“We have all been at a party and noticed new acquaintances scanning the room, looking for someone more interesting to converse with. Steven Levy says that we now live in ‘a never-ending cocktail party where you’re always looking over your virtual shoulder for a better conversation partner.’ We cannot build deep and lasting relationships if we turn away from others the moment they become boring, irritating, or challenging. Neither cocktail party practices nor television-viewing habits are helpful for growing in friendship, intimacy, and love.” (Boers, Living Into Focus, 88.)
There are many facets to the problem of attenuated attention; yet, especially within Christian circles this one manifests itself powerfully and dreadfully. The truth is as Arthur Boers says, real relationships that provide crucial sustenance and provoke personal growth occur not too far after most people give up on them. What makes a person a good friend is not that the person is interesting. The most satisfying relationships I’ve had have also been the most difficult; but they are the ones where the difficulty was born patiently and persevered.
My students know that one of my favorite lines in The Two Towers is Treebeard’s request of Merry and Pippin to hear their adventure, “Now tell me your tale, and do not hurry!”
I was especially reminded of this line while reading through Arthur Boers’s Living Into Focus. He cites this study by J.M. Darley and C.D. Batson. The study was conducted with students from Princeton Theological Seminary. The students where sent from one building to another through an alley in order to give a talk either on jobs available or on the Good Samaritan parable. Along the way, the students encountered a person in the alley who was clearly in need of medical aid, slumped in a doorway, coughing. Some students were told they had to rush to get to the talk, some where told there was no rush and some where given moderate speed instructions.(eku.edu). While only 53% of those delivering the message on the Good Samaritan stopped to help, the most relevant factor was the amount of hurry the students were in. In low hurry situations, 63% helped, 45% in a medium hurry and only 1/10 in the high hurry situation. Boers explains, “This is not surprising. After all, ’empathy and compassion’ both need ‘a calm, attentive mind.'” (Boers, 144; citing Carr, The Shallows, 220) Is it any wonder that our churches feel so cold and lacking compassion? If we would like to embody the moral character reflected in the Scriptures, perhaps we need to ask some hard questions about our levels of commitment and busyness. There is no such thing as hurried compassion.
And I might add, the Ents may have taken several days to decide their course of action, but their lack of hurry also meant that they could be counted on for thoroughness:
(Gandalf) ‘But there it is, Saruman remains to nurse his hatred and weave again such webs as he can. He has the key to Orthanc. But he must not be allowed to escape.’
‘Indeed no!’ Ents will see to that,’ said Treebeard. ‘Saruman will not set foot beyond the rock, without my leave. Ents will watch over him.’