By Michael B. Adewumi
Can the human race transcend itself beyond the prejudice, superiority and ethno-political conflicts that seem to becloud our mutuality due to differences in understanding of values, power and ideology?
During my high school years, I decided to take liberal arts classes because I believed science wasn’t for me and one of my career fields of interest was law. However, my conservative mother never supported the idea of her son becoming a lawyer because she believed lawyers were not forthright people and were mostly interested in winning their cases even if it meant proving that a criminal didn’t commit a crime. I never understood the concept of law and justice during that time. Years later, having become an adult, experiencing the bitter taste of many social injustices inflicted upon the less privileged, and seeing many extra-judicial killings of people of “minority race” in society, I come to the conclusion that the law is not just, it has no conscience, and instead mostly favors those with power and privilege.
The possibility of any race or ethnic group to advance relies on its people to abide within the confinement of cultural norms, fundamental principles and social beliefs that are reasonably logical and humane to them as people. Their value system, laws, ethics, morality, and code of conduct are deeply rooted in their cultural beliefs and ethnical social construct.
However, these virtues cannot be possible without their human conscience. Life, in itself, evolves; the atmosphere, the air, the water, and all of the elemental factors that constitute the existence of life – they all evolve along with our humanity. Humanity does not only change in population, but also in human expectancy, moral values and priorities. The complexity of life gets simpler in some aspects of our existence and, on the other hand, gets more complicated. One thing that remains constant, however, is our conscience which guides us about right and wrongs. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” As human beings, our conscience is part of the interconnectedness that makes us human, and is as much a part of us as instincts for survival, happiness and sadness.
The 16th century writer and philosopher John Donne wrote, “…No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Conscience is the compass and voice of reasoning in our soul; it points us into a direction to do right and convicts our soul when we do wrong. We cannot solely rely on the artificial conscience created by many religions because such constructs are about propagating themselves and not primarily about human endeavor or posterity. Individually, a rational thinking person is expected to have a conscience. Our conscience is created to make us understand what is moral and what is ethical, even in the absence of religion. If every human in the world is made to follow the truth of our good conscience, acknowledging the need to do what is expected of us, the world would be far more progressive in many areas than it is today. A cosmopolitan conscience-based society is one where we can see our commonality, and includes a mindset to accommodate different cultures and ethnicities without disparity.
It is through our conscience that we create most of the life principles that we live by as a human race. Through our conscience, we discover our pragmatism and intelligence to be protective, productive, and to preserve ourselves and live in peace, progressively as a people. This is where the power of any society to progress is carved in stone. Let not forget that the primary reason humans developed consciousness was to protect and preserve ourselves – a process that was brought on by antagonism within and without. Dr. King also said, “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”
Knowing well that life does evolve, there is a need for us as humans to be consciously flexible and adapt to the paradigm shift to meet life changes. Since conscience is a byproduct of our spirit which develops over time, we must make sure the voice of reasoning in our conscience must never be put to sleep; otherwise, we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who are ready to take advantage of our good measures.
Looking at many problems affecting our world today, it is imperative that there is something substantive – beyond politics, rule of law, and ordinances – to keep us out of many social predicaments. Despite the high level of organized religious followers across the globe, a religion of morality without conscience is merely an elusive indoctrination of the mind into a certain way of life. This programming, in itself, doesn’t improve life, but often only allows people to hide under the cloak of religion and deity to perpetrate hate and hurt against others. Anyone with conscience would know, without being prompted, that it is evil for any tiny portion of the populace to monopolize the freedom of others through indoctrination. By blindly accepting such ideals, we invariably lose our collective conscience of promoting the natural wonder of co-existence.
So, how do we appeal to human conscience outside the influence of religious belief? How, really, do these religions and deities contribute to the progresses of our humanity? Conscience is the core of human existence. A conscientious person is able to measure the content of his or her character, conduct and intention, be it that of his or her sense of moral goodness, or blame worthiness. If a person is left to the rules of conscience – since conscience tends toward goodness – it follows then that such a person would strive to do good at all times. Therefore, the true guardian of our moral values and fundamental principles remains our human conscience. In the absence of our conscience as humans, we ultimately fail ourselves. This is what matters most to our existence, and our lives begin to end on the day we become silent about things that really matter.