True and learned conscience
Posted by Simon Parke, 07 March 2018, 5.52am
People tend to judge from their sense of conscience. This is something generally encouraged.
‘Listen to your conscience,’ we are told.
But this is not so simple, for we have not one conscience, but two, and they differ considerably.
They are two twins, true conscience and learned conscience, but they speak with very different voices.
True conscience is a timeless place, a universal place and one full of light, from which we can make clear, strong, present and just assessments.
This true conscience is a clean and concise existence inside us as a possibility now and many may already have experienced it.
We are more familiar, however, with its twin, learned conscience.
Learned conscience is comprised of guidelines we have absorbed down the years.
It is a place of half-light, an unchecked assortment of codes and messages, a bundle of unexamined assumptions, passed on to us by a variety of authority figures in our past, and which we now assume to be absolutely true.
This learned conscience is an eager judge on all matters, but not a reliable one. Its conclusions are random and unquestioned by us.
In listening to such conclusions, we set out to travel the world in a second-hand car about which we know nothing.
If we did know its history, we wouldn’t dream of relying on it for the journey.
Sometimes people preface a judgement by saying ‘in all conscience’. The question is: from which conscience do they speak, true or learned?
Learned conscience is the jury from hell.
In its power, we become a group of disparate voices, gathered from our past.
Each voice has its own agenda, shouting and posturing, but with no foreman to seek consensus or question overall direction.
The unity of moral purpose we fondly imagine ourselves to embody is an illusion.
As RD Laing wrote, ‘One is evidently witness not to a single false self but to a number of only partially elaborated fragments of what might constitute a personality, if any single one had full sway. It seems best, therefore, to call the total of such elements a false-self system, or a system of false selves.’
Our false selves, terrified and defensive, comprise and compose our learned conscience.
But within us there exists a different place – a place of clarity and spontaneity, present only to accuracy and goodness.
This is our true conscience, and it can emerge if we dare curiosity concerning the origin of ourselves.
(This piece is taken from my book ‘The Journey Home’, published by Bloomsbury.)