by Lillian Csernica on September 23, 2013
It’s taken me longer to get to this post than I had intended because I discovered I had to more research into the concept of the social conscience. I was trained to start any debatable subject with a definition of terms, so let’s look at a few:
1) “a knowledge or understanding of what is morally right in a society” from the MacMillan Dictionary.
2) “an attitude of sensitivity toward and sense of responsibility regarding injustice and problems in society” from Dictionary.com
3) “a sense of responsibility or concern for the problems and injustices of society” from Oxford Dictionaries
There appears to be general agreement about the precise nature of what the social conscience is. How does one exercise one’s social conscience?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — ““Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
Stephanie Coontz, U.S. social historian — “… what’s been building since the 1980’s is a new kind of social Darwinism that blames poverty and crime and the crisis of our youth on a breakdown of the family. That’s what will last after this flurry on family values.”
George Orwell — “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
Katharine Hepburn — “We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”
Stephen Covey — “Every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… The power to choose, to respond, to change.”
Abigail Adams — “How difficult the task to quench the fire and the pride of private ambition, and to sacrifice ourselves and all our hopes and expectations to the public weal! How few have souls capable of so noble an undertaking! How often are the laurels worn by those who have had no share in earning them! But there is a future recompense of reward, to which the upright man looks, and which he will most assuredly obtain, provided he perseveres unto the end.”
Looks to me like my research boils down to two points:
The social conscience is the awareness of the needs of others and the ability to recognize when those needs are not being met.
A healthy, active, responsible social conscience compels us to take action, to work for change, to improve the conditions of those members of society who are in need.
So how do we as artists, creators, and (in my case) writers satisfy the awareness conveyed to us by our social conscience? How do we take action to improve society?
Here’s my brainstorm. We can go for big changes, we can go for little changes, we can go for whatever action we’re able to take. When somebody needs our help, when those who have no voice need someone to speak for them, that’s when those of us who work with words can step up and take action.
Volunteer at your local library.
Teach a free class to school age kids on the power of keeping a journal or writing a short story.
Write Op-Ed pieces on the issues that matter to you, that affect your family, your neighborhood, your city, etc. Take it on at whatever level you can handle, and then grow your efforts from there.
Write for those special niche markets where your personal experience will be invaluable. Mine is a special needs family, so I can speak to issue that affect parents and caregivers and school authorities and service agencies and of course the special needs people themselves.
When we write our stories and our novels, this is the time to write what we know. By that I mean the needs we have recognized in society that are not being met. I know the city of Santa Cruz has the brass-balled gall to charge for parking in handicapped parking spaces in the concrete parking structure down near Pacific Avenue. We have the license plates for the handicapped on our van. My mother has a handicapped placard. Most of Michael’s classmates have either the plates or the placard.
If we can do nothing else, we can get the word out. We who write can send our messages alerting people to the needs we see. We can point the finger at the people who should be taking action, by virtue of their paychecks and/or duly elected offices. We can make these needs known in as many languages as possible, so people know we see them and hear them and recognize their needs or protest their failures to get help to the needy. SPEAK UP, PEOPLE! If you’ve been given the talent and the skill to use your words with power, then do it! Create your beautiful and complex worlds, write your dramatic and poignant stories, blow people’s minds with your visions of how the world is and how it could be.
Edmund Burke said it best: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
So what’s it going to be, people? Are we going to get out there and do whatever we can do, or are we going to let our social conscience atrophy for lack of use?