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Home » Daniel Goleman: Why Aren’t We All Good Samaritans? (Transcript)

Daniel Goleman: Why Aren’t We All Good Samaritans? (Transcript)

Full text of author Daniel Goleman’s talk: Why Aren’t We All Good Samaritans?

In this talk, the author of Emotional Intelligence, asks why we aren’t more compassionate more of the time.


Daniel Goleman – Author of Emotional Intelligence

You know, I’m struck by how one of the implicit themes of TED is compassion, these very moving demonstrations we’ve just seen: HIV in Africa, President Clinton last night.

And I’d like to do a little collateral thinking, if you will, about compassion and bring it from the global level to the personal. I’m a psychologist, but rest assured, I will not bring it to the scrotal.

There was a very important study done a while ago at Princeton Theological Seminary that speaks to why it is that when all of us have so many opportunities to help, we do sometimes, and we don’t other times.

A group of divinity students at the Princeton Theological Seminary were told that they were going to give a practice sermon and they were each given a sermon topic. Half of those students were given, as a topic, the parable of the Good Samaritan: the man who stopped the stranger in — to help the stranger in need by the side of the road.

Half were given random Bible topics. Then one by one, they were told they had to go to another building and give their sermon.

As they went from the first building to the second, each of them passed a man who was bent over and moaning, clearly in need. The question is: Did they stop to help?

The more interesting question is: Did it matter they were contemplating the parable of the Good Samaritan? Answer: No, not at all.

What turned out to determine whether someone would stop and help a stranger in need was how much of a hurry they thought they were in — were they feeling they were late, or were they absorbed in what they were going to talk about.

And this is, I think, the predicament of our lives: that we don’t take every opportunity to help because our focus is in the wrong direction. There’s a new field in brain science, social neuroscience. This studies the circuitry in two people’s brains that activates while they interact.

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