Compassionate Reasoning, the Future, and Reconciliation

Reconciliation between those in deep conflict and hate mostly never happens. It is deeply challenging to move relationships in the direction of reconciliation.  The challenges of reconciliation as a valuable form of social change revolve around the fact that if reconciliation is seen as a faith gesture, it loses its attraction. It is a done deal that you believe in or don’t believe in, and if you believe in it, it becomes an automatic gesture between people. We can safely say that people resent that because it doesn’t begin to get at the deep levels of hurt, rage, and anger.


It certainly doesn’t address any of the justice issues. But to the degree to which reconciliation is more of an investment in facing the past and then moving towards a different future, with unique gestures and ways of talking and thinking that suggest that there will be a new future, we see a remarkable change sometimes in some people. Building better futures through healing past injuries is then a possibility for some.


It’s a possibility through the experience and process of reconciliation. The question is, what are the mechanics of reconciliation? I am making the case that what I have developed in research, which I call Compassionate Reasoning, is the mechanics of building reconciliation into the future. In other words, there is a relationship between Compassionate reasoning and the future and a relationship between the future and reconciliation.


Even though reconciliation is often about past injuries, it is also about something quite transformative. And that transformative element is an utterly new or different possible future. Sometimes, there is a moment of relation in which people not only are saved from a terrible fate, but they can then look upon that moment as a departure from what was considered their fate until then.


When a moment in time, experience, or relationship becomes like an emblem of a different future, it becomes possible for compassion and reasoning to occur. Another way to look at this is that reconciliation moments are the mechanics of Compassionate Reasoning that explores what would be or could be conciliatory, especially emphasizing the future. I am defining compassion, for this discussion, as thoughts, feelings, or actions that express joyous, abundant care and love for persons or other sentient beings.


There are elements of human behavior, thoughts, feelings, and actions that express something profound regarding care and love that are also part of the compassion experience. These are expressed in universal or expansive terms that apply to everyone. When we see that kind of compassion, it, by definition, leads us toward something hopeful and more future-oriented. In this way, it intimates the way that the world could be.


Now, compassion is often confused with empathy, and the social science, the neuroscience of this, emphasizes that empathic gestures and feelings are potent. Empathic feelings are critical in terms of prosocial behavior and prosocial personalities.

But they also can evoke depression, sadness, adversarial behavior, antisocial behavior, and antisocial feelings. How so? If you have empathy for one person and other people are assaulting them. If you internalize empathy with them, such as, for example, a victim of genocide, then it can cause you to hurt inside so much that you start to hate and look for blame because you can’t bear the level of pain that you’re feeling. It would be best if you had somebody to blame, and it’s very much related to what becomes scapegoating.


Compassion causes a different kind of reaction, and the neuroscience of this is that we can see compassion going in a different neural pathway and affecting various parts of the brain than empathy does. Here’s the interesting thing. It does not mean that empathy isn’t a prosocial pathway. Still, empathy can much more easily turn to neural pathways of distress, high cortisol, high blood pressure, and anger, wildly as the adrenaline rushes and then gets exhausted. In compassionate care, where you look forward every day to all the people you’re going to take care of, there doesn’t seem to be any downside from a health point of view, and such experiences expand to include everyone.  


Here is where it points heavily towards the future. When the person feels compassion for many people, let’s say it’s a parent who loves the whole family, and the compassion isn’t focused on one child who’s a favorite over another child who’s not a favorite. It doesn’t focus on one parent and against the other parent. It is compassion that the entire family feels. That doesn’t mean that all the problems and conflicts disappear, but it means that they’re handled very differently because compassion extends to all. But if you have an incredible amount of empathy for one parent because you believe, in your narrative inside your mind, that this other parent is the one that caused all the problems that destroyed my mother’s life and my father’s life, then that kind of empathy with one parent over against other leads often to precisely the sort of exhaustion of the adrenals, the cortisol, depression and antisocial behavior.


But if you love both your parents or all your children and see at the same time that your children are at war with each other at a specific juncture, you are hurt, of course. But what it provokes in somebody who has trained themselves consciously in compassion for all, in Compassionate Reasoning, is that they now are curious about what they can do to be good to everybody despite the conflicts in front of them. And that leads them to the moment of ethical calculation. It leads them towards the ethical calculus or moral reasoning of the following thought, ‘How can I be compassionate to everyone given the situation’s complexities?’


This leads to rational calculation, learning, and curiosity. It leads to moral reasoning, which depends on ‘if-then’ and causal connection statements. That is a causal nexus, a complex chain of cause and effect. It means it’s a chain of events, and you say, “If I do this, then maybe this will happen. If I do that, then maybe this will happen.”

“I’m going to think about how I could do something that’s going to make everybody happy or something that’s going to give a good feeling to everyone.


It will be hard for anybody to see such calculations for the compassionate benefit of all as favoritism or as favoring one child or parent over another. This reasoning process, or if-then causal statements and thoughts, becomes the basis of reasoning about the future. It’s about calculations of the future. It’s moral reasoning because the goal is goodness, the goal is kindness, the goal is compassion for all.


