Where Did We Throw Our Moral Compasses?

I have often proclaimed that I have a huge respect for children and a big reason for that is; they are not people pleasers and that they have a conscience they heed to. As we grow older, we often struggle with both these concepts. The idea of being alone and unpopular is not a palatable one, so to an extent that struggle is justified.

When I was in third standard, I remember a moral science lesson that centred around conscience. My teacher called it a tiny, little voice that tells us right from wrong. When the time seemed appropriate, I faithfully passed it on to my daughter. She took to the concept with an unprecedented avidity. She would have a lot of questions— How does conscience work? Does it sound like an alarm or prick like a thorn? The questions continued as she struggled to grapple a concept so abstract.

Until one day she finally realised what it felt like to go against that tiny voice. It was a minor transgression but it made her mighty uncomfortable. When she couldn’t sleep, she finally bawled and blurted it out and as per her admission she felt lighter. We didn’t push it any further because one, it was something very silly and two, she had suffered enough. Enough that she now knew what that voice was capable of and her verdict was— it isn’t a ‘tiny’ voice at all. It starts as a murmur but ends as a screech and doesn’t stop till you do what it says (I am paraphrasing her but you get the drift).

I pondered over it and wondered if a little child was so bothered how do grown ups manage to ignore it and live with it? I think that’s the peculiar thing about conscience. Every time you ignore it long enough, it lowers its decibel a notch until it’s a squeak that finally gets smothered and silenced.

No wonder then that George Washington (Rules of Civility And Other Writings & Speeches) chose his words carefully when he wrote— Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience. He knew it was hard work. We realise that too and agree that most of us are not up to it. As a society the effects are telling on us. The pandemic just brought that fact under spotlight.

Every time we look the other way, every time we bully or side one, every time we allow injustice to happen or be a part of it; our conscience takes a beating. I recently came across the words- moral grooming and I loved them. There is so much of brouhaha around physical grooming. If you are not convinced look at what our ads tell us— something like body odour and dandruff have the potential to make us a social outcast. It is of utmost importance that you should be immaculately turned out, never mind that your conscience is smudged.

Our conscience has to be dead that we are not moved by the sight of farmers protesting in frigid cold. In fact, we have the audacity of questioning and judging them by their denims and sneakers. It doesn’t bother us that political prisoners languish in jails and are something as trivial as a straw sipper. The list is endless and the only reason it is happening is because somewhere on the way we have lost our moral compasses.

Martin Luther King Jr. (A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches) has written— there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.

When will that time come for us?

Dr. Shivani Salil

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