Conscience is your still small voice, the one that tells you right from wrong and good from bad. It is your connection to God. Your conscience keeps you from sin. Without conscience you are an animal, without guidance, ethics, morals, or social norms. If you would only listen to it and follow it, you would be happy. Humanity’s perversity is its failure to listen to and do the bidding of its conscience.
Or so they say. Conscience is perhaps the oldest, most hallowed bit of delusion in the consciousness of humanity. To question it is to go against God, society, the soul, the Good, religion, and love. What could be worse? What could be more blasphemous?
Whenever you try to make yourself do something you don’t want to do or not do something that you want to do, are you listening to your conscience? Conscience is mother’s milk laced with small, regular doses of heroin. The crack is not enough to kill you, but enough to addict you when you are still too young to remember it happening. The rewards of conformity to conscience as well as the punishments if you disobey it, are strong enough to keep you addicted for your entire life. Marx would have been been more accurate if he had said, “Conscience is the opium of the people.”
Isn’t the purpose of your conscience to keep you safe and healthy so that you will be a good child, citizen, and child of God? These are the types of good intentions that parents and leaders have. They themselves may not be aware that conscience also has the benefit of being a powerful tool for your socialization and pacification. If I, as your parent, teacher, President or guru can get you to do what I want automatically, because you think it is “God’s will” or “conscience,” then my life gets a lot easier. You are more likely to obey me and less likely to ask questions, refuse orders, or disobey laws. Whenever your parents, or some religious or spiritual leader want to get you to do something, to think a certain way, or wish to protect themselves behind a shield of unimpeachable credibility, what can they do? Can’t they present themselves as the voice of conscience?
Can’t conscience be a good thing? How about “Eat your vegetables,” or, “Don’t play in the street.” Such statements are not conscience but rather simple pieces of information, called “injunctions,” given for rational reasons, like health and safety. However, if they are given with threat of punishment (“….or else!”) or with a serving of “should,” “ought,” “must,” and guilt, they are conscience and abusive, because they are Persecutors that create and maintain the Drama Triangle in your thoughts and relationships.
Most people will tell you that what is really conscience is the same for everyone. However, isn’t it true that conscience differs according to culture, religions, social norms and mores? Won’t most Christians and Jews argue that their conscience is different from the Islamic conscience? Isn’t that what the branding of Islam as terroristic claims? Won’t Arabs and other people in countries bombed by the US and NATO argue that people in the West either have no conscience or a very different sense of what conscience means, if conscience allows them to do such things?
When you listen to and follow your conscience are you thinking for yourself? Are you instead following the internalized moral precepts of your family, culture and religion? Have you not so completely internalized them that you think their injunctions are your conscience? The inculcation of the vast majority of what is called “conscience” is a loving process of abuse and victimization within the Drama Triangle. Parents and cultures everywhere find the internalization of social values, called “socialization,” as conscience highly useful. Someday it will be widely recognized as such and parents will teach their children not only the difference between conscience and their life compass, but how to find, listen to, and follow their life compass. They will learn how to beware of anyone or anything that claims to speak as their conscience.
“Life compass” is a term used by Integral Deep Listening (IDL) to refer to consensus perspectives and recommendations you access by interviewing the personifications of dream characters and life issues that are important to you. These perspectives, called “emerging potentials,” are not the children of your parents, culture, religion or society like you are. They have their own priorities and are not afraid to disagree with yours and the voice of your conscience. You can listen to both your conscience and interviewed emerging potentials, compare them and decide for yourself which has your greatest good as its primary interest.
You are the product of a number of beliefs that you had to accept to survive, adapt, and grow in your family and school. Weren’t you much less likely to disobey if the preferences of your parents, teachers and society were called “conscience” and you were told that this was something innate within you, or the same as God’s will? To trespass against your conscience may be a threat to your society, religion, or family, and therefore a threat to you, when you are punished for disobeying authority figures.
Conscience presents itself as acting in your own good. It knows what is best for you and tells you its actions are only because it cares about and loves you. It is selfless, and you ignore it at your own peril. How is this different from a Rescuer in the Drama Triangle who tells you, “I know what you need. I am only trying to help you. If you don’t listen to me you are ungrateful and foolish.”
Conscience carries the marks not of a Helper, but of a Rescuer within the Drama Triangle. Rescuers are not Helpers, because they mask self-interest behind a facade of care for others. They do not ask if their help is needed, they do not check to see if the help they are giving is useful, and they do not stop “helping,” preferring self-martyrdom and burn-out to recognition of their selfishness.
Your conscience knows what is good for you and speaks up without you asking. It doesn’t check to see if its voice is helping, because it knows that it, by its nature, is helping. It doesn’t have to check. It refuses to stop demanding you follow it, unless you shut it out with a drug or some other type of intense avoidant stimulation.
