Twenty years before I arrived on this Earth, Walt Disney put the story of Pinocchio on the silver screen, and the personification of a conscience was born with the character of Jiminy Cricket.
Jiminy even sang a song about it: “Always let your conscience be your guide.”
It’s a heavy thing, this conscience, and depending on where you stand, it can show up at the best time or the worst time.
I think at one time, maybe around the time “Pinocchio” was released, a conscience didn’t have to be prodded into action as it so often is today. The tendency to “do the right thing” went with the chivalry and honorable way of life that was prevalent at that time.
The conscience seemed to get buried for a few decades, but now, with camera phones collecting evidence wherever you go, people seem to be a little more prone to do the right thing–in case someone is watching or getting this all on film.
So if you find that billfold full of money, turning it in to the authorities might be more dictated by what might happen if you don’t. That’s more like having a guilty conscience than simply a conscience, right?
I am talking about the simple, inherent drive inside you to call upon yourself to do what you would have others do to you; Golden Rule kind of thing–the reality of what Jiminy was paid to protect.
The London Olympics included many examples of this. Little gymnast and heart-stealer Gabby Douglas could be heard throughout the competitions encouraging her teammates and even complimenting her competition: “Congratulations. Nice job!”
Clearly, she sleeps well at night, as her fair-minded conscience rests easy as she slumbers. What a great example for young girls everywhere.
There are others who are habitually generous this way, too. I had a co-worker, now retired, who never said a bad word about anyone. He was often prone to find something nice to say even when no one else could.
He had several catch phrases that I always try to keep in mind, but my favorite was, “Well, you have to know that everyone is trying to do their best–might not be as good as your best, but they may have more talent than you in other areas.”
Such a generous and TRUE notion, and such a great way to ease the burden of a nagging conscience if what you’ve said about someone is haunting you. By really absorbing that philosophy, I can honestly say I never saw this guy with his foot in his mouth or having to explain what he “meant.”
I must admit my conscience is one that is challenged from time to time. As I age I sense this impatience with people that sometimes finds me on the edge of road rage, harsh words, and knee-jerk reactions; conscience-free acts, if you will.
I rarely cave in to those tendencies, but it is closer to happening than it ever used to be. As I said before, the sieve I use to purify or strain out these negative ideas is the Golden Rule, and if I feel I can’t empathize with people by imagining it happening to me, then I am not well suited to judge them. So I refrain.
But I am not perfect. I tend to lean toward protecting my family and self when it comes to “getting my share” in this world, and I find that I try to ignore my conscience when I fight to get a better place in line, the last bit of a dwindling supply of something, or the best of things for my family.
How should one battle the loss of conscience? When some grow older and bitter about the chores of life in general, maybe they feel no need to have any kind of conscience. They expect people to understand their grumpiness, anger, or irritability, when deep down, they know that’s not the way to act.
If we accept that they know that as they’re doing it but simply can’t control it, maybe those of us who need to tolerate it more could extend an olive branch and make it easier.
That guy who bumped his cart right into the checkout line in front of you and is now avoiding your eyes–give him a smile when he does look at you.
The lady who processes your driver’s license and barks out each bit of instruction to you as if you are completely inept–wish her a nice day and a beautiful tomorrow.
The neighbor who screams at your kids for walking on his lawn–invite him to stop by for a glass of lemonade sometime.
You’ll deflate their balloons immediately as they wrestle with their conscience and say to themselves: “Was that me talking so mean? I really have to work on that.”
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at email@example.com.