Often when I hear of someone doing something atrocious to someone else, I wonder, how is it possible for that person’s conscience not to have stopped them from doing that? But then, what is a conscience? The Online Etymology Dictionary says “c.1225, from O.Fr. conscience, from L. conscientia “knowledge within oneself, a moral sense,” prp. of conscire “be mutually aware,” from com- “with” + scire “to know.” “. From this, I derive that a functioning conscience requires both knowledge of oneself, and mutual awareness. These are two separate things, and I think that the first one is a prerequisite for the second one. If we don’t know ourselves – if we aren’t fully aware of our own humanity – then we cannot possibly be aware of it in others.
How do we come to know ourselves? It requires mindfulness – a constant observation of what is happening, here, in this moment, and how we are reacting to it. It requires experiences of many kinds, through which to make these observations. Every experience we have can contribute to this self-knowledge, both those experiences we call “good” and those we call “bad”. It requires times of quiet solitude, which can be spent in mediatation, prayer, or walking or sitting in nature. During these times, we free our brain from the control we impose on it most of the time, and this freedom enables our thoughts to grow and connect in new ways. Some people describe this experience of mental freedom and making of new connections as the presence and answers of God; some people do not, but the results, i.e. the effects on our brain and conscience, are the same.
The more of yourself you can see, the more of yourself you will see in others. This is mutual awareness – a recognition that there is something in every person that is the same as something in you. We attach such great importance to our identities – what makes us unique and special – but what is truly important is that which is the same in all of us, not what is different. It is much harder to see sameness than it is to see difference, because we each have to first find it in ourselves. But once we do, we cannot help but see it in everyone.