November 11, 2022

Protect Your Conscience

One of my favorite scenes in Game of Thrones was when Jon Snow and Theon Greyjoy talked about doing and knowing what was right.

Theon said two things that stuck with me:

"You've always known what was right, even when we were all young and stupid. You always knew. Every step you take, it's always the right step."
"I've always wanted to do the right thing, be the right kind of person, but I never knew what that meant, it always seemed like there was an impossible choice I had to make, Stark or Greyjoy."

It was a heartbreaking scene. Could we blame Theon for not knowing what was right? Could we blame him even when his intention was to do the right thing?

That conversation also got me thinking: is it possible to always know what is right? We all face impossible decisions. How are we to know what is right in every instance?

We have an internal moral compass. We have a conscience. And I believe that we are inclined to do good. To be a good person. But as we grow up (and even when we've grown up), we sometimes need guidance. We need someone wiser to bring us clarity and objectivity.

And that's what Jon gave Theon in that conversation.

Jon gave two answers:

  1. That he, Theon, was a Greyjoy and a Stark.
  2. That they were raised by the same honorable man, Ned Stark. And what he taught Jon must also reside in Theon's heart.

It's comforting to know that after that conversation, Theon finally made the right choices and fought for the right things.

How do we become better at being a good person?

Aside from guidance from others (which is something external and can't be guaranteed), we can also help ourselves.

First, we must acknowledge that we have an internal moral compass. That we know what is right, deep within us. All we need to do is listen.

Second, we must always choose what is right.

The moment we do something that we don't believe is right, it dulls the fangs of conscience. The first bad act is going to be painful. The guilt will be heavy, keeping us awake at night. We won't be able to stay put. We just know how wrong it was. We can feel the fangs in our hearts.

The next time we do something that isn't right, it's still going to be difficult, but not as much. And with every bad act that we choose to do, the guilt lessens.

Until what is wrong becomes normal. When lies become easy. When stealing might feel necessary. When gossip and speaking ill of other people become enjoyable. When inflicting pain on others feels justified.

Our moral compass will no longer knows where north is. We might genuinely believe that what we're doing wrong is right. That's exactly what happened to Daenerys, isn't it?

But when we consistently choose good, our conscience remains whole. Our moral compass points to the right direction. We know what is right. Maybe not always, but enough times to be that good person.

Our conscience should be something we actively protect. It's our primary defense against wrong decisions.

And even if we have neglected it in the past, even if we make mistakes in the future, we can still mend it with every right thing we choose to do.