Through a Jungian Lens

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Conscience as a Psychological Rather Than Sociological Function

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Only unconscious and wholly uncritical people can imagine it possible to abide in a permanent state of moral goodness.  But because most people are devoid of self-criticism, permanent self-deceptions is the rule.  (Jung, CW 10, par 843; cited in Sharp, Jung Uncorked:  Book Two, p. 27

Today’s photo is one of the species of lizards that I have photographed so far in Costa Rica.  This one reminds me of a miniature dragon with a hint of dinosaur ancestors.  One almost gets the feeling of a life form that has no sense of having a conscience.  In a way, it provides a glimpse of what it might be like to have Borderline Personality Disorder, a state where there is no sense of right or wrong, just doing what one wants/needs to do with no thought of others, no sense of compassion or responsibility.  Yes, cold-blooded like this reptile.  For those who might be interested, this is a Common Basilisk.  Another name for this lizard is the Jesus Christ Lizard because of its ability to run across the surface of water.  This is a rather common lizard in Playa Jacó.

I have to admit that I do hear a voice in my head that lets me know its opinion, especially if it is opposite to what my ego is thinking/planning/doing.  My conscience is often a pain in the ass making me feel guilty even though I haven’t done anything wrong.  Talk about doing things wrong, where is my conscience then?  It would be better if my conscience was actually looking out for me and thus save me being embarrassed or providing me with a heads up so that I wouldn’t get into trouble with others and with community.  It has taken some time, but I finally get it that my conscience isn’t a voice from outside like some good Christian angel who works hard at trying to lead me to a life that would finally lead me to heaven.

What I needed to learn that conscience in Jungian terms is a personal psychic function base on ethics or “ethos.”  Conscience isn’t about what society, what community has to say about morality.  Springing from within, conscience is in the service of self.  The voice of conscience lets us know “this way do not go.”  To go against this inner voice is to lose more than could ever be gained, lose in a personal sense.  So what if in following one’s conscience, one’s inner truth, one’s inner voice, one loses a job, a mate, a friend, or even life?  Is the price of keeping all and perhaps becoming richer than needed, more powerful than others, is the price of one’s soul recompense enough?  I found it interesting that one hears the same message in the bible, a quotation of the words of Jesus (King James Bible, Mark 8-36, 37)

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Perhaps, listening to the inner voice, choosing to act, be, do according to that voice in spite of the pressures of the world around us is akin to the lizard above where we walk on water, walk on the foundation of the inner truths which are linked to a larger universal truth, something outside the control and definition of human.

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Written by Robert G. Longpré

February 6, 2010 at 6:12 am

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