"Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of deeply felt needs." Albert
The real conscience - - not the one often confused as conscience - - is a person's best guide to lead a fulfilling life
enjoying psychological and spiritual wellness.
By our choices, we individually and collectively cause or contribute to much of our suffering. Examples range from abuses,
addictions, break ups and break downs, crimes, discriminations, and many diseases and disorders to environmental destruction,
terrorism and war.
We can do far better in reducing suffering and enhancing wellness by using real consciences to make good choices.
Our freedom, responsibility and opportunity for fulfillment lie in our choices. In a given situation a person chooses
from available options influenced or guided by:
* Feelings, including wishes and wants, related to human needs.
* Judgment of good and bad the individual has picked up from family and society and made his or her own (which I call
"superego"). The superego is frequently mistaken as conscience. Also, superego doesn't mean "big ego"
* Real conscience which uses reason as to what is good for oneself in the long run and fair to others in the spirit of
the Golden Rule with an open mind. Conscience takes into account feelings and superego as well. From here on I would use
"conscience" to mean real conscience, not the superego.
Feelings can give us right or wrong cues and motivations. A superego programmed by bad social conditioning would give
the person wrong judgments which go against reason and the Golden Rule. Conscience can recognize such distortions and give
balanced guidance. While the Golden Rule is to do to others as we would have them do to us, the spirit of it includes George
Bernard Shaw's warning that we must not do to others as we would like them do to us because their taste may be different.
Our tastes are related to our needs and the needs are far more important. So, a good perspective on human needs is crucial
to using conscience properly.
Conscience promotes faith without fanaticism, individuality without
selfishness, discipline without
self-esteem without false pride,
loyalty to one's group without unfairness to other groups,
integration of the past without impediment to the present, future
direction without loss of balance, good judgment without
prejudices, and deep morality
without superficial moralism. A society of people guided
by conscience would manifest law and order without legalism and militarism. Such a society would encourage interdependence
and genuine individuality with a spirit of fairness and responsibility toward oneself, fellow humans, and the world.
In numerous cases, I have helped people utilize the power of conscience to transform. A good example is Kathy, an accountant
in her thirties, who was abused in her childhood. When she saw me, she already had many years of psychotherapy and several
hospitalizations and was on several medications. She had intense bad feelings about her past. For over a year her work and
her social, spiritual, intellectual, and artistic interests had been mostly on hold. She had good intentions in trying to
heal her old wounds. But her excessive focus on those wounds resulted in even stronger ties to her past, more imbalances
in her present life, and a bleak future. She had become a "basket case" by putting too many of her needs into one
basket. I helped her to calm intense feelings, have a good perspective on her overall needs and use her conscience to guide
her choices. She was taught how to recognize and disregard the distorted judgments of her harsh superego shaped by her abusive
family. Her superego used to cause her unreasonable guilt and shame even when she made the right choices within her limits.
As she pursued these changes, in a few months she began living a fulfilling life.
Conscience is nurtured in many ways and damaged in other ways by religion. The word "conscience" is used 31
times (30 times by St. Paul) in the New Testament. The Catholic Church teaches living by conscience as a requirement for
the salvation of a non-Catholic. The Golden Rule is essential to the ethical side of religions. Unfortunately, reason and
the Golden Rule--and so conscience--often get lost among myriads of beliefs, rules and rituals of religions. St. Paul who
gave great importance to conscience, pointed out that some people destroy faith by rejecting conscience. Using religious dogmas,
many groups have supported racism, sexism, unfair caste system, colonialism, terrorism and unjust wars, all of which go against
The values that religions and cultures promote usually become an important part of the superegos of members. Many transformative
leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. helped people overcome unreasonable or unfair superegos. Someone even
commented that Jesus came to save people from their sick superegos also. Significant conflicts exist among--and even within--various
religious groups about beliefs, values and practices.
There are numerous conflicts within and among individuals and groups related to human needs, superego and conscience.
Conflicts ranging from inner-personal and interpersonal to international can be managed constructively by using conscience
properly with a good perspective on human needs.
At a time when most psychiatric conditions were considered neuroses, eminent psychiatrist Carl Jung stated: "The
chief causes of neurosis are conflicts of conscience and difficult moral problems that require an answer." However, the
mental health field has largely neglected or misunderstood conscience. The best opportunity and the greatest common ground
for the mental health and religious/spiritual fields are to promote psychological and spiritual wellness using conscience.
Most mental health conditions--especially personality disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety disorders, post traumatic
stress disorders and sexual dysfunctions--and relationship problems can benefit greatly from our using conscience.
We have psychological needs including physical needs, value/esteem, identity, relationships, power/security, integration
of the past, present balance and future direction, pleasure, sexuality and meaning. Our spiritual beliefs or experiences
add a deeper dimension to our needs. Each need can be handled in different ways, but managing various needs with conscience
is the most balanced, efficient, and integrated approach for psychological as well as spiritual wellness.
Many relationships fail because partners do not understand and adjust adequately to their differences in the priority,
intensity and ways of handling needs. While one person's priority may be power, another's priority may be pleasure. Intensity
of needs also varies. Sexual needs may vary from more than once a day to not even once a month. People handle various needs
in different ways including immediate or delayed gratification, and partial or total denial. Differences in superego judgments
usually make the conflicts worse. Also, people may resist changing their patterns of dealing with needs. In such a case,
one man continued to reject his fiancÚ's show of affection by saying, "Don't pat me; I am not a dog." Finally, she
A secret to helping others transform is to understand their needs and show them better alternatives to meet those needs.
This method is dramatically illustrated in Steven Spielberg's acclaimed film Schindler's List. The movie's hero Oskar Schindler
observes a Nazi officer killing Jewish prisoners in a concentration camp. One day when the officer is drinking, Schindler
questions him and realizes that the man is killing his victims because of his need for power. Then Schindler convinces the
officer to stop killing by explaining to him that he can have more power by pardoning. Schindler succeeded as he understood
the officer's need for power and provided a better way to meet the need by pardoning instead of killing.
In a world where people of various cultures and religions interact closely, there is wonderful benefit in fostering superego
in harmony with conscience. Those who don't want to use their consciences or consider their superegos as their consciences
can at least recognize there is another perspective. Whether one believes in a spiritual realm or not, one can use conscience
to lead deeply ethical lives. Living by conscience, individuals can follow the rules and traditions of their religion or
culture that are not destructive. For example, many sexual prohibitions are not harmful but mutilation of women’s
genitals practiced by some groups is destructive and goes against conscience.
I have tried to make the profound easy to understand and practical to pursue. As we try to handle our individual needs
with conscience, it is fascinating, uplifting and highly beneficial to find the universality of conscience in the depths of
ethics, history, literature, religion and psychology/psychiatry. An old saying, "When the mystic points to the moon
the idiots see only the finger," indicates our tendency to focus on the superficial and miss the broader perspective.
As we struggle with problems related to a particular need and apply conscience in handling the issue, we can learn how to
use the wisdom from the experience in meeting various needs well. In the coming chapters we will dig deeper and find great
treasures of psychological insight and spiritual wisdom which can empower us to be our best individually and collectively.