people, past and present, have acted on their conscience,
followed their hearts, or taken a stand for something
they believe in. How may can you think of? How many
of these people do you know personally? Have you ever
done such a thing? Would you? What would it take?
Nelson Mandela. He was imprisoned for 27 years for
acting on his conscience. In his 1964 trial - the
so-called Revonia Trial - he addressed the Court saying:
have fought against white domination, and I have fought
against black domination. I have cherished the ideal
of a democratic and free society in which all persons
live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.
It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve.
But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared
are easy to live by when you don't have to give up
anything. What would cause you to make a similar statement?
democratic societies we accommodate those who many
consider eccentric, non-conformist or even bizarre.
How much room is there for this type of behaviour?
How far is too far in being non-conformist? At what
point should society say that a particular action
(or inaction) is unacceptable, even if the individual
involved is acting on their conscience? Consider
Mohammed Ali. He won the Heavyweight Championship
of the World in Boxing.
he was selected to enter the draft for the United States
Army (which was embroiled in a war in Vietnam), he refused
to allow his name to be submitted. He was stripped of
his title and banned from boxing before being sentenced
to five years in jail (which he did not serve). He argued
that was that the Vietcong were not his enemy and that
his conscience (informed by his Islamic religion) would
not allow him to kill.
Thomas More was Lord Chancellor of England in the 1500's.
As a devout Catholic his conscience prevented him from
swearing allegiance to Henry VIII as the new head of
the Church of England, and Henry's new wife as Queen.
Rather than denounce the marriage and reformation of
the Church, he said nothing at all. His silence kept
him alive for a while, but eventually cost him his head.
International is an international organization dedicated
to the release of "prisoners of conscience"
- people held in jail for acting (or not) on their beliefs.
They may be writers, students, politicians or anyone
who expresses an opinion that differs from those in
are often put in jail without a fair trial, and in some
countries may be executed. AI has letter campaigns (where
you write letters to government officials who are holding
prisoners of conscience) in which anyone can participate.
To find out more visit http://www.amnesty.org
one's conscience can mean an act of consent or dissent.
Certainly More and Ali were dissenters as well as figures
who followed their conscience. Check out the discussion
of consent and dissent.
can be loyal to ideas as well as to people. Again,
Sit Thomas was loyal to his conscientiously-held beliefs
even when it meant his death. Being loyal, remaining
true, being unwaveringly committed to something (
a person, in idea or cause) can be an act of conscience.
Check out the discussion of the concept of Loyalty.
to the concept of loyalty is the concept of Responsibility.
We may feel a responsibility, or obligation or sense
of duty to act in a certain way. But where does this
sense of duty come from? What informs our obligations
and why are we committed to them. At its most basic,
responsibility is conscience-in-action. What obligations
do each of us have that we cannot ever pass on? What
duties are so fundamentally important that we cannot
ignore? Check out the discussion of the concept of responsibility.
Why We Can't Wait Martin Luther King, Jr
Nineteen-Eighty-Four George Orwell
A Man For All Seasons (Also a movie)
How art and music can be an expression of conscience
The death of Socrates
The life of Sir Thomas More
The Revonia Trial of Nelson Mandela