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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Thought-Provoking Videos About Empathy, Compassion, and Service

last updated August 22, 2020

by Catharine Hannay

Continuing with the popular series of video playlists for teachers, here are a variety of moving and thought-provoking perspectives on:
  • How to Have a Good Conversation (even when we have opposing viewpoints);
  • How to be an Upstander against bullying; 
  •  What Not to Say to d/Deaf people, people of mixed race, people with disabilities; and people with cancer; and
  • Getting More Than We Give from volunteering

I've included some videos that are appropriate for all ages, and others that I would only feel comfortable showing to adults and mature teens. As always, please watch the full video before making your own best judgment about what's suitable for your particular context.

Perspectives on Empathy and Mindful Speech

In this TEDX talk on How to Have a Good Conversation, award-winning journalist Celeste Headlee explains how to listen respectfully and learn from people whose opinions may be very different from our own. 

 (Ms. Headlee expands on these ideas in her excellent book We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter.)

Have you seen the famous 'All That We Share' video from Danish television, about putting people in boxes? 

These students were inspired to make their own videos:

The next video shows how someone's views can change from bigotry to compassion.

The next three videos are from a BCC III series of Things Not to Say to various types of people:  "We've all been faced with stereotypes depending on our appearance, background, beliefs or conditions." (This is an uncensored series with mature themes. The ones I've included here have occasional strong language but otherwise I don't think there's anything your students would find offensive.)

"What are you?"
"I'm not a rare bird or alien."
"I've had somebody come up to me. Not talk to me, talk to the people I'm with, and be like, 'Where did you get this exotic creature?'" 

"Are your other senses heightened?"
"Funnily enough, yes. Deaf people are more visual." 
"No, I'm like practically blind without my contact lenses." 
"I have a really excellent gaydar."

"Stay positive."
"People have to know that you can't be positive all the time, and you will have your down days." 
"If someone had cancer and lost a limb, but now they're running 500 miles in three days... so it's like, 'Look, you can do that, too.' But when you're feeling tired in a hospital bed... that is not at all motivating."

Scope's 'End the Awkward' Video Series is based on real-life awkward encounters with people with different types of disabilities. (I found out about this series from the book Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, by Melissa Dahl.)

A group of people with different types of disabilities talk about how they've been avoided, insulted, and asked overly personal questions.

An interviewer of average height gets overly flustered when an observer from head office turns out to be a Little Person.

A woman is surprised to find out that her date is blind. The man is surprised that she's SO LOUD. (He's blind, not deaf.)

A demonstration of sensitive and insensitive encounters with people who have different types of disabilities.

Perspectives on Helping Others

The next group of videos encourage kids to be Upstanders rather than Bystanders. You may also be interested in the film clips and discussion questions available at, as well as a Mindful Teachers post with Upstander and Anti-Bullying Resources.

The following satirical video was produced by the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH) to raise awareness of how stereotypes about Africa can impede effective relief work. 

Children in Norway face many challenges in the winter. "They catch colds. They slip on ice. They even get their tongues stuck to frozen metal. As an African, you may think, 'What can I do to help?'"

You might also be interested in the 'Rusty Radiator' and 'Golden Radiator' Awards for least and most culturally-sensitive fund-raising videos.

The following four TED Talks are from men who have useful perspectives to share on volunteering.

Ian Breckenridge-Jackson was a student volunteer helping to clean up after Hurricane Katrina. Over the years, he's changed his opinion about the benefits of that experience.

You might also be interested in the perspective of multiple-award-winning nonprofit SOIL  on the type of volunteers that are and are not helpful in Haiti, and How We're Different from organizations that have spent large amounts of money on failed projects.

International student Nipuna Ambanpola has had very positive experiences as a volunteer.

The founder of Empty Hands Music describes how he always felt unfulfilled despite his success at an elite university, then in a high paying job, then as a rising MTV star. He decided to take his life in a completely different direction.

(Unfortunately, the sound quality of the song at the end isn't great; you might want to stop this video at 13:36 and play "Being Kind" from either the Change the World playlist or the Empty Hands website.)

Mark Bezos discovered that you don't have to be a 'hero' to make a difference. 

Last but not least, Lebanese American tenor Karim Sulayman  holds a poster asking passersby for a hug or a handshake: 

"You can trust me to care for you no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you are from. Will you embrace me as willingly as I embrace you?"

Suggested Questions for Reflection and Discussion

As always with personal topics, please respect your students' wishes about how much they choose to share.

  • Which group (or individual) do you identify with the most? the least? Why?
  • Have you ever had an awkward encounter with someone who was different from you? What happened? What do you wish had happened instead?
  • What type of volunteering have you done? Was your experience, positive, negative, or a mix of both? Why? Looking back on the situation now, is there anything you would do differently?
  • Do you disagree with any of the opinions stated in these videos? Why?
  • Did any of these videos change your point of view? What helped you to see things in a different way?

If you found these videos useful, you might also be interested in the other Video Playlists for Teachers and Teacher Trainers. And there are many more resources for teaching empathy and compassion at, including Real-Life Good Samaritan Stories and Songs About Identity, Diversity, and Empathy.