Education of the Conscience – Penetrating the Dark Corners of the Mind


One of the greatest decisions we have to make is what will be the moral authority in our lives.

It goes without saying that this conversation is relevant if only you are seeking a moral compass with which to guide your life and more  importantly, you want to ensure it is pointing true north.

In today’s world of moral relativism, how do you ensure you are living your life by timeless principles and not by popular psychology? How do you ensure your philosophy of life and actions will help you live a life free of regrets if the grim reaper suddenly comes calling?

I hate to stir up morbid thoughts and death is the least thing I like to think of but it’s a question that hunts once in a while.

To live a life that harmonizes with true north values requires a consistent education of the conscience, a concept I first learned from Stephen Covey, Author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Why educate the conscience?

We have blindspots

There are dark corners of the mind that have not been enlightened by truth either because of plain ignorance, discounting the truth or jaded about the truth to the extent that it is stripped off its convicting power.

Other times we fall into the trap of cognitive dissonance, where we act in ways that contradict our deeply cherished values. Continue for too long and we experience the tendency to rationalize our behaviour and lower our standards to accomodate our inconsistencies and base desires.

Moral Relativism and popular psychology

What is popular is not necessarily right. We can’t subject our conscience to consensus.

We live in a society where what is right and wrong is determine by a situation we may not have control over. Situational ethics implies that we act based on what feels right in relation to a cultural, personal or social context.

If we realize how deeply flawed our logic can be and how dark our hearts can get, we will never fully trust ourselves or popular culture but rather rely on true and enduring principles to regulate our conduct.

Our societies are now tolerant, even flagrantly embraced values that led to the decline of the great civilizations in history. In the pretext of freedom, we have forgotten that true liberty is responsibility.

How then do we educate the conscience?

1. Character education

Universities in history existed for balanced education in character and learning. However, liberalism has divorced the pursuit of knowledge from morality. Therefore, character education must be taken as a personal responsibility.

It is our responsibility to subject ourselves to character education by reading good and hard books (not the watered down versions of truth), books that challenge and convict, books that force you to rethink the way you think.

You must educate yourself to understand that success at the expense of inner peace is disguised failure. Education will let you know that private victories beget public victories.

Continual education of the conscience will bring home the truth in the wise saying that we are not punished for our sins but by them. That a life of doing right is the wisest way to live even when it’s not popular, appealing or convenient.

2. Accountability systems

To be true to the highest and best in ourselves, we need to build external accountability systems for those moments of beclouded judgment, when the voice of desire tend to drown the voice of reason.

We need friends, families and mentors who understand our journey and respect our highest aspirations. 

We need to give them the leeway to challenge us when our thinking or actions will likely lead us down the wrong path.

Often times, we are too enmeshed in a situation to remove the mud that clog our thinking wheel. We need to open up to people we can trust to help us find the path back to healing, wholeness and inner peace.

3. Empathy

Empathy creates an enabling environment for the education of the conscience.

Sometimes, we have judged people severely without understanding the true picture or without seeing the world through their eyes.

Stephen Covey shared a story of watching a group of kids acting in a hysterical manner at the Bus Station while their father watched, seemingly undisturbed by the possible scene or disturbance they were creating for other passengers.

Later on asking their Father to caution the kids did he realize he had just lost his wife and their mother. That totally changed his interpretation of the situation. Annoyance shifted to empathy.

Conscience will let us know when we should reserve judgment. Conscience will let us see the world through the eyes of another instead of running roughshod over them with hasty judgment and action.

We can make an informed judgement or take appropriate decision because conscience prompts us to not to judge a matters without first understanding the facts, not to respond without listening well.

And we can’t listen well unless we are willing to empathize.

4. Guarding the mind

To preserve the voice of conscience, we must erect a watch-guard at the gates of our eyes and ears.

Zac Poonen said, “The knowledge of evil is not wisdom” to help us understand that not everything is worth knowing about even if it is trending.

We monitor our media consumption because conscience tell us that whatever we allow to enter our mind can change our heart or conviction and hence influence the outcome of our lives.

Jim Rohn once jokingly quipped that anyone can find something useful in a trashcan but why go through the heap of dirt.

I find this an area of struggle because it’s easier to fill the mind with dirt than with the noble and true. For this, I constantly plead to the Maker that I may have a heart filled with good thoughts and the right desires and inclinations.

The sentiments in my heart are better expressed by the Psalmist, “But how can I ever know what sins are lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. And keep me from deliberate wrongs; help me to stop doing them…..May my spoken words and my unspoken thoughts be pleasing even to you, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm19:12-14

An educated conscience will ask us if what we fill our minds with is beneficial to the health of the soul even though it is technically legal.

Other times, our issue is an underconsumption of the right diet of information, that leaves us with rickety of the mind.

Like Junk food, wrong content when allowed into the mind leaves us bloated, never wiser and too much of it will gradually weaken the health of the soul.

The Importance of Conviction

The ultimate importance of educating the conscience is that we might develop conviction. That we might experience less struggle to follow our noble inclinations and to deprive the enemy of its power to fight the civil war of conflicting desires that often erupt within.

The least we need in moments of weakness is succumb to rationalization and avoid the education of the conscience.

Instead let us reach out for the sword of truth and pierce our dull hearts or run towards those who won’t hold back the sword from drawing blood but are willing to nurse us back to health where they have penetrated our conscience with sword of truth.

It is a profound insight revealed through James A. Garfield that “the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”

May we accept that misery as the path and not the obstacle to wholeness.

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