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Spirituality

Conscientiousness: A True Measure of Character

David Langness | Nov 16, 2015

PART 8 IN SERIES The Sacred Sanctity of the Human Conscience

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Nov 16, 2015

PART 8 IN SERIES The Sacred Sanctity of the Human Conscience

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Conscience is God’s presence in man. – Swedenborg

There is no witness so terrible and no accuser so powerful as conscience which dwells within us. – Sophocles

Conscience is the voice of the soul; the passions are the voice of the body. – Rousseau

Two things fill me with constantly increasing admiration and awe, the longer and more earnestly I reflect on them: the starry heavens without and the moral law within. – Kant

Have you ever heard of the Big Five? If you’re involved in the field of psychology, you probably have. If not, let me explain: so far, the Big Five represent psychology’s best attempt to understand and categorize the differences in human personality. The Big Five personality traits empirically describe and evaluate human personality in five expansive “domains,” which gives psychologists some ability to compare and quantify various kinds of individual personalities.

Over the past hundred and fifty years, psychological researchers and theorists have consistently come to a broad consensus that we can measure and analyze personality through asking people a series of questions about their own character traits and types. In the process of their research, they’ve slowly reduced the overall number of areas from an initial list of hundreds, down to five major categories of character traits. The five-factor model, much of psychology has concluded, accurately measures and evaluates human personality traits regardless of age or culture.

You can remember the five factors in the Big Five with a simple acronym, OCEAN: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Each of these major categories has a subset of primary factors: Conscientiousness, for example, includes integrity, trustworthiness, a long-term drive for achievement, self-discipline and impulse control. If you’re consistently conscientious, you typically have and try to follow a set of higher moral laws. Hardworking and reliable, conscientious people tend to efficiently plan their activities and their lives, act toward others in a considerate, self-disciplined and dutiful way, and try to create order and organization in their environments. People who aren’t conscientious do the opposite—but of course we all fit somewhere along a spectrum in that dimension.

Once you learn more about the Big Five, you’ll likely see it as a great tool for knowing yourself, figuring out the true personalities of others, and evaluating potential co-workers, business partners and even spouses. It can illuminate the mysteries of character and help you decide which kind of person you want to be, and what kind of people you want to be around.

In the distant past, conscientiousness often equaled character. We know now that character has many aspects beyond simply being conscientious, but we also know that just about everyone with good character traits also has an active conscience. Usually, you can spot those people by their actions. If they’re consistently engaged in service to humanity in some way, chances are they would probably score high on the Big Five’s conscientiousness scale.

For Baha’is, the virtuous attribute of conscientiousness represents one of the most powerful inner forces human beings can strive to develop. The Baha’i teachings say that human morals now need re-adjusting, so the world can recognize and act on its inherent unity and oneness:

It is now the time in the history of the world for us to strive and give an impetus to the advancement and development of inner forces — that is to say, we must arise to service in the world of morality, for human morals are in need of readjustment. We must also render service to the world of intellectuality in order that the minds of men may increase in power and become keener in perception, assisting the intellect of man to attain its supremacy so that the ideal virtues may appear. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 325-326.

God has bestowed upon man a certain bounty — the mind or intellect — whereby he becomes the most distinguished of creatures. This bestowal is not given to the animal. The ideal happiness of man, if he be spiritually confirmed, consists in the acquisition of knowledge, in the love of God, in the knowledge of God, in the attractions of the conscience, and in service to the world of humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, speaking in Sacramento, California on October 25, 1912, as recorded by Ella Cooper.

When we find and develop the “attractions of conscience,” when we grow morally and ethically, when each human being finds and develops a conscientious altruism and love for others, the world will advance toward its peaceful and unified destiny:

Two calls to success and prosperity are being raised from the heights of the happiness of mankind, awakening the slumbering, granting sight to the blind, causing the heedless to become mindful, bestowing hearing upon the deaf, unloosing the tongue of the mute and resuscitating the dead.

The one is the call of civilization, of the progress of the material world. This pertaineth to the world of phenomena, promoteth the principles of material achievement, and is the trainer for the physical accomplishments of mankind. It compriseth the laws, regulations, arts and sciences through which the world of humanity hath developed; laws and regulations which are the outcome of lofty ideals and the result of sound minds, and which have stepped forth into the arena of existence through the efforts of the wise and cultured in past and subsequent ages. The propagator and executive power of this call is just government.

The other is the soul-stirring call of God, Whose spiritual teachings are safeguards of the everlasting glory, the eternal happiness and illumination of the world of humanity, and cause attributes of mercy to be revealed in the human world and the life beyond.

This second call is founded upon the instructions and exhortations of the Lord and the admonitions and altruistic emotions belonging to the realm of morality which, like unto a brilliant light, brighten and illumine the lamp of the realities of mankind. Its penetrative power is the Word of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 283.

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