The Power Of Specificity


In 1994, psychology professors at Santa Clara University tested a theory they'd been developing about the power of specificity as it relates to compliance.  They called the procedure pique technique. 

The professors enlisted students in the experiment to go to a public place known to be frequented by panhandlers, and begin asking passers by for money.  Some of the students simply asked people for spare change, or for a common amount like a dollar, but others became very specific in their requests.  

Several of the students asked specifically for thirty-seven cents, an odd amount, which would more often than not pique the interest of the people they were asking.  In the end, a greater number of people stopped and inquired of the students why they were asking for thirty-seven cents than stopped for the students who weren't as specific.  

And more often than not, they would give something to the thirty-seven cent students after the exchange--regardless of the reason they students offered up.   

After I read about this experiment, I got to thinking about the implications of it, and what it says about us as a culture.  There's so many things vying for our attention on a daily basis, isn't there?  Even the needs of the lost and forgotten people around us become commonplace if we are not careful.  

I used to live in downtown Chicago, and I found myself shutting out all of the poverty and homelessness around me all of the time... the people sleeping in the streets during winter... the drug addicts begging outside the grocery store... there were so many needs that it all became a blur.  

But sometimes, the blurriness would fade and a person would come into sharp focus.  

Once it was an immigrant mother and her daughter begging outside the train station I was about to enter and all I had in my pocket was $20.  As I walked past her, I felt like a voice in my head simply said, "Her. Give the money to her."  I walked a few steps down the stairs, arguing in my head.  But finally I gave in and went back to her, and pressed the money into her outstretched palm.  

Then there was the guy sleeping on the sidewalk who became the recipient of an entire pizza that I uncontrollably felt I had to slide under his bag where he would find it later.  

I could go on and on, telling story after story of all the places I've traveled to since... and the people who came into focus because the Holy Spirit of God got extremely specific with me.  "That person."  "Him."  "That couple."  "This woman."  

It helps me realize that even though there are more needs in the world than I can possibly meet on my own, the Spirit gets specific about how I can meet some of them.  

And it's in those moments that I feel an incredible amount of comfort because I know that when I am in need, the Spirit is not above getting specific about me to someone else.  

May you be open to the specificity of the Spirit in your life and the lives of the people you encounter who need you.  May you be amazed at what the Spirit will do through you and in you.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  

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