Before describing the deep conscience it is important to differentiate other types of conscience which persons develop as they advance through life.
Different types of conscience
The Socialized conscience
The concept of good and evil appears very early in life. Parents and teachers, as well as their surroundings, supply children with a foundation of moral values. From these, acts are judged as good or bad, permitted or forbidden, dangerous or safe. In a broad sense, children learn from these values to distinguish good from evil. The sum of these learned moral standards constitutes the person’s socialized conscience. This conscience is characterized by the fact that it represents an external reference to self, acquired and legitimized by the good of the person and society.
When these rules are taught intelligently by persons who follow them themselves; when they do not present constrains that are too cumbersome for the expression of the life of one’s being, their acquisition and integration within the child pose no problem. The child very quickly feels intuitively that such demands are well founded, especially if care has been taken to explain them, and the necessary delay is granted for apprenticeship in their application.
What often complicates the integration of these rules is their diversity, depending on group membership and surroundings. In the same family, the criteria that define good for one do not necessarily correspond to the criteria of another. Neither do the ethics of some business enterprises, or some scientific and political circles, always coincide with the social, religious or family morality. These divergences generate internal conflicts. They foster a phenomenon of personality division, accompanied by inconsistent behaviour, such as copycatting as circumstances dictate (going along with the crowds), or displaying a bland spirit of conventionality. Conversely, they can elicit counter-dependence and rebellion, leading to alienation.
On the other hand, rules that are consistent with the depth of self help people to relate to themselves and their environment. They contribute to the awakening of the deep conscience.
This moral heritage coming from others marks people for life and often conditions them. The socialized conscience pervades the “I” of the individual, even at the unconscious level, particularly if the social context is very prescriptive and moralizing.
Subjecting oneself to the demands of one’s socialized conscience offers the security of feeling that one is operating within the accepted rules or standards. One has “a clear conscience” as long as one’s idea of the expectations of others is met. Behind this search for security there is usually a fear of being unloved by someone or being excluded from a group. As a corollary, the transgression of laws dictated by the socialized conscience creates insecurity and/or a feeling of guilt which is psychology ally more or less stressful. This guilt can only be removed through reparation, sanction or a return to accepted or legal ways; or else by a de-alienation from the judgement of others and by reference to one’s own proper values, those which come from the being.
The socialized conscience is a characteristic of childhood. It is needed to compensate for the immaturity of children and to protect them and those around them from any harmful consequences coming from their unconscious. It predominates as long as persons have not acquired their own proper reference points from experience and their deep conscience is not yet awakened. Persons thus lack sufficient autonomy to decide for themselves. In that sense, a society cannot do without the interiorization of these ethical references on the part of its members. When they are consistent with the deep conscience of individuals, these moral laws guarantee good social functioning. Their transgression leads to social disorder that can be serious.
In adults, the socialized conscience can become an impediment to their growth. This happens whenever it keeps them in dependence toward others and therefore in a form of non-existence. Moreover, this submission to the law of others often engenders a lack of self-respect. The aspirations of one’s being are sacrificed to others; one can abdicate from common sense. One’s sensibility and body are tyrannized to bend to the demands of others.
The cerebral conscience
Just as persons begin to acquire this faculty of thinking and deciding for themselves, another form of conscience is awakened. This is the adolescent stage. They now have their own ideas, reflections, experiences, ambitions and needs. They have also interiorised and ratified many of the social standards laid upon them – and rejected others. They set their own rules of conduct and their own principles. These become the good to which they wish to conform. In this way the cerebral conscience of the subject is formed. It is often coloured by reactions of counter-dependence toward the moral rules of childhood. This reference to principles chosen for oneself is a necessary phase in the passage from the socialized conscience to the deep conscience. It is a step toward the exercise of a greater inner freedom.
At the level of this cerebral conscience, the ideal of the “I” can occupy a significant place. Demands are then too great for the real capacities of the individual. The resulting failures or shortcomings leave behind feelings of disappointment, humiliation and bitterness toward oneself. One is faced with a feeling of self-guilt.
The deep conscience
When two conditions have been met, the third type of conscience, the deep conscience, starts to awaken in the innermost depths of the child. First, the mental faculties have become sufficiently mature to recognize the messages emerging from that deep zone; secondly, the being is vigorous enough to manifest itself and reveal what is in line with its fulfilment and what is opposed to it.
The deep conscience is distinguished from other types of conscience in that it is not the result of an elaboration of one’s own “I”, or anybody else’s. It is not a “made up” law, but an internal law “received” and experienced as good for both oneself and others, and favourable to growth. The “I” is free to recognize or ignore this inner law, which is “a reflection of our identity”. It promotes an inner freedom and faithfulness to self, even when it derogates from the habits or rules of the surroundings. Other consciences have a tendency to stifle life, with principles to which one conforms often in a voluntaristic manner. “Docility to the deep conscience makes one venture onto unknown paths, where one always feels alone before oneself, even though others might be travelling the same route. It is the fundamental solitude of persons who, being unique, find themselves committed on a unique path, with a unique law: that which is inscribed in their being”.
Moreover, deviations vis-à-vis the deep conscience do not make the person feel guilty or condemned, as other types of conscience do. Such infidelities first of all incite a sense of responsibility, notably for wrongs done to others or to oneself. One regrets them, without however, falling into despair. The deep conscience provides the enlightenment needed to repair the consequences of these infidelities. It provides an awakening to greater clarity concerning one’s limitations and weaknesses. It prompts one to pursue life with more integrity and realism. It commits the person to a dynamic of openness and progress. The socialized and cerebral consciences, on the other hand, tend to wrap one in anguish and guilt when there is a lapse. They often invite rebounding and self-justification rather than self-adjustment.
All three types of conscience coexist in the person. Because there may be discrepancies of maturity in different areas, one of them predominates, depending on the moment or the area of life concerned. Some areas generate an infantile attitude of social conformity; others provide an invitation to refer to one’s cerebral conscience or to situate oneself in counter-dependence. Other areas, in which one is more unified and mature, call upon the level of the deep conscience. This coexistence is at the origin of intrapsychic conflicts and indecision. People seek instinctively to satisfy everyone around them, as well as all the pivotal centres of their own personality.
Persons wishing to follow their growth axis and know real freedom and inner unity need a long apprenticeship in referring to the deep conscience in all areas of their life. This apprenticeship is the object of a specific pedagogy in PRH education.
(Persons and their growth p.110-114)