“I believe that every large institution, whether it’s company, a government or a university needs to have a conscience. The conscience won’t have the answer to every question, but the conscience is a voice that needs to be heard.” Brad Smith of Microsoft
Aristotle stated: “we are what we do.”
That said, Thomas Aquinas stated there are two obligations in forming conscience.
1. Must be objectively educated
2. Well informed.
Conscience needs to be the discerning factor in decision making, and yet it ,seemingly, is lacking in many institutions and people. Just watch the news or read a newspaper. From the marketplace to universities, from Wall Street to professional sports, where is conscience? Where is doing the right thing for the right reason? Could it be that the word “right” is too easily interpreted?
Is what’s right, the same as what’s legal? Is what’s right ,the same as what is ethical or moral?
Why is it that the concept of conscience is rarely referenced or emphasized?
Aquinas defined conscience as an act of determining that which I ought to do or not to do or that I was right or wrong in performing that action.
Aquinas presumes three key concepts are integral in his definition:
1. Analyzing in advance of what one ought to do. This can only happen if one knows and has internalized in advance what one’s values, morals and ethics are, or what I call one’s “line in the sand.”
2. Taking the time, energy and effort to seriously reflect and evaluate the consequences of one’s decision were worth it and if not what to do in the future to avoid the same mistake.
3. Nowhere is it implied that one should try to avoid paying the price for the decision.
What role does conscience play in discerning compliance issues? What role does conscience play in the courtroom, in corporations, education, etc.?
Does development of conscience come from family, community, society, religion, academics or??
If we can’t pinpoint where and when conscience develops, then, like it or not, it falls on business organization to do it’s best to facilitate the recognition, and necessity for conscience development, based on the organization’s values, mission, ethics.
Therefore, conscience development needs to be a foundational principle and activity of any ethics training initiative, leadership development training and building a corporate environment of trust.
The real issue is who or what organization will step up and take this ethical stance and challenge?