This process of moral calculation explores the interesting ways the different theories of ethics can contribute to reasoning about possible futures that would lead to more reconciliation or conciliatory behaviors. One school, for example, is Moral Sense Theory, where compassion is the training, goal, and ultimate ethical experience, especially care and compassion for oneself. This moral school would fit the kind of neural training and neural pathway training in compassion we’re talking about, leading to a future and conciliatory orientation.


The other school of ethics that is most obviously relevant is Consequentialism and Utilitarianism. This school entails the calculation of the best possible outcome for everyone concerned. This is deeply related to reasoning and rational planning. It’s about adding up all the pros and cons and figuring out the best possible outcome here that would lead to the most compassionate situation, a circumstance, and a set of relations that would maximize happiness, the net happiness of everyone, or the net goodness everyone experiences. These are all consequentialist or utilitarian arguments.


The final ethical school that is relevant is called Deontology or Principle-based Ethics. This approach is an essential corrective to some of the gaps in other forms of moral reasoning that would not lead to compassionate outcomes. For example, sometimes your brain can tell you that the best possible outcome is that I’m going to lie to everybody, and I’m going to con them into this and con them into that. And then lying, in general, has a lousy pedigree regarding the history of human experience with ethical dilemmas and situations despite how you may think it will have a positive outcome. A universal principle is, ‘Lie as little as possible regarding prosocial goals and environments. It steps you back from violating certain principles.


Let’s say you conclude that the best possible outcome for the family is that we rob a liquor store together. We get all this money, and I will make every child happy. I will give each of them a Swiss bank account, and we will rob the whole corporation I run. We’ll all live in Switzerland happily ever after. Human experience suggests that violation of universal principles, in the long run, is inherently damaging to all persons involved. It’s intrinsically detrimental to society and a violation of ethics.


Moral reasoning is a delicate balancing act between different schools or emphases of ethics. Taken all together, they lead to a compassionate approach to others and an approach to future-oriented ethical and rational choices. I’m suggesting that future orientation, the balance of moral reasoning, and the training of the mind in the best possible outcomes, which is rational training, all lead to better possible futures. The exercises of the best parts of the human mind draw energy, or the neural pathways away from the automatic responses of fear, anger, rage, and desire for revenge. Instead, it puts it all towards the future. It puts all towards rational and fair calculation.


It trains the mind in compassion and produces the best conciliatory gestures. It also utilizes the imaginative mind, focusing on the best possible futures. With training, the imaginative mind becomes a compassionate mind. Training focuses on maximizing compassion for the most significant number of people.


Let’s investigate the extraordinary story in the film Seven Years in Tibet. We see the evolution of Brad Pitt’s character from a selfish mountaineer who doesn’t care about anybody else to somebody who has joy and indulgence in caring for others, all through the young Dalai Lama’s influence. The young Dalai Lama was just a child at the time but was incredibly precocious, according to all accounts. This is a true story. It’s based on a book by an Austrian who was a lifelong friend of the Dalai Lama; during just a tragedy in the Dalai Lama’s life, losing so much of his family and his entire country, and yet coming through it with this incredible training in compassion that leads him to be a joyous character. This kind of joyous character focused on compassion is part of his training with his specific interpretation of Tibetan Buddhism. This enormously impacts Brad Pitt’s character, the mountaineer, who does an about-face in his life.


Stories and narratives are critical, and the story that Hollywood tells, and this story, based on a true story, is vital in terms of the evolution of character that it demonstrates. But this by itself is not enough to truly change society for the better in terms of reconciliation in the future and applied Compassionate Reasoning. What needs to happen is a comprehensive process of private and public education that finds a way to institutionalize new habits, ways of learning, and ways of relating between the generations. For example, programs that put together elders with children in school and college students with those in need, whether it be helping them build homes or helping them manage their lives better in terms of finances. There are many ways in which compassion can be taught together with moral reasoning in how society relates to itself and the different people within it.


This is the key to the future and reconciliation in the future. Building moral reasoning into human society and the future of humanity in such a way that is genuinely conciliatory, in a way that creates a society based on reconciliation between those who’ve been significantly wounded by the past and by past relationships, this can only be done by revolutionizing informal and formal education at every stage of life, private and public education. What I mean by private education is the education we do within families, the education we do within communities, and our educational models for children.


Public education from the time of elementary school through college is a critical component of the formation of the good society. The good society is based on the capacity for a committed and caring relationship with others that leads to compassionate attention, words, and actions. It also requires confronting brutal conflicts and dilemmas through moral reasoning that is consistent, that is fair to all, and that values all human beings. In particular, this kind of education must take place with a constant eye on the future, a conciliatory future, as opposed to an obsession exclusively with past wrongs and past miseries. Past wrongs must be faced for any reconciliation to occur, but if that is all that happens, we have a see-saw of accusations and humiliations that do not build a different future.


