I’m coming to believe the adage "let your conscience be your guide" is a most dangerous moral instruction. It’s clear from all the killing, cruelty and greed in our world that we humans are having real trouble doing the right thing. If the number of wars is any indication, neither do we seem to learn from our mistakes. Our consciences are guiding us alright -- right off a cliff!

When I make a mistake, my conscience sends me some pain, usually in some form of guilt, so I can correct my course. This design looks good on paper, but it doesn’t seem to be working all that well. My ego uses three well-worn tools to allow me to slither off the guilty hook: minimizing, rationalizing and justifying.

My ego presents compelling arguments why, for example, it’s all right for me to cheat on my income tax. It minimizes the consequences of my behavior by telling me "it’s only a few thousand dollars, compared to the national debt, it’s only a drop in the bucket." It rationalizes my actions by drawing comparisons with others "everybody cheats Jeff, don’t be a fool." Finally it searches its extensive Rolodex for the most plausible way to justify my dishonesty "why should you send money to support a war you don’t believe in?" The weaker I am spiritually, the harder it is for me to resist these false arguments.

Before I was graced with a moment of clarity that led me to Alcoholics Anonymous, I was a liar, a cheat and a thief. I roared through the lives of others like that tornado Bill W. describes in the book. I did what I wanted when I wanted for as long as I wanted, totally oblivious to the damage I was doing. I turned denial into an art form. If my conscience did manage to get my attention with pangs of guilt, I would pick up a drink or a drug and the guilt would melt away like nothing ever happened. Little did I know all that guilt accumulated in the center of my being, in fact I drank against this guilt for thirty years.

My conscience has become more reliable, more sensitive, the longer I stay on the path to recovery. I can no longer get away with much of the dishonesty that was common place while I was still drinking. My memory has improved too. I couldn’t come up with too many specific harms during my first trip through the steps, but in each successive fourth step I’ve remembered things my mind had conveniently slipped under the carpet in an effort to avoid the truth about myself.

There are no free rides through life. Sooner or later I must pay for everything I did. That's the law. Instead of sleepwalking though life, it’s better to try and be aware of how my thoughts, words and deeds affect others on the planet. Then when I screw up I can make amends as best I can. It is the only chance I have to be free.