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Focus and Attention

Dan Goleman | 1:18:19


I'm very pleased to be here. And thank you for that introduction. Tonight this evening, I'd like to call your attention to attention. And let me begin with a story. It's about a classic experiment in social psychology. 

It was done many years ago at the Princeton Theological Seminary with divinity students, each student was told that they're going to give a practice sermon, they'd receive a topic to prepare, and then they go to another building, and give the sermon to be evaluated. 

Half of the students were given the parable of the Good Samaritan is their topic, the man who stopped to help the stranger in need by the side of the road. The other half were given random Bible topics. As each divinity student went over to the other building to give their sermon, they passed a man who was bent over and moaning in pain. 

The interesting question is, did they stop to help? The more interesting question is, did it matter? If they're pondering the parable of the Good Samaritan? What do you think? Didn't matter, make no difference at all. What mattered was how much time pressure people felt there under. And this is more or less the story of our lives. 

There's a spectrum that runs from noticing the other person, to tuning into the other person to empathizing and understanding what's going on with them. And then if they're in need, and there's something that we can do compassion, and maybe helping them. 

But if we never noticed in the first place, we never go down that road. And this is the problem with attention. Today, it's under siege. I think the moment I knew were in trouble, was a while back before I started writing the book, focus. I was on my way to a meeting, I was driving. I live out in the country in New England.

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