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Jiminy Cricket is famously cute for being Pinocchio’s moral compass, trying to steer him into decisions that keep him out of trouble.
Jiminy Cricket is the Disney embodiment of a conscience.
What is a conscience? It’s not like it’s a body part, like a spleen or a kidney. We can’t see what it looks like. Yet, it exists. It’s a check engine light, alerting us of situations we need to pay attention to. We can ignore it, but often when we do, it’s to our detriment.
Eight ways listening to our conscience helps us make better decisions:
1. I cannot, in good conscience, do this.
Ever heard that statement? Ever uttered it?
Many of us have the wrong idea of what a conscience is and its purpose and function. It’s not about solely being some impossible taskmaster, making us feel like we are the most sinful worms, incapable of doing anything right. The conscience is not in existence to beat us down but rather to lift us up and out of critical moments and judgments that could devastate our lives.
If we can view the leading of our conscience as an ally and not an enemy, we can, perhaps, make better life choices. It takes time, patience, and wisdom to have the ear to hear our conscience working within us. But it’s to our advantage to pay attention. By substituting some keywords for conscience, we can possibly possess a happier, more productive, and fulfilling life.
2. I cannot, in good health, do this.
I once was presented with an incredible career prospect, the opportunity to co-author a book. Once the shock wore off, in the moment, I asked for some time to think and pray about it. After a short amount of time, I came back with my answer: “no.” I was surprised as I stated my decision. Was this an “opportunity of a lifetime” that I was turning down? Was I a fool who couldn’t see how amazing this situation was?
Well, it was more complex than that. Not all that glitters is gold.
Yes, on the surface, on paper, the offer looked good. But, right from the start, there were too many red flags. It was a rushed offer; I heard the person be in an out-of-breath, hurried state. And, as I asked questions about timelines, deadlines, and tackling the tough and traumatic subject matter, I was met with the following response, “I don’t know. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
It was not reassuring, informative, or helpful. I would be taking on the graphic depictions of sexual assault. Somehow, “crossing that bridge when we come to it” was not going to meet those demanding needs of executing the project.
Something was “off.”
Oh, and one more thing. I was a breast cancer survivor, trying to maintain my survivorship and my mental health. This project jeopardized that. It would simply be too much stress. And that’s the answer I gave when I said “no.” The cost was too much. Sleepless nights? Lack of pertinent information, timelines, and strategies? Too high of a price when my health was at stake. It was not a good gamble. I needed to bow out.
3. Is this healthy?
The conscience can often be distilled in yes or no questions.
Is this healthy?
Stress and instability can be killers and real threats to our well-being. Is that too high of a cost? Each of us needs to value our health: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. What are we willing to do to protect those things? What good is the most amazing opportunity if it completely eviscerates our bodies and minds? The fervor of a “chance of a lifetime” will come and go. But our physical and mental realities remain. What kind of shape will they be left in?
Will we be able to do (fill in the blank) and still be healthy?
The conscience knows.
4. I cannot, in good integrity, do this.
Years ago, I had another opportunity to go on tour with a fellow writer. Again, it looked like a “chance of a lifetime.” But looks were deceiving. This person, on the surface, looked to be well-meaning, thoughtful, and kind. But, as I got to know this person further, I saw more snark, more questionable behavior that concerned me. I would be going on a multicity tour with this person, a person who sparks uneasiness. Could I do this? We did not share the same values as I had initially thought early on. I felt I would find myself compromised. And I didn’t have the confidence I could withstand that temptation, test, or moral failure if I did compromise myself. Again, the cost was too great.
So, as shiny as the opportunity looked, I turned it down. I said, “no.”
And I got to keep my character intact—a win for me.
5. Is there true integrity here?
Integrity is priceless. Often, we are not aware of its value until we compromise ourselves.
Life offers us many opportunities and tests that come face-to-face with our values, whether we will betray them or not. It can be argued that our morals and values are as significant to our health as our diet and fitness habits. It is about taking care of ourselves. Prioritizing and protecting our integrity is self-care.
