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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Songs about Kindness and Compassion (part 2 of 2)

posted by Catharine Hannay

Here are a dozen more songs about kindness and compassion. This time, there's a mix of perspectives on discrimination, understanding people from different backgrounds, and taking action to help others. The songs range from sweet ("Home"; "True Colors"), to ironic ("Short People"), to devastating ("Strange Fruit").

Teachers, I've included an explanation and/or a snippet of the lyrics to help you decide what might be appropriate for your class, depending on the age and background of your students.  And there's a list of discussion questions at the end of the post. 

Better People, India.Arie
lyricsvideo (audio with album cover)
"If young people talk to old people, it would make us better people... I can help you with the brand new technology.  Help me with the age old philosophy.  Together there's so much we can do...  If black people would talk to white people... If Republican people would talk to Democratic people... "

Every Kind of People, Robert Palmer
lyrics; video of live performance
"Honest men know that revenge does not taste sweet.  Whether yellow, black or white, each and every man's the same inside.  It takes every kinda people to make what life's about."

Hammer and a Nail, Indigo Girls
lyrics; video of live performance on Letterman

"Gotta get out of bed get a hammer and a nail.  Learn how to use my hands, not just my head... I'd found myself becoming more immobile when I'd think a little girl in the world can't do anything...  If I have a care in the world, I have a gift to bring."

Help the Homeless, Big D 
official video 
"People walk past me every day. They don't even wanna look me in the face."

Home, Phillip Phillips
lyrics; video with American Sign Language by Deaf Film Camp
"The trouble—it might drag you down.  If you get lost, you can always be found.  Just know you're not alone, 'cause I'm gonna make this place your home."

Lean on Me, Bill Withers
lyrics; Playing for Change video; ASL version; Auslan version

"Lean on me when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend.  I'll help you carry on.  For it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on...   I'm right up the road, I'll share your load if you just call me."

Man in the Mirror, Michael Jackson
video of cover by Noah Guthrie

"As I turn up the collar on my favorite winter coat... I see the kids in the streets with not enough to eat.  Who am I to be blind?  Pretending not to see their needs.  I'm starting with the man in the mirror.  I'm asking him to change his ways... If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make the change."

My Own Little World, Matthew West
lyricsofficial video
"I got some money in my pocket, shoes on my feet. In my own little world, population: me... Stopped at a red light looked out my window. I saw a cardboard sign said, 'help this homeless widow.'  I rolled down the window and I looked her in the eye... And my own little world reached population: two."

Short People, by Randy Newman
lyrics; video of live performance by the Wellington International Ukelele Orchestra
"Short people are just the same as you and I.  All men are brothers until the day they die."  The rest of the lyrics show the absurdity of discrimination.  There are all sorts of silly reasons not to like short people:  "They got little baby legs that stand so low.  You got to pick 'em up just to say hello.

Strange Fruit, Abel Meeropol
NPR article with video of performance by Billie Holiday, lyrics, and background on the song, inspired by a photo of a lynching (illegal hanging).
This is a very hard-hitting song about violence against African Americans, first published as a poem in 1937 by a white Jewish teacher:  "Southern trees bear a strange fruit.  Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.  Black body swinging in the Southern breeze.  Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees."

True Colors, Cyndi Lauper
video of MattyBRaps cover featuring Olivia Kay; MattyB lyrics

(The video also features MattyB's little sister, who's been bullied because she has Down Syndrome.) "Whether its color, age, gender or race, we get uncomfortable when someone else is different... try to picture this with roles rearranged... Mistreated not because of actions that you've taken or a terrible mistake, but hated on because of your DNA."

Who’s So Scared, Disappear Fear
lyrics; video of live performance (song starts at :42)

This song takes the poem “Incident” by Countee Cullen about a racial insult against a little boy, adds a verse about a 14-year old girl frightened to be gay, and ends with the question “Won’t you explain to me the pain of your life?”  (Contains 'the N word': students don't always understand how offensive this word is because of its use in some popular films and music.)

You've Got to be Carefully Taught, Rodgers & Hammerstein (from South Pacific)
NPR article with some of the lyrics and background on the song; video of Mandy Patinkin performing at a September 11th concert (medley with "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods)
This song states that children aren't born with prejudices.  "You've got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made, and people whose skin is a different shade.  You've got to be carefully taught."

Questions for Reflection and Discussion
  • What kinds of problems could be solved if people of different ages/races/beliefs/abilities talked to one another?
  • Have you ever had an important encounter with someone from a different background?  How did it change your perspective?
  • What's the purpose of using humor when discussing social issues like discrimination?  What type(s) of humor are most/least effective?
  • Do you have any favorite songs about social issues? What message do they have, and how do they approach it?  (What do the lyrics say?  Are they serious or humorous?  How does the music support the words?)
  • How can someone in your circumstances (your age, education level, income, race, etc.) help reduce violence and discrimination?  


related posts:

Change the World: Songs for Reflection and Discussion

Community Service Projects, Pre-K Through College

Songs about Kindness and Compassion (part 1 of 2)

Videos about Kindness, Compassion, and Service