Conscience

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It is a curious thing that children never need to be told how to be disobedient. No parent instructs their child this way : "Now my son (or daughter), I want you to oppose me, and do everything you can to destroy my good and orderly instructions . . .". What usually happens is a slow and painstaking process of training, correction, discipline and warning, for up to 17 or so years, when the child is able to leave home - and having left home, the child may marry and begin the same process with the next generation which it has to raise.

The whole progress of Mankind therefore consists of an endless training of new humans to divert them from full-blown disobedience. Obviously, if disobedience was allowed to go on unchecked, a child's behaviour would become so antisocial it would eventually destroy its own life and the society in which it lived.

Most parents allow a certain amount of rebellion. They realise that the perfect child is unattainable, and they also may notice that the very rebellions which they try to suppress in their children are actually inherent in their own hearts. So a compromise is reached, where the parent works within a range of obedience and disobedience which it considers reasonable. Too much correction and the parent is in danger of trying to make the child better than itself - which amounts to hypocrisy. Too little correction and the child becomes unbearably destructive. So a tolerable level is found, and the child soon works out how much rebellion it can 'get away with' before it passes the line.

This is not to say that all rebellion in a child is deliberate. Sometimes its behaviour is the result of ignorance, curiosity or forgetfulness, but there are always times when things are done out of defiance. If children are told not to do something, they go ahead and do it, regardless of consequences, and regardless of any warnings, or clear reasons why their course of action may harm them. The unbelievable child is always submissive to its parents, or any authority. Such children do not exist.

Having established that in every normal human is a sort of instinct to go against the rules, we can now look at the other curious instinct (for want of a better word) which works against rebellion - the conscience. Strangely enough, while the conscience is quite often seen as a nuisance and impediment to 'freedom' it is in fact every parent's ally, and the child's best guide.

But before we go any further, we must say that the conscience is by no means infallible. In many areas, what one person's conscience allows, another person's conscience will not allow. But despite this general wavering, the conscience has one clear, distinct property : it gives a person an instinct about morals. Morals and the conscience go together as inseparable friends.

There is a universal standard, in all cultures, and at all times in Man's history, which dictates what we call "right" and what we call "wrong", and these views of right and wrong are called moral views. The conscience helps us understand what is right and what is wrong, and the fact that we are human determines that we have a sense of morals. Animals show no sign of morals or conscience in the way humans do - although there are reports of animals which appear to show moral consciousness. In these cases the explanation is found in the training of the animal. For example, a dog may appear to be sorry for biting a sheep, but this appearance is our human way of interpreting things to suit our own view of things. Another dog watching would have no idea what the other dog's response meant.

Now morals are very interesting things. They are, in a way, like colours. We can't see colours until we look at them, but they are there even when we aren't looking too. Morals pervade every area of our lives. They govern the way we interact with each other, our businesses, or child-raising, or sports, and our travelling.

Many of our morals have been codified into civil law....
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