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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Devil's Advocate

By Silvia Uribe

Is the conscience something inherent to human beings? We know that people of faith call it the "voice of God". Those less attached to traditions call it the "inner voice". Some think it is just a "hunch" that guides them. While others have given it not only a name, but also a number, and have called it sixth sense. A minority, however, debate that it just doesn't exist.

The other day I was talking to a man who belongs to this minority. He is sure that this voice is something made up to exert control over others. Not impossible to imagine, if we take into consideration the fact that we humans love to be in control. As another possible explanation, he theorizes not only that we don't have an inner voice, but also that we don't need it. That we could, and in fact are, guided only by our intellectual understanding of what's best for us, making the "mysterious voice", as he called it, a fake and rather egotistical and self-centered fabrication to promote our own well-being without the risk of being judged.

He told me he goes by his observations of the way people act, particularly in relation to other human beings. He says that when given the opportunity to do good, people usually ask, "what's in it for me?" and that's the one and only measure that really counts for them.

He went on to give me examples and explained to me that, in general, unless people are given a tax reduction, some sort of privilege, or political return for monetary contributions, they would not give money to any cause or person. "Think about it. When someone asks them for help in any way or form that's desperately needed, they stop to consider whether it is convenient for them to assist in relation to their own time and circumstances, as opposed to those of the person who needs the help. It is like that in every case, he assured me. People only want to quiet others' criticism or to buy others' admiration by pretending they follow their godly inner voice, but they do it for themselves. It is true that they still help, but their motivation is anything but "pure."

By this time the 60 plus year-old man had me more as an interviewer than as a contributor to our conversation:

"You might be right about material things, but what about qualities such as loyalty, and truthfulness?" I asked.

He looked at me somberly and said, "What about them? Do you really think that many people practice these today? People don't even know the meaning of those words anymore; much less they hear a voice inside them telling them to be loyal or truthful. They don't care about letting someone down or about lying if this will procure them a personal gain. There are more ruthless people in the world than we need, and you're talking about loyalty and truth? In which world do you live?"

Only questions came to mind and not many answers, "If this is a fabrication, who made it in the first place? And is your conclusion that humankind has no good seed, and by logic it is intrinsically bad?"

He answered: "Who said that? Why do you have to be so fatalistic?"

I was dumbfounded with his answer. Maybe I misunderstood everything he said, I thought to myself.

Looking at my surprised face, and smiling, he continued.

"People's nature is good, but unfortunately, most learn rather quickly in life the mistaken way of quieting their good instincts and replacing them with selfish ones. It takes great effort from someone to not let his or herself go that route, but it is not impossible. There are also many who do it, except they do it quietly, humbly, day in and day out and usually very few people know about it.

Usually, these are the ones who are busy doing what they need to do to help others, as opposed to watching what others do to criticize it, or even worse, to destroy it, as the selfish do. They are the most unlikely to be considered powerful, but their power comes from the positive energy they project. They are frequently the target of personal attacks due to the fact that their inner strength makes petty souls feel weak and fearful.

Unfortunately, these are not the majority. If there actually was an inner voice that would guide us, we could say that most have found a way to drown it out, to the detriment of humankind."

The man paused, looked at me in the eye and asked me, "If you think that there's an inner voice. Can you still hear yours?"

Cross-posted at

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

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