“Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.”
Last year I finally bought myself a Prius. I knew I would be driving a lot this year (already gone over 10,000 miles) so I was motivated to conserve. I chose a color that makes me smile. They call it ‘habanero’ (my family prefer the more culturally appropriate Scotch bonnet!) but most would call it orange. I don’t get lost in large parking lots anymore! I soon realized that I would not be able to travel anonymously! In a city where you think you can disappear in a crowd, I could easily be recognized. Would that change my driving behavior? To paraphrase an old song, it’s not who you see, it’s who sees you!
Brought up in the church, I was aware from an early age that I was never alone. Up above in the heavens there were the eyes of angels, dead relatives and many more who were watching me. I am not sure if this was meant to comfort me, but it made me feel spied upon! I suppose I thought they would snitch on me if I did something wrong. At some point a sense of conscience develops; that inner compass that helps you to know right from wrong. As a young adult I saw that inner voice as God within, that reminder that everything you do matters and can have an impact on others.
In the midst of this week of many painful reminders of man’s brutality to man, and man’s loneliness in the midst of fame, I heard a great suggestion from a newsman. The horror which is being perpetuated in Ferguson, Missouri (a town with a population that is 67% African American, and a police force with only 3 out of 53 representing that race) might have been avoided if all the police officers wore cameras (I think GoPro is one such model). How does your behavior change when you know your actions can be reviewed and analyzed? We have reached the point as a society when the message we receive is just this: Don’t get caught. So long as no one knows what you have done, you’re in the clear. The knowledge that you are being watched and will have to face the consequences of your actions may be enough to make you think twice. In England, the ubiquitous closed circuit TVs carry hours of evidence and eyewitness testimony. If you think no one is watching you, think again.
But there is more interesting news coming out of Ferguson. A change in leadership brought a change in behavior. When you treat people like criminals, you incite criminality. When you face people dressed in riot gear and military power, you provoke a violent response. When we place labels on people we instantly dehumanize them, and in that moment we lose our own humanity. Once I see you as a person, I have to treat you the way I would want to be treated. I have to recognize that the same light that shines in me shines in you. But the root of the disparity and mistreatment still needs to be treated.
There are many ways in which we assign a label to a person and thus feel as if we know everything about them. I have seen many comments on facebook (both good and bad) regarding the affliction of mental illness. So many people avoid discussing their challenges to avoid being labeled ‘bipolar’ or ‘depressive’. We are people with particular conditions, we are not the disease. Nurses have to be constantly aware of labeling patients by their diagnosis instead of their name. Perhaps it is a protective mechanism to prevent us from taking home the personal suffering of others. But when we depersonalize anyone we lose a little piece of our own humanness, we erect a barrier that prevents a true connection.
It is time for us to reactivate our conscience, to ensure that we do the right thing even when no one is looking, at least no one living! Starting where we live, we can develop a community conscience, a state conscience, a national conscience to act in a way that we can be proud of.
Spike Lee’s movie ‘Do the Right Thing’ was both historic and prophetic, a look at what happens when things get heated and we forget that despite different outward appearances we are all members of one human race. When mob rule takes over, a dangerous chemical reaction is generated, and everything in its path is destroyed. Somewhere in the midst of that there is a still small voice calling for reason, calling for rationality. But we have to pay heed.
So when you see me fly by in my ‘Habanero’ Prius, blow your horn at me! Remind me to watch my speed! Dance as if no one is looking, but act as if your mother can see what you are doing, and make her proud of you.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!
Namaste. (The light that dwells within me recognizes that light that is in you).