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date: 15 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Heroism as an important factor in social transformation, and enacted compassion can fundamentally change individual and societal level outcomes. Although some of our prior work has distinguished heroism from altruism, compassion can be viewed as a central element in many heroic acts. Here we assert that one definition of heroism is compassionate action at the risk of personal sacrifice. We also suggest that training compassionate self-sacrifice is possible, through programs like the Heroic Imagination Project and other similar training efforts. Two pilot studies based on this idea are summarized. The first examines gang desistance programs that focus on replacing these activities with compassionately driven, prosocial ones. However, these actions can put former gang members at considerable personal risk. The second study examines transitions in Palestinians and Israelis who have turned away from war and are focusing on reconciliation, but at the cost of compromised relationships with family members and friends.

Keywords: heroism, compassion, moral courage, social transformation, gang desistance, Palestinian–Israeli conflict, personal sacrifice, risk, heroic imagination

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