The Compassion Project: A Sit-Down with Jeff Weiner

This month we sat down to interview Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn & visionary behind The Compassion Project, to hear his compelling views on why compassion should be taught in every school in the US. In this interview, Jeff explains how he came to see compassion as a critical skill and why teaching compassion is so critical in an increasingly polarized world.

Why do you believe teaching compassion is so important?

Jeff Weiner: We’re in a time where people are increasingly being torn apart. People are looking to reinforce their own views by connecting with others that look like them and sound like them. Tribalism, as some would call it, is reinforced through both conventional and new media channels.

As a result, we have to be increasingly focused on teaching our youth skills like critical reasoning and collaboration that will help them to be successful in the future. And above all, in light of the environment we live in, it is critical to teach compassion. Compassion is a skill that enables you to see the world through the eyes of another person in order to alleviate their suffering or help them. I can’t think of anything more important right now that could help the world start to reconnect and heal.

How did you personally come to care so deeply about teaching compassion?

As a young, less experienced executive, I defaulted to an approach where I expected people to do things the way that I did. This lead to frustration on both ends. I started taking the time to understand where the other person was coming from, their strengths, their weaknesses, their hopes, their fears, and doing everything that I could to coach them and to set them up for success. And it was through that process that I recognized compassion can be incredibly powerful in terms of getting the most out of people and helping them to realize their objectives and their goals.

But you shouldn’t have to wait until you’re in the workforce to learn and utilize compassion. I know compassion can be taught and should be taught early– at the primary school level.
I learned this when I came across a PBS Frontline documentary called “A Class Divided”, and it told the story of a third grade teacher in Iowa, a woman named Jane Elliott. The day after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, she tried an experiment– she decided to treat the children in her class with blue eyes superior to the children with brown eyes. She then swapped their treatment the next day. It helped the class understand the impact of discrimination divisiveness, and in interviews, the now-grown children still remember vividly the lessons of Ms. Elliott’s “Blue eyes-Brown eyes” exercise.

It was in watching that documentary that I realized that compassion could be taught. And if it could be taught, then it is something that we definitely needed to start teaching.

What is your vision for The Compassion Project? What do you hope the project will achieve?

The vision for The Compassion Project is to ensure that every student in the United States not only understands the meaning of compassion but can actively practice it as well.

Hopefully, this goes beyond the classroom. We want to partner with companies, philanthropists, educators, athletes, influencers. It takes a village. The more folks we have talking about the importance of compassion and contributing to the effort, the more successful we’re going to be.

Tell us about the Compassion Coalition you want to build. What type of organizations would you like to see involved, and why should they invest in this topic?

The reason I would tell people to get involved and to invest or to teach it or to administer this kind of effort is because in this day and age when there is increasing tribalism, where people are starting to look to reinforce their own world views with people that sound like them and look like them, it is tearing us apart at a time when we need to be coming together to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And to the extent we can start teaching our kids at young ages the importance of compassion, of thinking about the world to another person’s perspective for the sake of alleviating their suffering or helping them, it can make all the difference.

How can organizations and individuals get involved in teaching compassion?

As an organization, you can support your local schools by sponsoring The Compassion Project and ensuring schools have the resources they need. Administrators can raise their hand, contact our education partners at EVERFI, and express interest in joining the project. Teachers can go to our website now, download our materials, and get started.

Tell us about the EVERFI team. Why are they uniquely positioned to tackle this topic?

EVERFI has been an incredible partner in bringing this vision to reality. They have distribution into over 28,000 primary schools in the United States and absolutely world-class talent that’s responsible for developing programs like The Compassion Project. We’ve spent the last 18 months developing this curriculum by bringing together leaders in compassion education including school teachers and administrators as well as academics and influencers who’ve been studying compassion and mindfulness for decades. We couldn’t be more excited to start bringing the program to schools all over the country.

Ready to Support The Compassion Project?

The Compassion Project provides teaching compassion lesson plans to help teachers bring social and emotional learning to their students. Teaching empathy and kindness in the classroom is fun and easy with interactive modules and games that teach compassion. Teachers can get started at EVERFI’s The Compassion Project course offering page.

Try it out.

Access a lesson and try it out with your students. Each lesson takes just 15 minutes to complete.