What is conscience?

Amal Chatterjee
8 min readNov 11, 2020

Source : Google photo

Synopsis :Conscience is a very precious thing to have that is priceless yet we see people without conscience almost every day who have sold their soul in exchange for the temporary riches the devil offers. Those who resist such temptations are called steadfast whom people respect.

We come across this word now and then but most people do not dwell on it for long in their busy life to deal with all the challenges they face every day. But the word and its import probably stays at the back of our mind even if we do not think about it consciously because most people develop a conscience which is a learned process

A child is not born with a conscience but he may develop it as he grows up depending on his circumstances and where he grows up. So conscience represents the ability to know what is right and wrong and know the difference. This ability to know what is right and what is wrong and doing always what is right is called conscience. It is like a built in compass in your brain that always points you in the right direction in life but it is what you learn from your elders, from your teachers, your neighbors who are good people and perhaps from some religious books. It is like the small voice inside you that tells you that what you are about to do is wrong or right.

When we lived in a village in Mali, the villagers built a house for us made of clay, laterite and with golden straw roof that was truly a beautiful house with 5 rooms, toilet and bathroom with an inner courtyard. They could have built us a shoddy house but they didn’t. It was like the work of art because they built it with a good conscience and because they wanted to build something everyone was proud of. People from distant villages came to see our house that was very unique in design but built by the villagers using only traditional materials

Women collected shea butter nut from the forest and made butter out of it that they used to coat the clay walls to give it a weather proof coating. They did not have to work so hard but they did because they had a conscience. They collected wood for the trusses, the golden grass from the distant fields and made mud with their feet to make bricks for the walls. They brought in cow dung to coat all the floors to give it a dust free hard surface but they did not have to. They did it because they had a conscience so they did their best. They did not cut any corners.

I used to give them a ride to the town in case of emergency and often I brought them back to the village when they waited near my office. They never took such help lightly and always left a basket of oranges or a chicken near my door to show their gratitude. These poor people had a conscience. I loved their simplicity and honesty

Sadly we see a lot of people who are devoid of this quality in them called conscience. Perhaps at some point in their life they may have had it but later they made compromises that dulled the line in their mind that separates good from the evil. Such people become evil and do bad things like taking bribes for doing their job or taking advantage of someone who is innocent and vulnerable. They do not hesitate lying, cheating, thieving and committing disloyal acts, treachery and many such shameful things. Some go to jail but others carry on as if it is normal to have no conscience

I know of a medical doctor in India who was a decent sort of fellow at first but his greedy and demanding wife pressured him on to become corrupt . She demanded from him gold jewelries, fine house and fine things that he could not afford on his limited income so he became corrupt to earn more money. I do not exactly know what he did as a corrupt doctor but people started to show contempt for him. He had compromised with his conscience like all those people who do it to get rich

I know another story where a fellow built a big house at great expense and invited his boss among others on the day of his house blessing. His boss was very impressed but also very intrigued so he returned to his office the next day and ordered an investigation on how a low paying government clerk in his office could accumulate so much wealth to build such a lavish home. The investigation revealed that the fellow could not have earned so much money on his salary alone even if he saved every penny of it so it was declared ill-gotten wealth , his service terminated and all his benefits like provident fund, pension etc. were forfeited by the government

The corrupt people are shameless because they have no conscience that guides them while the honest people with conscience are like open books because they have nothing to hide and are not ashamed of their poverty

I have found the poor people in India to be the most honest ones. It has happened to me several times when I trusted porters in railway stations with money to get me a ticket and put me on the right train with all my luggage in which they never failed. Once a porter took all of my luggage including my briefcase that had my passport, money etc. and walked so fast that I lost track of him in the crowd. I did not know his name or his badge number so I was in deep trouble not knowing what to do so we stood there near the station thinking of our predicament

The porter had taken our luggage to a nearby hotel and came back looking for us. He asked sharply why we did not follow him. He was a poor porter but with a conscience. We were so happy that I gave him a big reward that surprised the poor fellow. He was doing his job honestly

This lack of conscience is most prevalent in corrupt politicians but not limited to them. There are numerous movies made in Hollywood on senators or congressmen involved in criminal activities but these stories often come from the real world. When you see them during their political campaigns shaking hands and kissing babies you only see them in fancy clothes and their goons with black sunglasses who constantly speak into their wrists but many are real crooks. They do bad things, tell lies to their constituents and make fake promises for their votes but once elected, the same politicians do whatever they want to abuse the trust people put in them to elect them. Such politicians have no conscience

An honest person does not guarantee that his children will also be honest and will have the sense to know what is right and wrong. I know many honest parents whose children have gone rogue in their adult life, who have become very corrupt and amassed ill-gotten wealth. Unfortunately some of my relatives have brought shame to their parents this way. One even bragged that his son earned money with both hands

The corrupt parents make it easier for them because they do not have the moral ascendancy over them to teach them right from wrong but it also happens in families where the parents are very honest and religious because they fail to raise their children properly and teach them good values. If their kids start keeping bad company and learn bad things from them, they can only watch helplessly but unable to do anything

In Nazi Germany, the SS recruited ordinary young people and trained them to be torturers and killers who then committed war crimes without feeling anything for their victims who may have been women, children or old people. This was the power of indoctrination to a belief that they were the superior white race and the rest were not worth their consideration because they were sub humans. The SS training program systematically destroyed whatever conscience they had in order to turn these young men into the killing machines and torturers

So the conscience is a very precious thing that needs to be protected from the evil that tries to destroy it by promising riches and many rewards if they only give it up. For the corrupt people it is the temptation of money but for others it may be the immense power they gain over other people. This feeling of power they gain and abuse is like an aphrodisiac that turns grown men and women into monsters like Idi Amin, Mobutu or Ceausescu. Adolf Hitler was drunk with power that he abused. Unfortunately we still find many Hitlers who blatantly abuse their power.

The Catholic Church supported the blood lust of some so called priests in Spain who ordered the torture and killing of poor ordinary people just because they were helping the sick people with herbs and potions. They were falsely called heretics and burned at stakes by these priests during the Inquisition that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths in the cruelest way possible. They did not follow the dictates of Jesus and yet they claimed that they were Catholics. They had absolutely no conscience and feelings for the human being so they killed them without feeling any guilt for such crimes.

When we visited the Amish country in Pennsylvania last year, we were very impressed by the simplicity and very good values the Amish people practice and teach their children so I wrote a blog called the Admirable Amish that I want you to read in this context. Their faith, family and farm are the three things most important to them. When a deranged man killed some children in a school, he was caught by the police and taken to jail but the elders of the Amish community and the families grieving as they were, forgave the killer and prayed for him in his jail.

So did Pope John Paul II who was attacked by a deranged man. He went to the jail and personally forgave the shooter and prayed with him but John Paul was a saint who had a conscience that urged him to forgive the wrong doer just like the Amish

But we the ordinary people are not like the Pope or the Amish people who are very religious and practice what their religion teaches them. We at some point become vulnerable due to poverty and the devil’s tempting offer of riches in exchange for our soul.

What are we if we lose our soul in exchange for trinkets and baubles?

Note : My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese languages at the following links as well as my biography:

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Anil’s biography in English.

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