Conscience as Rescuer promotes its truth, way, thoughts, feelings, perspectives, and actions, not yours, and certainly not the priorities of your life compass. Your life compass, revealed by interviewing your emerging potentials as they manifest as dream characters and the personifications of your life issues, balances and evolves confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, and witnessing within yourself. Unlike conscience, it is selfless. If the priorities of your life compass and conscience happen to coincide it is coincidence, not due to any awareness or intention of your conscience.
On yet closer examination, you will find that your conscience not only is not your friend, it is never was or has been your friend. This is because it never wants you to listen to yourself. It only wants you to listen to it. Your conscience doesn’t trust you. It doesn’t respect your judgment. It doesn’t even like you unless you are doing what it wants. How is this different from the role of Persecutor in the Drama Triangle which tells you, “I am only punishing you for your own good”? Isn’t it amazing that you continue to give your conscience any attention or any respect at all?
Persecutors do not see themselves as persecutors. They only say what they say for your own good; they only do what they do because they love you. This means that if your parents or teachers yell at you or call you ugly, stupid, or a failure, it is only for your own good. Verbal abuse in the name of conscience is not verbal abuse at all; it is “character strengthening,” and if you knew what was good for you, you would agree with it and change.
If you examine your conscience closely, you will discover that it is the Persecutor role in the Drama Triangle masquerading as the Rescuer, which is itself masquerading as a Helper. Your conscience is deception wrapped in deception; is there any surprise that so many believe in it and that so few ever free themselves from it? How many people ever stop to ask themselves, “How much of what I call my conscience is different from what my parents, culture or this or that peer group believes?” How much of what I call my conscience is probably internalized social and cultural norms?”
When rulers, people, and nations declare war on you in the name of God and then bomb you, destroy your towns, scatter cancer-causing munitions-grade uranium all over your fields, rape your wife and daughters, and torture you to death, is it not for the greater good, for democracy, justice and God, because conscience dictates? People who believe in conscience and then do such things have a very high rate of suicide. As of this writing, the suicide rate of American military veterans is currently twenty-two a day, about one every hour. There is one suicide a day among active duty US military, all among people acting on the basis of “conscience.” This is because their conscience has contradicted their life compass on such a fundamental level that there is no way to rationalize away the discrepancy. Unable to escape the cognitive dissonance, but unable, unwilling, or ignorant of how to free themselves of the tyranny of conscience, they kill themselves in an attempt at self-rescue.
How to escape conscience? There is no alternative to sorting through your thoughts, feelings, and motives, one by one, and finding out which script injunctions you carry that are informational facts and which are guilt-creating, persecutorial, “shoulds,” “oughts,” and “musts.” This is why IDL has chapters in Waking Up both on recognizing and freeing yourself from your life script as well as on the major emotional cognitive distortions. If you want to learn to think for yourself you must exorcise the internalized toxic directives of the ghosts of your parents that are living rent-free in your attic. Keep the nurturing voices of your parents but evict the rest!
Your conscience is never, ever representative of your life compass. How do you tell the difference? If you will learn to interview your emerging potentials you will slowly learn to differentiate between your life compass and conscience. Your life compass doesn’t do drama. It’s not in the Drama Triangle. It works to balance confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing. If you don’t follow it, it doesn’t threaten you or try to make you feel guilty any more than a compass that points north cares if you go east or south. However, when you do follow your life compass, life gets easier. You have a deep inner sense that you are on the right path for your life. You will have a confidence in who you are and where you are headed regardless of what others may think or say. You will be able to speak and act with authority because you will be in alignment with what is true, good and harmonious for you. As you move into this sacred space you outgrow any need for conscience, not because you no longer listen to it, but because you subject its voice to a higher, more authentic authority that is uniquely your own.
A debate between believers and non-believers in conscience
“Conscience is the light by which we interpret the will of God in our own lives.”
“The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.”
“[T]he infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell.”
(Russell is universally hated by all those who cannot or will not think.)
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Conscience is a very poor, unreliable reason to do what is right, if only because your worst enemy appeals to the same justification. Doing what is right? For who? Under what circumstances?)
“If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”
(If you do what you think is right you don’t have to care whether it makes sense or is useful.)
“Conscience is what makes a boy tell his mother before his sister does.”
“Guilt is also a way for us to express to others that we are a person of good conscience.
(The conscience of the personality disordered and of the two year old are both free of guilt.)
“Your conscience is the measure of the honesty of your selfishness. Listen to it carefully.”
(This is very true, but probably not in the sense Bach means it. Because conscience wants what is best for itself, and not for your life compass, it is not only selfish, but completely honest about its selfishness.)
“Character is doing what you don’t want to do but know you should do.”
(“Should,” is a dead giveaway that we are dealing with conscience in the form of the Persecutor role in the Drama Triangle.)
“Betrayal is common for men with no conscience.”
(That is because betrayal is a motive often projected upon others, conscience or no conscience.)
“Let us give ourselves indiscriminately to everything our passions suggest, and we will always be happy…Conscience is not the voice of Nature but only the voice of prejudice.”
Marquis de Sade
(The Marquis is feared by purveyors of guilt and conscience everywhere.)
