Every speaking assignment I accept enables me to research to update my knowledge on the subject and also enthuses me to share my learning.
One recent speaking engagement which will stay with me is the one at Modern School, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi. It was on the subject of 'Leadership with a Conscience'. It appeared easy and I thought I could keep it for the evening to reflect on it. But it proved to the contrary. Here is how it raised more questions than giving me the answers!
I started my search to understand the possible meaning of the word 'conscience'. As I researched, it went much beyond my own vocabulary. It meant so much more than 'inner voice'. It meant, 'sense of right and wrong', 'inward monitor', 'inner arbiter', 'moral censor',' ethical self', 'small voice within', 'guardian of good angel', 'social conscience' and 'clear or clean conscience'.
This was a challenging moment for me. It set me thinking how does one get the understanding of what conscience is. When does this awaken? Who gives it clarity? From where does one learn? And how?
Since it was late in the night, I decided to sleep over the questions and hoped that when I got up fresh in the morning, I will have the answers well in time before I left to address the students.
But when I got up, I found I had additional questions, even though these were taking me towards possible answers.
I was now searching how we learn every subject in school. Don't we begin from kindergarten and gradually move up, class by class, each year? Our subject books change according to our age of learning and grasp and the syllabus is set by educationists and child psychologists. We have languages, social studies, science, mathematics, general knowledge and much more.
Whole new subject
I asked students while addressing them if they also had a subject called Conscience? They were taken aback. I asked, if yes, is it according to your age? If not, then when and how do we learn and understand a whole subject of Conscience which cuts across all subjects? I continued to probe, don't we grow up with various subjects at elementary levels? Then, why not 'Conscience' as a subject? One which pervades and oversees the application of all that we do? Must we learn the difference between right and wrong only after having made many mistakes and now seeking peace, harmony, and happiness?
Are personal mistakes preventable? Can understanding of conscience not come early in school? Can a subject on conscience progress, as all other subjects do, year after year? Would this not get internalised very early in our psyche, I wondered.
The fact that this has not been paid attention to at the right time all along is why we have the subject of the youth leader's conclave as 'leadership with conscience', not 'leadership with science' or mathematics, history or geography etc, because the latter subjects have been taught all along.
Understanding the critical role conscience plays is not learnt as an integral part of our education. And unless this is done, we will learn about conscience either out of frustration or search for wisdom. That too late in life with several regrets on why were these not understood early. Quite possible some may just keep that small inner voice suppressed because it's uncomfortable to listen.
So I posited, what do we do hereafter? I offered a proposal to the school to identify, class-wise, ethical challenges which children face day to day. We list them out and plan well-thought-through responses for teachers and parents. We can identify all scenarios and offer options for responses and counselling with sensitivity. This way we will address issues as per the age and need of the child. For instance, the need of primary classes may be children stealing pencils and rubbers, or copying homework, or hiding a bit of money for a chocolate or so. Or hurting each other, or telling small lies. The conscience course is to be for all 12 classes of school and can go beyond too. This way, teachers, parents and students themselves could deal with such tendencies early on and not wait for these to become unacceptable habits. And then become part of character.
I offered that my foundation, Navjyoti, would work similarly with children from deprived sections of society, urban and rural, while the Modern School could identify ethical issues from the privileged sections. Once done, we could come up with a common publication as an all-class school syllabi on 'course in conscience'.
It was very evident why we as a country are bereft of conscience-based leadership. Because it's not taught as part of our upbringing.
Once this is made an essential part of education, the coming generations will have conclaves of 'Celebration of Conscience-based Leadership', not Without!