Top podcast picks for talk about kindness, empathy, compassion

Why We Wrote This

In a world often riven by hate, three podcasts take distinct approaches to understanding and instilling compassion and empathy.

(AP Photo/Dallas Morning News, Stan Olszewski)
A customer tries a pair of Beats headphones at a Target store in Dallas, Nov. 22, 2012.

Kindness is a powerful instrument of change. Here are three podcasts (and some bonus episodes) that take distinct approaches to understanding and instilling compassion and empathy. As with any podcast, the quality may be uneven from episode to episode, but on the whole, these choices inspire in their own unique ways. 

1. Finding Fred

Host Carvell Wallace – a former parenting advice columnist at Slate – explores why “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” remains relevant five decades years after the TV show debuted in 1968. What does the enduring popularity of Fred Rogers say about us and our society? This podcast series leans on show clips and interviews with experts to look at why a program most widely watched by 4-year-olds is embraced by adults today for what it teaches us about empathy, compassion, and complex moral and spiritual concepts. In short, what can Mr. Rogers teach us about being better neighbors? 10 episodes.

2. Kind World

This WBUR public radio podcast offers relatively short (12-20 minute) inspiring stories of kindness. A recent episode interviews Nancy Davis Kho, who wrote a book about her year spent writing one-page “thank you” letters. Ms. Kho discovered how transformative gratitude can be. Another episode profiles Rais Bhuiyan, an immigrant from Bangladesh, who was shot in the face by a white supremacist in Texas. Mr. Bhuiyan survived, and later founded a nonprofit, World Without Hate, to help end the behaviors that fuel racism. “If we decide to get beyond hate, we can do it. Americans are capable of extraordinary compassion and grace,” he says.

A new season of Kind World starts in March.

3. The Science of Happiness

The premise: We can take practical – research-based – steps to happier lives and a more compassionate society. 

In a recent episode, comedian Maz Jobrani tells about his – and his family’s – experience of writing down three good things that happened daily during a trip to Japan. In another, neuroscientist Lisa Genova tries four action steps toward “creating and recalling positive events.” In another, a stressed-out high school student employs a little self-compassion. After getting a lousy grade, he talks to himself the way he would talk to a friend – with compassion and encouragement, instead of self-recrimination. Most episodes are about 20 minutes. They are produced by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. 

4. Episodic Kindness, Generosity, and Compassion. 

Here are some individual episodes (within other podcasts) that focus on the subject of compassion.

Perception Gaps:  The Generosity Game

This episode, by The Christian Science Monitor, is about generosity, and what factors go into how generous you are. If you had to guess who is more generous, churchy American conservatives or bleeding heart liberals? You might immediately say conservatives ... or liberals. The answer: It’s both and neither. And that’s a perception gap. This episode also looks at research about the connection between money and happiness. 

NPR’s Ted Radio Hour: Wired for Altruism? 

In this January 2019 episode, host Guy Raz interviews four experts who tackle such questions as what motivates us to be altruistic, what limits us, and how far would you go to help others?

NPR’s Ted Radio Hour:  Approaching with Kindness

In this January 2019 episode, five experts are asked about the power of gratitude and appreciation, including: How can kindness disarm hate?

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