Those Without Conscience
Some among us are without conscience. That’s a fact hard to accept. Still, it’s a fact. What’s more sobering is to realize just how seriously impaired the consciences of some who actually have a conscience can be. No one, however, is more dangerous than the person with virtually no conscience. There’s nothing to hold such a person back when they’re tempted to do the unthinkable. And there’s nothing to propel them to act nobly, even when it would serve everyone’s better interest for them to do so.
Pioneering researchers in the areas of psychopathy and sociopathy couldn’t believe what they were discovering. Some folks, they realized, had no compunction whatsoever about callously using and abusing (and preying upon) others. They did the unthinkable with no regret or remorse. And they had no shame. This seemed so totally irrational to the researchers that they assumed such folks suffered from a type of insanity. In fact, one researcher coined the term psychopath as way of describing what he regarded as “moral insanity.”
The Conscience Impairment Spectrum
Fortunately, those among us totally without conscience are rare. But sadly, such folks are more common than they used to be. And that’s largely because a culture already steeped in narcissism actually affords them a degree of welcome. Moreover, because narcissism is so prevalent, its most malignant forms don’t stand out as much. We barely notice the predators among us. That is, until they do us in!
It’s worrisome enough that we have so many more psychopaths and sociopaths among us than we used to have. But it’s even more worrisome that so many folks these days, short of being psychopaths or sociopaths, have serious conscience impairments. That’s what lies at the heart of the more serious types of character dysfunction. And that’s also what causes so many problems in our relationships.
Vetting Character in a Character Disturbed Age
We’ve largely lost the art of properly vetting the character of potential relationship partners. Some of us don’t care enough about character matters to even bother. That’s always a recipe for disaster. And even those of us who do care often don’t know how to make proper character assessments.
Character disturbance is so common that it’s hard to spot the more troubling characters among us. And when you consider how unskilled many are about properly vetting character, it’s no wonder so many relationships end up toxic.
The Heart of the Danger
With folks without conscience, anything is possible. And therein lies the danger. Folks who lack a sound internal self-regulating mechanism are capable of the most unconscionable behavior, even when experiencing little duress. That’s why we should never, ever, afford such folks the reins of power. While such folks might indeed do some things that we like or appear to benefit us, it’s folly to think we’re in safe hands. And that’s perhaps the greatest peril we all face: not recognizing or appreciating the level of danger those lacking conscience inherently pose.
I talk about these matters on the latest Character Matters podcast.