“The only tyrant I accept in this world is the ‘still small voice’ within me. And even though I have to face the prospect of being a minority of one, I humbly believe I have the courage to be in such a hopeless minority.”
(Gandhi, who beat his wife regularly, did so with a clear conscience. Tyrants do not want what is good for you; they do not want what is good for the majority; they only want what is good for them, but mask their selfishness with conscience. Tyrants of all sorts are by nature selfish persecutors, lost in the Drama Triangle.)
“In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place.”
(“Forget democracy and consensus governance; I don’t care what you think.”)
“There is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible as the conscience that dwells in the heart of every man.”
(For Polybius, conscience is a persecutor and tyrant, but that’s a good thing.)
“Conscience is thus explained only as the voice of God in the soul.”
(When societal injunctions have the force of God’s will and are defined as both your central truth and intuition, then you are transformed into a zombie, the waking dead servant of current cultural preferences.)
“Conscience and cowardice are really the same things, Basil. Conscience is the trade-name of the firm. That is all.”
(You don’t have to think for yourself or work out difficult moral dilemmas if you appeal to your conscience.)
“Since then your sere Majesty and your Lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, neither horned nor toothed. Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”
(Reply to the Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521)”
(Martin Luther demonstrates that when you follow your conscience, you put yourself on a diet of worms. His conscience produced some of the most discriminatory bile ever to be uttered by a man of God and conscience. See http://ergofabulous.org/luther/)
“Between the radiant white of a clear conscience and the coal black of a conscience sullied by sin lie many shades of gray–where most of us live our lives. Not perfect but not beyond redemption.”
Sherry L. Hoppe
(There can never be either integration or union within the framework of the metaphysical dualism that conscience creates and maintains.)
“True law, the code of justice, the essence of our sensations of right and wrong, is the conscience of society. It has taken thousands of years to develop, and it is the greatest, the most distinguishing quality which has developed with mankind … If we can touch God at all, where do we touch him save in the conscience? And what is the conscience of any man save his little fragment of the conscience of all men in all time?”
Walter Van Tilburg Clark
(A clear expression of conscience as simply the transmission of socio-cultural norms.)
“Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.”
(If you can teach me to fear the consequences of my behavior, based on what you have taught me to call my conscience, I will monitor myself, freeing you and society to do as you will.)
“I have a different idea of elegance. I don’t dress like a fop, it’s true, but my moral grooming is impeccable. I never appear in public with a soiled conscience, a tarnished honor, threadbare scruples, or an insult that I haven’t washed away. I’m always immaculately clean, adorned with independence and frankness. I may not cut a stylish figure, but I hold my soul erect. I wear my deeds as ribbons, my wit is sharper then the finest mustache, and when I walk among men I make truths ring like spurs.”
(Conscience as social propriety.)
“Perhaps conscience did not always produce cowards. Sometimes it made a man feel better about himself.”
(Is the purpose of conscience not only to make you feel better about yourself, but to feel superior to all those others you judge as acting less out of conscience?)
“An educator should consider that he has failed in his job if he has not succeeded in instilling some trace of a divine dissatisfaction with our miserable social environment. ”
(Guilt and conscience are the foundations of a good education.)
“It is neither right nor safe to go against my conscience.”
(Since your conscience is a punishing Persecutor, it is unwise to go against it.)
“No guilt is forgotten so long as the conscience still knows of it.”
(Conscience as enforcer of guilt.)
“Conscience is no more than the dead speaking to us.”
(Jim does not mean what he is saying. He means that conscience is the knowledge of the ancients. What he is saying is that conscience is a haunting by voices that seek you to follow their truth, not that of your life compass.)
“The immature conscience is not its own master. It simply parrots the decisions of others. It does not make judgments of its own; it merely conforms to the judgments of others. That is not real freedom, and it makes true love impossible, for if we are to love truly and freely, we must be able to give something that is truly our own to another. If our heart does not belong to us, asks Merton, how can we give it to another?”
(Jon has drunk the Kool Aid. He still thinks there is such a thing as a good conscience.)
“Anybody can be charming if they don’t mind faking it, saying all the stupid, obvious, nauseating things that a conscience keeps most people from saying. Happily, I don’t have a conscience. I say them.”
(The opposite of conscience is not immorality, as this quote implies; it is the freedom to find and follow your life compass.)
“The study of law can be disappointing at times, a matter of applying narrow rules and arcane procedure to an uncooperative reality; a sort of glorified accounting that serves to regulate the affairs of those who have power–and that all too often seeks to explain, to those who do not, the ultimate wisdom and justness of their condition.
But that’s not all the law is. The law is also memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience.”
(…a professor of Constitutional law who justifies both the personally ordered murder of civilians with drones, some of whom have been US citizens, in clear violation of both US and international law – all in the name of conscience.)
“The older you get, the more you understand how your conscience works. The biggest and only critic lives in your perception of people’s perception of you rather than people’s perception of you.”
(Other people are not the cause of your unhappiness; what you tell yourself you should and should not do in the name of conscience is.)