On Conscience

| |

I read this this Martin Luther King's quote on conscience once, and it has never left me since:

Cowardice asks you is it safe? Expedience asks is it useful? Vanity asks is it popular? Conscience asks is it right? There comes a time when one has to take a position that is neither safe nor useful nor popular, but one has to take it, just because, it is right.

Putting aside the emotive and dramatic content of this quote, when one reflects on the conscience aspect, one sees that is indeed caters to satisfying all aspects. Whatever conscience says is right, is actually a long term good.

Whatever is right is safe in the long term. Cowardice's question is only seeking safety in the immediate aspect. For instance, avoiding a bully just to save one's own skin is safe for that moment. But it only saved the person in question. The bully would be targeting someone else, and a time may come when avoiding the bully may not be possible at all. And at that point, there may not be anyone to help too. Hence, conscience, when it says it is right to face the bully, is actually ensuring perpetual safety.

Whatever is right is useful in the long term. Conscience never guides us to do something wrong. Hence, it's right stands the test of time. What is right now, is right always (assuming it is conscience indeed, and not being confused with 'fight or flight' instinct). Hence, what is right always, will be useful at a later point in time also.

Whatever is right will be popular, someday. Here the popular is not in the populist sense - not to be equated to the glamorous "fame." When one does what is right, its goodness will be noticed by others around, and if it stands the test of time, will be adopted, albeit slowly, by everyone. Hence, it will be popular at some time.

Thus, conscience (which according to Gandhi was the voice of God within us) can guide us towards holistic decision making. What conscience permits us to do, satisfies all our needs, both rational and emotional, but in the long term. Looking at short term is a curse that sooner Humanity realizes, the better. 


Post a Comment