The still voice within us

‘Character,’ said Mahatma Gandhi, ‘is what you do when you are in the dark.’ It implies that what you are depends wholly on you and not on those that surround you or the circumstances in which you find yourself.

An old story puts this in even clearer perspective. A German tourist visited a temple that was still under construction. There he saw a sculptor giving finishing touches to an idol. Lying beside him was another, identical in every respect.

‘Are you going to instal both?’ asked the German.

‘No,’ replied the sculptor, ‘only the one I am working on now.’

The visitor examined the finished idol closely and failed to detect any fault.

‘What’s wrong with this one?’ he asked.

‘It has a scratch on its nose,’ replied the sculptor.

‘Where are you going to instal it?’

‘On a pillar 20 feet high.’

‘Then how does the scratch matter? No one will ever see it or come to know of it!’

The sculptor looked up, smiled and said, ‘You see, I will.’

We see clearly that in all matters, big and small, the ‘I’ plays a significant role. The question that now arises is, ‘Who is this ‘I’?

It is not the physical self, for even if one loses a limb or contracts a debilitating disease the ‘I’ remains. It is not the mind either, for we are conscious of a higher entity that can observe and assess the mind.

The wise and the knowledgeable know this as the voice of conscience. Regardless of religion, creed and community, it speaks to the one who cares to listen to it. It directs the inner self and enables the individual to distinguish right from wrong.

The inner voice can show us the right direction, but it is up to the individual to choose the right path. A person of sound character will uphold what is right and turn away from what is wrong.

He will do this even when he faces the possibility of suffering. Neither will the certainty of not being found out deter him. His integrity will help him withstand false reasoning and convenient compromise. Such an individual will shun cheating, whether in the classroom or outside it. He will not stoop to adulteration, short-changing and lying.

He will not exploit another, however great the gains may be. He will embrace truth and justice because that is what matters to him the most.

Conscience is a hard taskmaster but rewards us greatly as well. The dishonest and the corrupt gain only by ignoring its call. However, there is a price to be paid for this. 

The voice can only be suppressed and not silenced. It continues to exist and troubles the guilty. Moreover, the person’s ability to trust another is shattered, for he will now see others as he sees himself – untrustworthy. He has effectively forfeited his self-esteem. 

Conscience is about doing the right, simply because it is the right thing to do. To listen to Gandhi again, ‘The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within.’

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