Later they began experimental procedures in one building and then were told to go to another building to continue. On the way they encountered a man slumped in an alleyway (the victim’s condition is unknown—hurt, or drunk?).
They varied the amount of urgency they told the subjects before sending them to the other building, and the task they would do when they got there. One task was to prepare a talk about seminary jobs, and the other about the story of the Good Samaritan. In one condition they told the subject they were late for the next task, in the other they said they had a few minutes but they should head on over anyway. In an alleyway the seminary student passed a man sitting slumped in a doorway. He moaned and coughed twice as they walked by. After arrival at the second research site, they had the subject give the talk and then answer a helping behavior questionnaire.
The amount of "hurriedness" induced in the subject had a major effect on helping behavior, but the task variable did not (even when the talk was about the Good Samaritan).
Overall 40% offered some help to the victim. In low hurry situations, 63% helped, medium hurry 45% and high hurry 10%. For helping-relevant message 53%, task relevant message 29%. There was no correlation between "religious types" and helping behavior.
Ironically, a person in a hurry is less likely to help people, even if he is going to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Some literally stepped over the victim on their way to the next building!). The results seem to show that thinking about norms does not imply that one will act on them. Maybe "ethics become a luxury as the speed of our daily lives increases". Or maybe cognitions were narrowed by the hurriedness and they failed to make the immediate connection of an emergency.
Many subjects who did not stop did appear anxious when the arrived at the second site. They were in a conflict between helping the victim and meeting the needs of the experimenter. Conflict rather than callousness can explain the failure to stop.
Avery’s mother was in a hurry to get her child to school. But she stopped and took action. She not only gave aid, she continued to do so after the initial encounter—just as the Good Samaritan had done. Then she graciously paid the price for her valor. She repaid the deficiency her action caused in our classroom—all without bragging, complaining, or giving an excuse. When I realized what Avery’s mother had done, I made it a point to talk to my class about values and how everyday circumstances can cause us to slight them or strengthen them. “What was the top value?” I asked my students. “Was it punctuality or compassion?”
Their answer was unanimous.
The Lesson Learned: Recently a radio commentator stated that our culture has redefined values as judgment and therefore wrong to be openly expressed. Perhaps "openness" is a value we should add to the list.
The values our children recognize and embrace come from experiences, culture, and environment. As parents and teachers we provide the main influence and control the majority of the environments young children draw from. Then as community activities, television, and peer interactions come into play, exposure to other prioritized values increase with time as ours seem to decrease. How do we instill and elevate our values so that can stand alone when we are not in the room?
We model them. We talk about them. We make them visible.
5 Values You Should Teach Your Child By Age Five (Parent Magazine)
The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories Edited by William J. Bennett. 1993: New York: Simon and Schuster.
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