Do Not Have the Time


At our services this morning there are some stories playing out that are powerful.

You have Glen Mamon, the proud grandfather of the bride, Marissa, who managed to get here for Marissa and Zack’s auf ruf.  Glen’s making it this morning, after working through some health challenges, was not easy, obvious, or automatic.  His being here this morning is an inspiring assertion of will. He would not be denied this moment.

So too Grammy is here, Daniel’s only living grandmother.  She is 95 years old.  She does not get out so much anymore.  There was nothing easy, obvious or automatic about her being here either, but she would not be denied this moment.

I think of Glen’s being here, of Grammy’s being here, not because it was easy, but despite the fact that it was the opposite of easy, because they were determined to be here, because nothing would stop them from being here.  And I contrast that with an interesting line I have heard a lot recently.

Over the last several months of meeting with people in my study, I notice a curious pattern.  People will say I would like to do X, but I don’t have the time.

I would love to learn Hebrew, but I don’t have the time.

I have always wanted to get to Israel, but I don’t have the time.

I want to get fit, lose some weight, get into a healthy workout regimen, but I don’t have the time.

I have always wanted to take a photography class, but I don’t have the time.

There are times in our lives when nothing can keep us from doing what we want to do.  Glen and Grammy this morning. There are other times in our lives when we say we don’t have the time.  I want to put that line—I don’t have the time—under the microscope and ask what is at stake when we say we don’t have the time.

In 1973, two social psychologists, John Darley and Daniel Batson, ran an experiment that they published in a paper called “From Jerusalem to Jericho.”  The point of departure of their study was the parable in the New Testament called The Good Samaritan.  Luke chapter 10 tells the story of a traveler who had been attacked by robbers, stripped of his clothes, beaten, and left on the side of the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.  A priest, a Kohein, walks right past him and does not help.  A Levite walks right past him and does not help.  Finally, a Samaritan walks by.  Samaritans were an ancient Jewish, pre-rabbinic sect.  The Samaritan stops and helps, thereby becoming the good Samaritan.  The supposedly holy people, the Kohein and the Levite, don’t help.

Roll the film forward.  These two Princeton scholars, Darley and Batson, want to run an experiment based on the story in Luke with an eye towards answering the questions: what gets somebody to help? What blocks somebody from helping?

They divide up 40 students at the Princeton Theological Seminary.  Half the students are asked to give a sermon about the parable of the Good Samaritan.  They are going to be thinking about the religious values of compassion, empathy, and grace.  The other half are asked to give a sermon on jobs: what kind of job will you want to get when you graduate?  They are going to be thinking about practical questions: economics, geography, the job market, career trajectory. The students are told to write their sermon in location A and to deliver it in location B, a walk of several minutes.

While the students walk from point A to point B, Darley and Batson stage an intervention.  They plant somebody in between points A and B who is designed to be like the person struggling in the parable from Luke.  The Seminarians will walk past somebody who is doubled over on the ground, moaning and groaning, a perfect stranger, in obvious need of help.  Will the Seminarians help?  Will the fact that some Seminarians have been thinking about the Good Samaritan parable, while others have been thinking about their own jobs, make any difference in whether or not they stop to help?

The answer is:  The fact that somebody had been thinking about the Good Samaritan parable had no impact on whether they helped the stranger in need.  Most students were too busy thinking about preaching about the Good Samaritan to be a Good Samaritan.  They were so focused on fine-tuning their words on compassion and grace that they could not act with compassion and grace. Twenty-four out of forty Seminarians ignored the man in need on the way to preaching their sermon.

What did drive whether they would help was something else entirely: whether or not they were in a hurry, whether or not they thought they had the time.  Darley and Batson divided the 40 students not only by topic but also by how long they had to go from building A to building B.  Some were told you have to come right away.  They were in the high hurried category.  Some were told you have more time to get to the second building.  They were in the medium hurried category.  A third group was not given a hurried time constraint.  They were low hurried.

This factor of hurry proved to be decisive.  In low hurry situations, 63% helped, medium hurry 45% helped, and high hurry only 10% helped.  Here is the authors’ conclusion:

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 peoples’ cognition was narrowed by the hurriedness and they failed to make the immediate connection of an emergency.

This study has so much to say to us right now.  The claim that we do not have the time is even more consequential than we might have thought.  The claim that we do not have the time means not only that we don’t take the foreign language or photography class; that we don’t learn some new skill; that we don’t visit a new country; that we don’t get more fit.  It means that we cannot become the person we would like to become.  Time crunch blocks our moral potential.

We are the seminarians in that study, running from building A to building B, from one appointment to the next, from one meeting to the next, from one obligation to the next.  The hurry that we are in gets in our way of becoming the person we want to be.  What do we do?

I once met with a friend who was talking about burn out caused by his hurried and harried pace.  The issue was not just that he was not able to be a Good Samaritan stopping on the road to Jericho.  The issue was his own exhaustion.  Hurry burns tread.  He was frazzled by his long days.

I asked to see his daily schedule, and I could understand right away why he was so burnt out.  From 7 to 7, he had meeting after meeting, appointment after appointment, all day long.  Just looking at his daily grind was exhausting.  But I noticed, as I looked over his impossible schedule, every once in a while, there was one hour that was blocked out with the capital letters TTT.

TTT, I said.  What is that?

His eyes lit up.  TTT. That is my favorite part of the week.  Any day with TTT is going to be a better day.

What is TTT?

TTT is Time to Think.  Every once in a while, I just book myself an hour to think. I won’t take any appointments.  I just sit at my desk and think.  The funny thing is it does not happen unless I make it happen.  But if I make it happen, I am always glad I did.

We all need more TTT in our lives.  With that TTT you could have more clarity about not only what you would like to do, but who you would like to be.

Here is a proposal.  What about banning the line I don’t have the time?  You just forbid yourself from saying that.  Because the truth is we do have the time to do the things we really want to do.  Glen is here. Grammy is here.   We can be where we want to be.  We can do what we want to do.

My dean at the Seminary, Rabbi William Lebeau, used to say do not prioritize your schedule.  Schedule your priorities.

If we ban the line I don’t have the time, we have a newer, richer, better question:  what am I going to make time for?  You are the boss of your life.  What have you always wanted to do that you have not yet done, who have you always wanted to be that you have not yet been?  Make the time.  Shabbat shalom.