We need to think about ways to develop customs and habits and educational curricula that emphasize the learning of people from generations, such that we match elders together with young people so that young people can learn from the old. The old can be comforted and receive compassion from the young. These experiences of compassion across generations lead to a deep space of meaning and the discovery of purpose in life, the discovery of the future, and the evolution of the character of who I want to be in the world. The movie embodies this in the unusual friendship between a child and a frustrated, lonely man. Still, we need to create the circumstances for millions of these relationships to occur so that compassion, moral reasoning, and reconciliation scale up to the level of society-wide building of a better future.


Every child, every high school student, should ask themselves, who do I want to be in the future? They may also ask a political question: What kind of country do I want to live in? What kind of community do I want to live in? This is where an emphasis on compassion education and moral reasoning education, through relationship building across the generations, is critical. Another way to look at this is the opportunity to serve those suffering in some way that spans the economic gaps of society, such as deeper forms of visits to hospitals and shelters. It could be visits to places with people with disabilities. It could be working with low-income people to build housing, as President Jimmy Carter did with Habitat for Humanity. But it must be done in a serious way that’s incorporated into the daily, weekly process of young character formation.


This would also require training in the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of interactions across generations and economic lines.  The curricula should include approaches to learning from mistakes in relationship building because there will always be mistakes that people will make in these relationships. There needs to be a class curriculum, and teachers trained to manage the differences, conflicts, or failures that come out of such experiments because that is how people can grow. In particular, the emphasis that I’ve always placed in our conflict healing methodologies is on self-examination as a key to human growth and the evolution of the human mind.


All of these things can be put into an educational system that is willing to evolve so that humanity can cope with the present challenges and build a flourishing future of a global human community that is more in touch with each other and more related. This is also a Compassionate Reasoning curriculum across the lines of species, more associated with the world of animals, because animals and the treatment of animals, the care for animals for us as humans is another excellent resource for developing the capacity for Compassionate Reasoning and the capacity for reconciliation.


It is essential to emphasize habit’s role in character formation and the importance of frequent and repeated moral messages. One of the great mistakes of pure academic education is that complicated things like biology and mathematics need a lot of repetition to develop skills. But with these very ‘simplistic’ ideas of loving people or caring for them, once or twice, people think this will be integrated into people’s character. Not so. It requires continuous inculcation through habits of thinking, speaking, and doing. It would be best to have a sophisticated repetition and evolution of messages of compassion, moral reasoning, a focus on the future, and the ability to make conciliatory gestures and speak conciliatory words. This takes lifelong practice, training, and repetition, just like any other daily body exercise.


This approach has some implications for the treatment of depression and other forms of difficulty with the human mind. I’ve had the privilege of caring for my mother for many years now. She is 101 in 2024, and she’s had a steady case of one aspect or one type of dementia. Dementia and depression vary enormously with each person in terms of the affected part of the brain and the different behavioral challenges and cognitive challenges. In many ways, she is very aware of who we are and has an increased emotional reaction to many things. Still, with a little bit of help and with the help of the doctor, she has a positive attitude toward other people, except for a strong sense of tragedy due to things that happened to her very early in life and part of helping her flourish even at 101 in her own house has been a steady process of messaging that has helped her see the positive, see beauty and gratitude every day. Part of that is she mostly sits in one cubicle in her house before the TV. I have focused the TV on only happy shows. She loved comedy her whole life and watches reruns of Friends, the Andy Griffith Show, and others. But I especially placed messaging around the cubicle that focuses on appreciation of life every day, a focus on gratitude, a focus on love.


At first, the messaging didn’t have much impact, but I watched her look more and more. She loves to read, and she can’t read books anymore, but she can read signs, and over time, she started internalizing those messages. She started saying them. She started saying them to everyone, and I was just amazed at the power of habit, the power of conscious creation of a nurturing, loving environment combined with a set of reasonings based on compassion, based on care, based on a positive approach to every day, even to the future, even at the age of 101. She has evolved in a far healthier way in terms of her emotional life than she had two years ago at 99.


That is amazing, and it is yet another example of how we have great potential as people to develop our character at any age and help others grow. I believe that the key to that is 1. what I’ve come in my books to call Compassionate Reasoning, 2. a focus on the future, 3. a reframing of things in terms of the future, 4. in terms of positive values, and 5. a search wherever possible for a conciliatory approach to life, and 6. toward a healing approach to conflicts that emphasizes the future.


Please check out my recent book, Compassionate Reasoning: Changing the Mind to Change the World, published by Oxford University Press. Also, check out my Healing the Heart of Conflict, Eight Crucial Steps to Making Peace with Yourself and Others. Search for those titles in Google with the words Marc Gopin books.


Please see our Facebook page, Making Change with Dr. Marc Gopin. Blessings to you for a healthy mind and body, safety, and a flourishing life. For personal consultations and coaching, please get in touch with me at


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