Your conscience is the inner sense of right and wrong that guides your motives (what you think) and actions (what you do). It is what makes you behave in the way you know you should to others, even when you might not feel like it. It lets you extend the respect, tolerance and kindness that you give to your loved ones to everyone and guides you to make the right choices in life. It is a skill that can be developed with rational thinking, emotional awareness and practice.
Method 1 of 3:Using Rational Thinking
1Use reason as your conscience if you don't feel an immediate gut reaction. You can get a quick bearing if something is right or wrong by asking:"How would that make me feel?"
Treating others as you would like to be treated is the golden rule of humanity. It is shared by religions, philosophers, humanists and atheists alike and has been expressed by every culture in history:
Buddhism: “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
Hinduism: “Do not do to others what would cause pain to you.”
Ancient Greece (Aristotle): “Conduct ourselves towards others as we would have them act toward us.”
Applying this rule triggers your conscience to consider if you could be more helpful, listen to others and treat people with more respect. Read up on ways that you can live the golden rule.
2Think about the values and behaviour of people you do and don't respect. Focus on how they treat others and if their words (what they say) and actions (what they do) match up to one another. This will sharpen up your knowledge of right and wrong and provide positive and negative role models to learn from.
Some positive role models might be people who always keep their word, go out of their way to help, stand up for what is right, or are patient and kind.
Some negative role models might be people who lie, are unkind to others, or feel no remorse or concern when they hurt or upset others.
Be wary of people who show by their words or actions that they lack a conscience. They are termed sociopaths and can be manipulative and dangerous. If you know someone like this you can protect yourself by limiting your contact with them. You can learn how to spot a sociopath here:
3Educate yourself by reading about people who lived conscience-guided lives. You can learn from famous examples such as Gandhi and also from daily news stories of ordinary people living in line with their conscience.
Gandhi famously called his conscience his “little voice within.” It enabled him to oppose injustice in the face of huge difficulty.
The Abolitionists are another example of how a strong moral conscience can create change and right injustice. They relied on their moral conscience to successfully end slavery.
Conscientious objectors oppose war due their religious, moral or ethical conscience. At times of war they are in a tiny minority and their strong conscience is what enables them to maintain their beliefs in the face of huge opposition.
Reading about the atrocities and moral failings of the Holocaust shows how vital keeping a conscience is to protect people from harm.
4Study some unexpected sources of inspiration. Three such sources are fiction, films and reality television. They are great practice at tuning up your conscience. Each time you watch a storyline develop or see a character make a difficult choice you are getting a free lesson in how a person's conscience directs their actions.
Method 2 of 3:Developing Emotional Awareness
1Unlock your conscience by practising empathy. The ability to truly see things from different points of view is essential. This means really listening to what people say and trying to understand them before jumping to decide what is right or wrong.
Applying the golden rule is a good rule of thumb. In any situation you can quickly ask yourself:"How would I feel if I were in their situation right now?"
It is important to also realise that their life experience may have been very different to yours. How you would feel in this situation and how they feel might not be the same. Go beyond thinking how you would feel and honestly try to put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: “What are they feeling? Why do they feel that way?”
2Educate yourself on how you can effectively put your empathy skills into practice. Once you have read about how to communicate more effectively it will guide you in your everyday interactions with people.
Try to actively listen - really try to hear them, not just wait for your turn to speak.
Don't judge them. Try and understand the feelings behind their words even if you don't agree with the views they are expressing it is always possible to understand why they think that way. Show them you have listened to what they have said.
3Challenge how you think about the world. It is easy to stay in the same, safe routine and think you know what is right and wrong, but you miss the opportunity to learn from other possibilities.
Be curious about other people. Get to know people you would normally not stop and talk to. Ask questions about their lives. Speaking to people from different cultures can bring surprising changes in your own beliefs about life.
Speak to older people who have a lifetime of experience. Have meaningful conversations and ask for their advice on life and how to live it. This will bring unexpected information that can be of great value to you in the future.
4Travel and experience other cultures. Trying places or activities outside your comfort zone will challenge and sharpen your ideas. Different does not mean wrong, it just means different.
Visiting different countries exposes you to all new ways of thinking. It will help you to empathize with different people in different situations.
If you can't afford to travel, you can experience different cultures at home. Most cities have a variety of ethnic communities and restaurants that you can visit and learn about other cultures. Even watching foreign language films or reading about other cultures can go a long way to opening up your ideas.
5Think about your own behaviour. Are you truly treating others as you would like to be treated? Tell the truth to yourself and others, even when it is hard.
Recognize when you've done something right and be proud of it. This will have two benefits, you will see the positive effect it had on others and it will increase your belief and confidence that you are a person who does the right thing.
Recognize when you have done something wrong and learn from it. Reflect on what you did wrong, and work out how you can do better next time. This will help you get back on track.
If you have made a mistake or done something wrong, admit it. You will gain respect for being honest.
Method 3 of 3:Putting it into Practice
1Use your knowledge of right and wrong to move from thinking to doing! Whether it is based on emotion or reason or a desire to help those in need, your conscience will guide you to make the right choices before you act.
Trigger your conscience by asking: “How would I feel if someone did this to me? What would the people I respect think or do in this situation?”
2Work on your communication skills. Think about how you speak, stand, listen, and engage with your family, friends and co-workers. How could it be improved?
Just small differences in your communication style can make a big difference in how effectively you get along with others. Learn about how to practice respectful communication and practice non violent communication.
Show goodwill to everyone, even if they don't seem to deserve it at the time. Remember that you don't know the circumstance behind their bad behaviour. Choose to show kindness and respect to everyone. As Plato said: ”Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Make what you think, say and do agree. Using your conscience will make decisions and personal relationships easier and give you peace of mind.
3Practice techniques that put your conscience into action. At first you will have to think about it, but in time these will turn into habits.
You could decide to do a random act of kindness each day such as paying for the coffee of the person behind you.
You could decide that each day you will stop and tell someone how much you appreciate something they do.
4Set specific goals for using your conscience in daily activities. You might decide to make effort to really listen to others with full attention when they ask for it instead of waiting for your turn to talk or multi-tasking.
Use reminders to keep you on track such as the simple Buddhist mantra: “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action.”
You can read 18 practical tips on living the golden rule here:
5Live your values. If you believe that helping others less fortunate than you is the right thing to do, then get out there and do it.
Reach out and volunteer in your community on issues that your conscience feels strongly about, whether it is people, animals, or the environment. You could offer to be a mentor to children or a tutor to students, or simply donate food and clothing to people in need.
If you can't volunteer in the community, you can find many opportunities as a virtual volunteer.
6Stand up for your beliefs. Each time you do it will increase your belief and confidence that you are a person who can be relied on to do the right thing.
Trust your own beliefs and decisions of what is right. Do not let yourself be swayed by what others think, say or do.
Speak up when you see an injustice being done. Many people have a strong conscience but are afraid to act. Make sure you are a person who not only knows the right thing but does the right thing.