Eisenstein – 3/19

Eisenstein questions people’s true judgments — of themselves and others — in Chapter 25. He writes that it’s usually easy to be critical of oneself because it’s something that society values — being too good at something or being too hard on yourself. But what about others? By judging yourself, aren’t you comparing yourself against others? And isn’t that not fair because you don’t know their situation?

To illustrate this idea, Eisenstein tells a story about an experiment conducted by John Darley and C. Daniel Batson in 1973. There were three groups in this experiment, all of which were tasked with traveling across campus to tell the Good Samaritan story from the bible. The story is about a priest and a Levite passing a wounded man on the side of the road without stopping to help. The only one to stop was the Samaritan.

The first group was told, “You’d better hurry up, you’re late for your interview.” The second group was told, “You’d better hurry up, your interview starts in a few minutes.” The third group was told, “Well, you might as well head on over. Your interview doesn’t start for a while, but we’re done here.”

On their way to their final destinations, all the groups passed a wounded man, groaning loudly, in the middle of a doorway — a sight that was impossible for the groups to miss. As one might expect, the groups responded differently. Only 10% of the participants in the first group stopped while 60% of those in the third group stopped. But this can’t possibly mean that all the “good” participants were simply randomly assigned to group three.

Eisenstein reasons that we can’t judge others because we don’t know their situation. We can’t say we’d do something differently from someone else because we just don’t know. And it’s more likely than not that we’d probably do the same.

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