In my previous post entitled Know Thyself – Listen to Your Feelings, I discussed the importance of using feelings as sources of information that can help guide our decisions and actions. Along these lines, our conscience is also a crucial source of information. Oftentimes, our conscience sends signals to us through feelings of guilt or similar feelings. Those pangs of guilt, regret, and remorse are usually telling us that we’ve done something wrong that should be corrected…or at least that an apology is in order. If we listen carefully to what our conscience is telling us, we can more quickly tend to our mistakes, get things back on the right path, mend fences, and know for the future to avoid going down that same path. Our conscience, in effect, is telling us: “You don’t want to go down that road! Turn back now!” That little voice in our heads, our conscience, is there for a reason. We need to learn to really listen to it.
What would our lives be like without a conscience, without feelings of guilt to guide our actions? Well, people who live their lives without much of a conscience or feelings of guilt are frequently viewed as sociopaths. Sociopaths (sometimes referred to as persons with an antisocial personality disorder) tend not to care much, if at all, whether they hurt others feelings. They tend to lack empathy toward others. “Right” and “wrong” are determined more by how much they personally gain and whether they get caught/punished. Thus, acts like fraud, manipulation, lying, cheating, stealing and so on are not viewed as “bad” because the conscience of a sociopath is not kicking in to signal the person that he/she is in the wrong and should go a different direction. If the sociopath benefits and doesn’t get punished, then it is “all good” to them.
Now our conscience and feelings of guilt aren’t always on target. Sometimes a person’s conscience can be stuck in overdrive – the individual is hypersensitive to the feelings of others and heavy feelings of guilt arise from very minor offenses…or when no offense has been committed at all! So, this is when an aspect of mindfulness needs to come into play: Do Our Emotions Fit the Situation?
So, we should definitely listen to our conscience and listen to what it is trying to tell us. Often, it is providing critical information that can be used to guide us in the right direction. However, it isn’t always on target. Thus, we need to step back from the situation and learn to view it from different angles/perspectives. Personally, I often check in with a trusted friend who can offer a more objective perspective (since it can be really challenging to see the forest for the trees). Through careful practice over time, we can all learn to use our emotions and conscience as the invaluable feedback systems they are meant to be.
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