When we encounter someone or something that could violate the core of who we are, that should be the brightest red flag alerting us to pay attention. This red flag should not be something we talk ourselves out of. Rationalizing, downplaying, and excusing behaviors, questionable people, and sketchy contract terms can be a recipe for compromising ourselves and getting hurt. It’s not about being narrow-minded. Instead, it’s about being wise and attuned to our true selves.
If something doesn’t jive with who we are, we best not to participate in it. It’s not an easy stance to take, but most of the time, the regret of ignoring our instincts is far more difficult and painful.
So, will we be able to be involved with (fill in the person, opportunity, or choice) and still peacefully be in our integrity?
Our honest, brutal answer is needed.
6. I cannot, in good safety, do this.
Integrity and healthy choices hold hands with safety. It’s like the trifecta of well-being. It is something worth observing and heeding.
Hindsight was a helpful ally concerning this situation and informing my more present-day circumstances.
Years ago, I made the unsafe decision to get in the car with a person who was drunk. At the time, a much greener version of myself chose to believe they could “handle” their liquor and their driving skills. I was uneasy then, but I didn’t want to be seen as a drag. So, against my better judgment, yes, I got in the car with a drunk driver. Miraculously, I got home in one piece, as did this friend. Miraculously is the right word. We should have been maimed or dead. Other innocent people could have easily been hurt or killed as well.
We have all heard of too many reports and statistics about the deadly consequences of “driving under the influence.” Years later, I now visualize angelic intervention doing some serious protecting, ensuring no one was at risk due to the unsafe choice I was complicit in. The worst did not happen when the elements were there to determine otherwise.
Now, fast forward years later when, once again, another friend, while “buzzed,” makes the declaration of how they could drive a short distance (“it’s not that far”), that they are a good driver (“I’ll just go really slow”). The alarm bells, sirens, and red flags all raced to my brain. And, no longer interested in being a pleasing friend who ruins the party, I declared, “Oh, no! That is not happening! You are not going anywhere. I will take your keys!”
The person sobered up briefly at my protest and dropped any discussion of a joyride. The entire night was spent indoors, and I learned and applied the importance of safety that night. I followed my conscience.
7. Is this safe?
It can come down to that simple question. It’s yes or no. Is this safe?
Again, it can be all too easy to talk ourselves out of what’s best for us, safety issues included. Unfortunately, many of us have absorbed wrong messages in our lives, messages that tell us that we’re not worth being safe or that it’s more important for us to be pleasing than for us to be safe.
Safety should be a nonnegotiable, like health and personal integrity. We should demand to have those things. We have the inherent right not to be at the mercy of an ultimatum, choosing between our safety and others’ pleasure and well-being.
Sadly, that is not the simple case for us. We, instead, feel the pressure of “other” over ourselves.
But self—your self, my self, are as important as any “other.” We deserve to be our sense of self. And part of that self package includes being safe in our own lives.
Don’t downplay it. We are too important to be mistreated, abused, discarded, and unsafe.
So, will we be involved with (fill in the person, opportunity, or choice) and still peacefully be safe?
What say you? What say me? The answer matters.
8. We need to let our conscience be our guide.
That’s often what gets in the way of us and our conscience.
But what are we afraid of?
We’re afraid of looking foolish.
We’re afraid of being made fun of.
We have FOMO (fear of missing out).
We’re afraid of saying no to the “chance of a lifetime.”
We are afraid we are all alone.
But I submit we are not alone; we are constantly internally guided.
“And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.'” ~ Isaiah 30:21
Conscience. Instinct. Gut. Divine Intervention.
I believe we are led; I believe we are prompted into making choices that are good for us, not harmful. The challenge, however, is to learn how to pay attention to the discomfort, the feeling, the voice which whispers, “uh-oh,” or “I wouldn’t do that.” It’s not to pulverize us or take way our fun. It’s to protect us. We are worth being protected and valued.
That’s why we have this “good conscience,” should we choose to operate in it, in the first place.