As children, our behaviour is guided by the concept of right and wrong. Our upbringing plays an important role in this concept, and is usually enforced by consequences – punishments and rewards. In helping a child to develop a healthy conscience, it is important that the child’s experiences have realistic expectations with lots of encouragement, unconditional love and forgiveness. Children will then develop a healthy sense of guilt when they do something they know to be wrong, realise they have broken the rules and understand and accept the consequences for their behaviour.
As adults we tend to think of our consciences as our “inner voice”, keeping us out of trouble, or not as the case may be. The intensity of our conscience differs from person to person and our conscience is shaped by two forces which are outside of our control, and one force which we can control. These forces are:
• Natural Endowment – is what we inherit from our parents and is therefore in our genes. Out temperament plays a big part in our conscience mind when it comes to our actions. An impulsive personality may be incapable of prior reflection, therefore ‘conscience thought’ may only come into play after the event. Alternatively, a more reflective personality may listen to their ‘conscience reasoning’ before taking action.
• Social Conditioning – is what we are exposed to whilst growing and developing, including our religious development We are conditioned by our family members and how they react in certain situations, which results in our imitating reactions to similar situations in the same manner. Going to school adds yet another layer, when our acquaintance circle is widened and we have to deal with a different set of rules.
• Moral Compass – is what we do have control over, however when our choices overrule our conscience then our conscience loses its moral bearings, and often we make mistakes which can destroy our lives and affect the lives of many others.
In all these situations, habits, and patterns of behaviour, one thing is clear - our memory may dim, however we never forget our experiences.
Regardless of the many points of view regarding our conscience, it is a fact that it is the most single guide to what is right and wrong that a person can have.
I believe that we should follow our conscience, however, not blindly. Examine what it is trying to tell you, make an evaluation based on your findings and then make the right choice as a true individual, secure in the knowledge that your conscience is another tool to assist you through the many ups and downs of life.