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“Conscience is the impulse to do right because it is right, regardless of personal ends” (Margaret C. Graham).
NOT A DAY GOES BY THAT OUR CONSCIENCE DOESN’T TEST US. Some of the tests are big while others are little, but we are always having to ask the question, “Will I do what my conscience is telling me is the right thing to do, or will I do something else, something perhaps that will be easier or more pleasant?” These tests, however insignificant they may seem, are important for two reasons: (1) they demonstrate what kind of character we presently have, and (2) they move our character even further along the path of goodness or evil. Every time we say yes or no to our conscience, we add a little more evidence to the record that will eventually be our legacy.
Joy. If you’ve never experienced the joy that comes from saying yes to your conscience, you really ought to try it. “A good conscience is a continual Christmas” (Benjamin Franklin). I’ve lived in the world long enough to have enjoyed many of its pleasures, but I’ve yet to find one that compares to the good feeling of going to bed at night knowing that you’ve done what your conscience said was right.
Stability. There is no way to tell what any of us will have to deal with before our lives are over. If we haven’t already done so, some of us may experience significant and unexpected hardship, and we may think we can’t find anything steady to hang on to. But a clear conscience is an amazingly stable thing, despite the twists and turns of life in this vale of tears. “There is one thing alone that stands the brunt of life throughout its course, a quiet conscience” (Euripides).
We admire those who, in the great moments of history, have taken a heroic stand based on conscience. Most of us will never stand in the spotlight of history, however, and even if we did, our moment there might not be the most accurate measure of our character. What is more telling, perhaps, is whether we listen to our conscience in our quiet, private moments. The thing we want to do in those moments is simply and purely what is right — just because it’s right.
“I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other, so help me God. Amen” (Martin Luther).