Alzheimer's took his mind long before his body leaving his wife and children with years of distress instead of a time to mourn his loss. When he stopped breathing, words of comfort arrived online and in cards. "Our prayers and thoughts are with you," they wrote. They meant it too. Loving people care. Some send flowers. Others call.
From time to time people post calls to action online. They appear frustrated by "prayers and thoughts" that seem to replace more meaningful action. Children die in a school shooting and people offer prayers and thoughts. But grieving parents and friends want action. "This shouldn't happen!" they scream.
A crowd of sobbing people gather near an impromptu memorial of flowers. They tightly hug survivors of the bombing that separated lovers, family members, and friends. Sincere comments appear on social media pages, "Our prayers and thoughts are with you." What else can we do? We feel so helpless sometimes.
Dr. Schnitker and her team at Fuller examined the link between prayers and action in an experiment designed to study the role of prayers and generous action toward members of their ingroup (Christians) compared to those in an "other" group (Muslims). (See the Lilly link below for more details.)
Here's the primary finding in her words:
“The main finding we had was that the people who prayed donated less of their payment than the people who read the newspaper articles,” she said. “This is not what previous literature has suggested. Most studies have found that prayer leads to positive outcomes. We found, though, that prayer actually led to less generosity in this particular measure of generosity.”Why do you think people who prayed were less generous? Think about the complaints of parents and friends who've lost a loved one.
Here's what Dr. Schnitker suggests:
"...people who prayed felt like they acted by praying."
“They may have felt that they did something and so didn’t have
the drive to act when it came to making a donation...”
Dr. Schnitker also noted that religious people give more and cautions that the findings need to be replicated to learn more about prayer and generosity.
While many may appreciate our thoughts and prayers, others won't. And in many cases, specific actions can be taken to support survivors of disasters and human violence. In addiiton, in some cases, action may be taken to prevent future incidents.
You can learn more about this study and generosity from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
I write about Psychology and Religion.
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