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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Real-Life Good Samaritan Stories

 photo on Unsplash by Aar√≥n Blanco Tejedor

by Catharine Hannay

As an antidote to the very disturbing stories we're seeing in the news, I'd like to share a few examples of people reaching across divides to help each other.

I'll start with the stories themselves, then get into some background and reflection on what it means to be a Good Samaritan.

Supporting Members of Other Faiths  

(above stories from

Police and Protesters Helping Each Other

What Does It Mean to Be a 'Good Samaritan'?

We're all familiar with the phrase 'Good Samaritan' but not everyone realizes it comes from a parable in the Christian Gospels. (I have no agenda of trying to convince anyone they should or shouldn't follow any particular religious teachings; I'm just explaining the background of the parable.)

In Luke 10: 29-37,  Jesus tells this story to a lawyer who asks, "Who is my neighbor?" because he wants to know who is included in the "love thy neighbor" category. 

The answer is a challenging one: not only should you not leave anyone out of your circle of compassion, you should look for goodness in the people you most want to exclude.

Thomas Merton explains,

"Let us remember that while to us all Samaritans are Good Samaritans, it was not so to those who first heard the parable. In their eyes all Samaritans were, by the very fact, bad. Indeed, that was why a Samaritan had to be the subject of the parable: since it was necessary for the hearers to realize that at least one Samaritan could be a good one."

a Thomas Merton Reader, p. 348 

In other words, The Good Samaritan isn't a story about how nice 'we' are. It's a story about how one of 'them' helped one of 'us.' These days, a more appropriate title might be something like 

The Good Buddhist

The Good Christian

The Good Conservative

The Good Hindu

The Good Jew

The Good Liberal

The Good Muslim

Pick whichever title from that list is the hardest for you to accept. Or use the name of a group you see in a negative light: a particular gender or ethnicity? the rival sports team? 

You may think you don't have any biases, but nearly all of us do, and it's important to become aware of this. You might be interested in a post by my colleague Brandi Lust on Building Narratives of Inclusion: Mitigating Implicit and Explicit Bias. 

I also recommend Two Powerful Empathy Practices to Awaken Compassion, which is what I do personally to think about different points of view and expand my own circle of compassion.

You and your students might also be interested in these video playlists about people from a wide range of backgrounds finding ways to help others:

We're all getting bombarded by news of negativity, hostility, and bad behavior. It's important to balance that with the many examples of people from all over the world who dedicate themselves to kindness and compassion. Once you start looking for them, you'll find Good Samaritans everywhere.

About the Author

Catharine Hannay is the founder of and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance. (Sales of the book help me continue to run with no sponsorship or advertising.)