“There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.”
This French proverb was a favorite of Coach Wooden’s because it relates to a character trait he thought was essential: integrity.
In his book Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life with Jay Carty, Coach put it this way: Integrity in its simplest form is purity of intention. It’s keeping a clean conscience.
The importance and benefits of a clear conscience have been described many ways. Here are a few of my favorites:
- “A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” –Mark Twain
- “Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.” –George Bernard Shaw
- “You can out-distance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.” –Rwandan Proverb
- “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” –Abraham Lincoln
Conscience has been defined as an aptitude, faculty, intuition or judgment that assists in distinguishing right from wrong.
In his book The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership with Steve Jamison, Coach responds to the most fundamental question related to conscience: What is right? That’s the real question.
A robber may believe it is right to rob; a politician may believe it is right to accept favors for influence; a man may believe the end justifies the means; all tyrants believe they are right. What is right? This question is one you must ask and answer.
To what should you be true?
These questions go to the heart of who you are as a person, to your character and integrity, to how you treat people. What is right? What is your answer?
Let me pass along Dad’s rule for behaving in an ethical manner—doing what is right. It is simple, to the point and free of hyperbole.
For me, it has been the touchstone I return to whenever I seek to answer any question involving integrity, ethics or character.
Here is Dad’s simple guide for knowing what is right: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
George Bernard Shaw tells a great story that is a helpful guide on how to stay on the right path:
A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.
When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied: The one I feed the most.
Photo by Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko / Shutterstock