Science, sermons, and calling Mom

It is pretty much required for rabbis delivering sermons on days when Yizkor, the memorial prayer is said, to talk about our connection with our parents, as that relationship forms the context for remembering the dead and contemplating our own mortality. So it wasn’t a surprise that in yesterday’s Shavuot sermon, the rabbi talked about calling your mother. What was remarkable is that the sermon brought in both science and advertising !

Rabbi Michelle Robinson told us about a surprising scientific study. The study found that speaking with your mother on the phone for 15 minutes lowers stress in 7-12 year old girls, as measured by cortisol and oxytocin levels, as much as 15 minutes of physical reassurance ! I guess this explains why many mothers get calls from our kids in college before and after exams. Just hearing their mother’s voice washes away some of the stress of the test. Probably, calling Dad does not have the same effect.

She also brought up a wonderful anecdote from the world of advertising. In 1979, South Central Bell had legendary college football coach Bear Bryant record a commercial. The tough football coach (he once played with a broken leg) was supposed to say “Have you called your mama today ?” Having recently lost his own mother, Bryant ad-libbed and added, “I sure wish I could call mine.” The phone company’s intuitive knowledge that simply hearing your mother’s voice is comforting was an astute business move. Legend has it the stock soared as grown men heeded Bryant’s ‘suggestion.’

Enjoy the commercial !


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