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  • Reverend James Squire

The Student Teaches the Teacher About Waiting

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

The issue of waiting comes into focus as we consider the Black Lives Matter Movement and the pandemic. First, let’s consider waiting and the pandemic. There is an oft quoted experiment known as the Marshmallow Experiment done at Stanford that studied the power of waiting. The design is simple. A marshmallow is put in front of a young child. The child is told that if he can wait to eat it, he will get two later on. The experiment revealed that people who could wait have more success in life. There is something about that experiment that always bothered me, and I could never figure out why.

Connor Boyle was a Senior Warden of the Student Vestry at the Episcopal Academy where he worked with me in leading the other members of the Student Vestry to shape the moral culture of the school by planning and leading worship services. He is now a researcher at Penn in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy. He co-authored an article with Ezekiel J. Emanuel who is Vice Provost of the Global Initiatives at Penn. It explored the issue of waiting and appeared in today’s (July 28) Philadelphia Inquirer. I have attached the article below.

When you are the product of a struggling community as I was in my youth, you are destined to see everything through the lens of class whether you like it or not.

The last paragraph of their article opened my eyes as to what was missing for me in the Marshmallow Experiment. Connor and his Supervisor wrote: “Appreciating the full arc of the Marshmallow Experiment means not only choosing to endure a little longer but working to help Americans for whom the choice to wait is most difficult.” Those with financial resources have an easier time waiting than someone who is wondering if funds for the next meal and housing will arrive.

I called Connor this morning and thanked him for solving the problem that I had with the Stanford Experiment, that class and money can influence waiting. Yes, I told him I was bursting with pride to have a former student tell me what I found missing.

There is irony in the opinion section of today’s Inquirer. Below Connor’s article there Is an article by Will Bunch titled “We Can No Longer Wait”. The article centers on the lack of swift justice for Breanna Taylor. It has been months since her death. The three police officers who were involved in her death are still going to work in their blue uniforms. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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