Lorna Dueck is host of Context TV, seen Sundays on Global and Vision TV.
How about a conversation on what's happening to the human conscience? Pick any variety of headline these days and you'll often discover that the news behind it happened because somebody's conscience evaporated.
How could the consciences of 13 young men smart enough to navigate Dalhousie University's dentistry school not awaken to the way they were denigrating women? How could these students, posting on a social network with a billion users, not care that judgment was imminent? Why was there just one whistle-blower among them?
The best or worst of our collective conscience is usually behind any story that goes viral today. Who is the guardian, the advocate, the instructor, the guide for our conscience? Family, social norms, religion, school and the media are all systems that come quickly to mind when I think about conscience-setting. We need to value sources that teach us to care about conscience, because conscience will always affect how we treat each other.
Lately, I've spent too much time thinking about The Sociopath Next Door, a book by a former Harvard psychologist Martha Stout. Her book gained attention for articulating that one in 25 ordinary people "has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty." Much of the book is quite worrisome – it seems to me that Dr. Stout is helping the reader diagnose the wackos in your world, then prescribes that you run from them. But if you stick with her, Dr. Stout also explains how our conscience works.
"Beginning in our genes and spiralling outward to all of our cultures, beliefs and many religions, it is the shadow of a whisper of the beginning of an understanding that we are all one. And whatever its origins, this is the essence of conscience," Dr. Stout says. Ah, it's love, plain and simple love for others, that motivates our conscience to act – or not. If you are low on love, your conscience is going to show it. "The ability to love comes bundled up in conscience, just as our spirits are bundled up in our bodies. Conscience is the embodiment of love, imbued into our very biology."
I can't imagine making the fragile journey of conscience-building without source material that's older than my current culture. We've been quick to sideline religious thought in public engagement, but why ditch any of the source material that can inform conscience? As social media reminds us, it has never been easier to hurt or help people. Conscience education should be championed, and yes, that means a rush to our faith communities. Not to embrace religion blindly, but rather, to probe spiritual teaching for concepts that help us to love.
Jesus was an early originator of the idea that all people are to be loved at all times. My conscience does not come to that naturally, nor does it stay there as long as I wish. It's renewal work that comes from going back to source.
Forgiveness and humility were virtues of Jesus that created a revolution for leadership. Still a controversial historic teacher, Jesus challenged followers to let God be accurately represented in their characters.
We can rightly rail about how historic and current examples of religious people and systems distort Jesus, yet we'll always be drawn to the hope that our conscience will give us a better world. Let's cheer on the sources and the supply that inform our conscience to be fuelled by love.