Perspectives: Conscience shouldn’t be a stranger

OPINION – If you’ve not yet discovered TED talks, you’re likely missing out on one of the true marvels of the Information Age.

TED is an acronym for Technology, Education, and Design. Its speaking conferences are held around the world under the banner of “ideas worth spreading” and many of the talks are posted online. A word of warning: watching TED talks can be habit-forming.

Some of the ideas shared are controversial, others are enlightening. Recently a friend who is a surgeon, posted a fascinating talk by Matthew O’Reilly titled “Am I dying? The honest answer.”

As an emergency medical technician from Long Island, New York, O’Reilly has encountered many people in the final moments of their lives. He relates the dilemma faced by first responders when a patient asks the question, “Am I going to die?”

Initially, O’Reilly simply lied to them out of fear that an honest appraisal of their fate would spark terror or panic. But over time, he found that when a dying patient was told that nothing more could be done for them, something remarkable occurred.

In the vast majority of cases where a patient was informed that they were dying, they experienced a sense of inner peace and acceptance of their fate. In addition, O’Reilly discovered that there were three distinct patterns that emerged each time a dying patient learned the truth.

The first pattern was a need for forgiveness. The cultural and religious background of the patient was irrelevant. The dying patient would often express regrets or guilt over things they wish they’d done differently. A common regret is that they didn’t spend more time with family.

The second pattern O’Reilly observed was a need for remembrance. The patient would seek some reassurance that they would live on, if only in memory, in the minds and hearts of others. Often, the dying person would ask the emergency medical personnel working on them if they would remember them.

The final pattern was the one that touched O’Reilly most deeply. It was the need for the dying person to know that their life had meaning; that somehow they had left their mark on the world. They wanted to know that they had not wasted their life in meaningless pursuits.

In the end, O’Reilly concluded that the things that bring real peace to the dying in the final moments of their lives were the littlest things they’d brought into the world.

His TED talk reminded me of some of the insights of Leonard E. Read’s classic essay “Conscience on the Battlefield.”

First published in 1951, Read’s essay consists of an imagined dialogue between himself as a young soldier and his conscience as he is dying on a battlefield near the 38th Parallel.

His conscience introduces itself as a part of the young man that includes his integrity, his intelligence, his humility, and his reason to the degree that they are in harmony with Ultimate Wisdom.

The soldier expresses surprise that his conscience would wait until the end of his life to appear to him. In reply, his conscience reminds him that it has always been a part of his life that he has chosen to keep hidden away in the background since his childhood.

His conscience reminds him that he placed a higher value on the approval and applause of men, fortune, fame, and power. In the end, all of these companions have deserted him. Only his conscience remains to accompany him into eternity.

The young man’s conscience reminds him that he could have sought its services sooner; it was simply waiting to be called upon:

It was your task to join with me in order that together we might search for Truth—-the vital element in your earthly purpose of Self-realization.

Read’s essay combined with O’Reilly’s talk make a strong case for the power of utilizing conscience as we’re living our lives rather than waiting until our final moments to finally become acquainted.

We currently live in a culture where conscience has been crowded out by any number of distractions and justifications. We’re encouraged, like dogs, to scratch whatever itch we have at the moment.

For this reason, conscience has become extremely unwelcome in popular culture, and in government. There is no appetite, however perverse or extravagant, that we’re not encouraged to indulge. Increasingly, justice is growing to serve the interests of those in power rather than the people.

These trends flourish at times when individual conscience is no longer in fashion.

The problems associated with these excesses could be nipped in the bud if enough people in these respective spheres were to stop seeking sanctuary in whatever the crowd is doing.

It’s as individuals that we can best apply the power of conscience.

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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • The Rest Of The Story October 6, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    “The second pattern O’Reilly observed was a need for remembrance. The patient would seek some reassurance that they would live on, if only in memory, in the minds and hearts of others.”

    The byproduct of the human species’ evolution into sentience has been the ego. The need for self-preservation in the form of immortality is one of the drivers of belief in religious superstition, even though there is absolutely zero evidence to support the claims.

  • Bobber October 7, 2014 at 1:04 am


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