Most vehicles nowadays come equipped with seat belts, as well as an alarm that sounds if you start driving without wearing the belt. A red sign flashes on the dashboard, signalling to the driver to wear the belt.
Drivers who do not want to wear the seat belt, for whatever reason, find the alarm irritating. They ignore it until the beeping stops. The alarm may be annoying, but it is meant to ensure the driver’s safety, and is triggered by the latter’s negligence. In many countries, use of seat belts is mandated by law. Yet those who find it inconvenient, uncomfortable, or otherwise undesirable, avoid wearing the seat belt whenever possible. They forget that the seat belt is there for their own good – they are not doing the traffic police or the government a favour by wearing it.
When we prefer to do as we like, ignoring rules and laws, the consequences can be unhappy. This holds true not only when driving on the roads, but in all areas of our life.
Our conscience warns us, like the alarm in the car, when we so much as contemplate doing something wrong. If we routinely ignore it, like the non-compliant drivers, we may be asking for trouble.
Feelings of guilt and regret and their negative impact on our emotional well-being are the least of the repercussions of ignoring the conscience – the inner voice or moral sense that guides us towards right behaviour and discourages wrongdoing.
When we start acting against ethical principles, we may behave in ways that harm our relationships with others. Trust is eroded and conflicts may arise in our personal and professional lives. We may end up socially isolated when others distance themselves from us because of our morally objectionable actions.
Repeatedly wrestling with the conscience also causes stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues, as we expend our time and energy continually worrying about whether what we are doing is really wrong or we are just being squeamish.
In extreme cases, acting against our conscience may result in legal consequences. But the bigger damage is the loss of integrity and self-identity. The conscience is closely tied to our personal integrity, and ignoring it can compromise our values, eroding our sense of self-respect. It also causes us to lose touch with our true self and our core values, leading to a sense of emptiness and alienation from our authentic identity.
To avoid such a fate, it is essential to engage in regular self-reflection and recognise what it is that really brings us lasting peace and contentment. When we do this with a commitment to ethical decision-making, we realise the benefit in living by the human soul’s core values of purity, peace, truth, and love. The more we do so, and experience the rewards thereof, the stronger our moral fibre becomes, and we are better able to navigate moral dilemmas. When we continue, with determination, to abide by our values, they are strengthened to such a degree that there are no moral quandaries – we will instinctively know the right thing to do in any situation.
B.K. Atam Prakash is a Rajyoga teacher at the Brahma Kumaris headquarters in Mount Abu, Rajasthan.