On Awareness, Consciousness, and Conscience
I have been thinking about the differences that separate awareness, consciousness and conscience from one another. And what connects them as well.
To understand the differences, it might have repercussions for management training and development, which is at the center of my professional life.
One way to explain the differences is by focusing on where in the body each occurs.
Awareness is derived from our senses: our nose makes us aware something smells bad, our skin that it is cold or too hot, our ears that a noise is too loud or too soft.
However, awareness does not necessarily lead to action. Awareness means that you perceive that something has changed. That is all. It is all about getting data from our senses and perceptions.
Consciousness is different. It is linked to the brain. You process the data provided by awareness and think (process that data in your brain) as to that data means: Should I stop eating because the food smells bad? Should I wear a sweater because it is too cold?
By moving from awareness to consciousness we move from data to information.
Data are perceived facts; Information is having knowledge about what those facts might cause to happen, we extrapolate the repercussions of the data we got; We organize the data into patterns in order to make a decision.
Conscience is something else. It is not processed by the brain. It comes from the heart where the soul resides. It provides information by comparing some absolute value and what that value directs us to do with the information we have on hand and its meaning.
Awareness is to notice a change in a condition.
Consciousness is to know the repercussions of the data we are aware of.
Conscience is to understand the meaning, the values, of what we are conscious of.
A person can be aware and not be conscious. Take children who are aware they are cold, but do not know they will catch a cold if they fail to wear a sweater.
A person can be conscious of his actions but have no conscience. Like a corporate manager who is conscious his organization is polluting the air or water but his conscience does not bother him even though he or she may realize that men, women and children will become sick.
It appears to me that awareness is a precondition for consciousness and consciousness is a precondition for conscience; you can not be conscious unless you are aware and you can not have a bad conscience unless you are conscious of the meaning of your acts.
I believe all three elements are embedded in us when we are born, but develop in a sequence. Awareness comes first. Then as we grow older we learn to process our perceptions. It is experience that helps us understand the repercussions and formulate our responses. That is how consciousness develops.
In the same way awareness is the first (development) step in business. It starts with training in profit and loss statements; with gathering data about turnover of inventory and accounts receivables. It is an awareness (often in outline form) of how the business works.
To act on that data and become conscious, business leaders require experience. Managers and executives obtain it over time and with the assistance of knowledgeable people. With experience they develop consciousness. But not necessarily conscience.
How does conscience develop and when?
How can we develop conscience in decision-makers so they do not pollute the environment? Not because they will be punished by law, but because their heart forbids it? The same applies to actions that lead to extinction of certain animals and certain flora.
We need to activate the heart if we want conscience to guide our behavior.
The problem with our management education is that we train our future managers and leaders to be aware. For example, to understand the intricacies of financial analysis and market research.
We also train them to be conscious: What the information means to the health of the organization and what will happen if they act one way or another. We work on their brain and how it processes information. Good. But what about conscience?
We do not develop or nurture conscience. We do not nurture the heart. We do not allow the soul to speak.
The heart is a “muscle”. The more you use it the more of it you have. And the more you listen to it, the better you hear it.
What we do, may I suggest, is just the opposite. All those computer games that count how many people a player killed, and all those TV programs that casually broadcast murders, destroy our conscience. Dampen it. Weaken it.
I have a suggestion. Build into the educational training process visits to a hospital where people suffer from lung cancer; trips to areas where animal life is disappearing ; tours of ghetto housing complexes. In this way our future business leaders may come to understand in their hearts how their decisions impact the world we live in. Let them see and feel rather than only think and read financial reports.
Danica Purg, the Dean of IDEC, an Executive Development School in Slovenia, took corporate leaders who were in her executive program to Bosnia, to visit children who were orphaned by the war. It made the executives weep.
I applaud her. We need to activate the heart in our leaders if we want them making better decisions. Not only enrich their mind. Nurture their heart too. Nurture conscience first and above everything else. It can not be done by reading books or discussing cases in the classroom. It needs to be experienced.
As corporations are becoming bigger and bigger, more and more powerful, think about it, how dangerous is it for our society if their leaders lack conscience?
Society can not control everything by law. The world will become oppressive. We need leaders who are guided by their heart and not only by the fear of government penalties.
I had a client in Brazil. In heavy industry. His company was offered to build heavy armaments. He refused although it was very profitable to do so.
I know of MBA students who will not work for a cigarette company. At any price.
And we at Adizes Institute will not consult and thus help companies that knowingly destroy our planet.
Let the heart speak. Let the soul be heard.
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes