The Difference Between A Good Conscience and A Bad One

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I was an English major in college. Unfortunately, I never learned to type my papers until I was faced with a terrible dilemma (this was before everyone had a computer). I had three papers due by the end of the week, and no one available to type my papers. I offered all kinds of financial incentives, but it was of no use, everyone had their own work to do. I was extremely frustrated, if not infuriated, but at who? This may sound strange, but I was infuriated at “past me”!

How could “former me,” with my typical procrastination, have put “present me” in this untenable situation. What was “present me” to do?! Well, I could dwell on what put me in this situation in the first place, or I could devise a plan to salvage the future. Consequently, instead of simply falling into despair, I organized a schedule and program to finish the papers that allowed for a sane regimen of progress laid out over the week. I accomplished my task, but more importantly, this sort of conundrum never happened again, because that is how I approach projects even today.

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And let me tell you, “future me” (or rather, “present me”) is very pleased with that decision. In any case, what is the value of discussing this seemingly schizophrenic division that can exist between past, present, and future you? In a word: conscience. The man or women who listens to their more virtuous instincts is at peace, and at one internally, while the individual who neglects themselves and their future, has no one to blame but themselves. For this reason, the following commercials are quite on point in this regard:

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However, it is not always easy to listen to that deeper sense of wisdom, which is why when our conscience is well-formed it can feel a little like an inner drill sergeant, demonstrating an awareness of the bliss and happiness that is at stake, perhaps even more so than we might consciously sense it at the present moment:

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In many ways, “future self” is a lot like every good teacher you have ever had, one that knows exactly what happens when we dismiss the most the essential details of our lives. And since a good conscience is the ultimate authority in this regard (because it is the voice of God in our soul), it is meant to be attentive to the highest order of happiness. For this reason, it may feel relentless, and even cruel at times, though its ultimate aim is immortal rest:

This is true even in the everyday practical things; “You can’t have any pudding unless you eat your meat/vegetables!” And so what is leisure without work? A kind of lethargy without rest. What is an extended sit on the couch without a prior run in the park? It is idleness and sloth. Hence, we can recognize the effects of a bad conscience, when we observe the inevitable side effects (which are the reverse of the former). War in the heart. Inner division (which may involve you referring to yourself exclusively in the third person). Psychological disintegration. Narcissism and excessive self-love. Hatred of self. War against those who might be trying to free us from said condition. No doubt, the ill effects tend to be “legion” in this regard.

Consequently, when we are true to our conscience, we may find it challenging, and even frustrating at times, but we will ultimately find peace within ourselves. After all, a well-formed conscience aligns perfectly with who we were designed/created to be in the first place. By the same token, if we betray our conscience, and “will” what is wicked, even if we are fully given over to that wickedness, inner division remains. Why? Because our nature is our nature regardless, and no matter what we tell ourselves internally that fact remains forever.      

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About Sean Chapman

Sean Chapman has written 12 post in this blog.

Sean Chapman currently resides in Upstate South Carolina with his wife, Heidi. During the day, he teaches students the complexities of the faith to high schoolers, but in the evening and on weekends, he pursues his various interests such as music, avid sport fandom, and of course writing in its many forms. Check out his Catholic blog Man in the Woods:

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