The pressure to “care for the poor” during Lent used to irritate me; it felt like one more reason to feel bad about myself during an already decidedly depressing season.
Then our family spent a week living on the dusty plains of South Dakota with an amazing community of Lakota Sioux Native Americans. They radically healed my attitude toward helping poor people. What I learned from them has now been confirmed by brain science.
We all have a deep desire to help others, and are happiest when we honor that desire. In fact, brain science has found that giving social support may actually be even more satisfying than receiving social support.
How, then, do we awaken to this desire to help others?
The best way to awaken to our natural desire to help others is to slow down. While staying with the Lakota People we spent countless hours in slow-moving conversations without electronics. This slower pace allowed us to connect, understand their situation and fired us up to make a difference.
Brain science has confirmed that slowing down sparks a natural drive to help others. In a hilarious study of the positive impact of slowing down, Princeton Seminary students were sent to give a sermon on the Good Samaritan on the other side of campus. Some were told to relax and take their time; others were told to hurry because they were already late. Researchers planted an actor along the seminarians’ path who pretended to be hurt, groaning and in need of help. Only 10% of those in a hurry (to teach about the importance of stopping to help someone in need!) actually stopped to help the person in need. Conversely, 63% of the seminarians who were not rushing stopped to help. The point: The key first step to awaken our natural desire to help those in need is to simply slow down and pay attention.
How do we do this in practice? Next week I’ll share a list of fun and effective ways to help people who are poor. But for now, let’s focus on slowing down to pay attention to people who might need our help.