Photo credit: Digital image by Katt Yukawa via Unsplash.
Conscious: (adj.) to be cognizant, mindful, aware (Ex.: awakened after surgery) Conscience: (n.) an inner feeling or voice Conscientious person: (adj.) a person who feels an obligation to do what is right
There seems to be an obsession of labeling people in our world today, as if attaching labels and compartmentalizing brings comfort or organization into our society. Why is that? Better yet, is that a future blog topic? Maybe so, but for the sake of labels… were you once labeled a “Ms. Goody-two-shoe” or perhaps a “Mr. Meticulous?” Do you often lean toward diligence and less towards impulsivity? How do you feel about lists and goals? If you answered yes to any of these, you may be among the coveted—yet arguably diminishing—conscientious. Recently, someone called me “too conscientious" and I was left wondering what that meant. Is this a non-desirable trait and is that really such a bad thing? If nothing else, haven’t we been witnessing in our world what a lack of conscientiousness in society can do? This one comment—without my knowing if it was a critique or a compliment—led me to write this article and to share a story.
“Are you my conscience?” Hearing this Dory quote from the movie, Finding Nemo always takes me back to a time when my conscience was not a factor in my decision making, and I would wager that most of us rarely considered principles or a conscience during childhood. When I was in first grade I lied about finding a five-dollar bill while playing on the playground at morning recess. For the unlucky, finding cash is like winning the lottery, so without thinking twice I shoved it into my pocket and began dreaming of the amazing treat I would buy myself from the hallway snack cart. Later, when the teacher asked the class who brought money that day for snacks, I proudly raised my hand. Now, knowing I was one of those kids who usually sat inside watching others get their treats, the teacher seemed puzzled, but she dismissed each of us to the cart where I bought a Twix chocolate bar and a small tennis shoe key chain as an early Mother’s Day present for my mom.
I felt such pride and accomplishment shopping all by myself, which lasted about as long as it took for me to eat the chocolate bar. Soon after I wadded up the wrapper and licked my fingers, I was being escorted down the hall to the principal’s office. Holding my arm as we walked the teacher said, "I don't believe the money is yours, so we will make a phone call to your mother." Not knowing how to get out of the lie, I stayed quiet. As predicted, my mother said she knew nothing about the money, so I confessed to finding it on the playground. The next thing I remember is bending over to grab my ankles in front of my classmates and receiving ten swift swats on my behind from a worn, wooden paddle. Because this article is about being a conscientious person and not about the consequences or debate over corporal punishment, I will leave that for another blogger… please read on.
You might say, “We all lied back then. So what?” Agreed, but this story has been a cornerstone of what made me who I am today. It was at this age when I first realized that my decisions have the potential of influencing other people. The next day, I learned my poor decision led to a classmate going hungry because as it turns out, it was her lunch money I had found on the playground. I remember her crying with her head down most of the day, but she admitted to no one why she was so upset. Once her parents called the teacher, I realized what had happened. Angered over this news, my teacher scolded me while standing at the front of the classroom. She said that my dishonesty should be a lesson to everyone and that I was to apologize to the entire class for my poor judgment. Feeling absolutely horrible, I apologized through my tears and vowed to never lie again.
Upstander for the Conscientious
Through the years, I have gotten over the humiliation and have enjoyed telling this story to others. But recently the memory has crossed my mind a time or two and I sometimes wonder if others were affected by the incident. How did the other students feel after witnessing it? Does the teacher remember this? Would she even remember me? If I recall, the teacher was a good friend to my mother, so did my lie affect their relationship? I am very certain that even the actions of a self-centered six-year-old can impose unrealized consequences. Circumstances and experiences (whether positive or negative) at any age can often shape one’s character traits, along with morals and convictions—and sometimes the lack thereof. Considering recent events and in my observing others’ behaviors through the elections, racial tensions, and the pandemic, I do sometimes wonder how certain people once lived and what makes them behave how they do today. I also think about who I am and what I hope to leave behind.
It is probably my conscience that drives me to make ethical decisions, but most likely my concern for others that provides me with convictions. To me, that is what being conscientious is all about. If there is anything positive to say about a world-wide pandemic, it's that living through it (so far) has made me appreciate the difference between simply being aware and being even more conscientious. I have decided that being a member of the “too conscientious club” is not such a bad thing; therefore I will gladly accept the label hoping one day it will no longer be a silly label or connected to a negative connotation. If I have learned anything from social media, it is that claiming you live a “conscious” life doesn’t always equate to living a conscientious one. Shouldn’t we all hope that conscientiousness evolves into a way of life for everyone… and as soon as possible?