Your Conscience Is Watching
February 16, 2021
A few years back, after a weekend road trip to Singapore, I was driving back to Kuala Lumpur with my family. Unfortunately, we got caught in the rush of the peak traffic returning to Malaysia. Slow-moving traffic engulfed us about a kilometer before the Singapore Border crossing station.
I wanted to fill my tank, so I exited the traffic taking a service road, and got into a Petrol station on the side of a slip road. After getting my car fuelled, I could not get back into the three-lane queue because the bumper to bumper traffic went at least a kilometer back. The only way out was to circle back into the city and re-join the three-lane queue right at the back of the column of cars.
I was impatient. More importantly, I also realized there was no traffic police anywhere. So, Instead of turning back and re-joining the queue of cars from the back, I decided to brazenly cut lanes and nudge my car into the slow-moving traffic, drawing the ire of the other drivers going towards the Border.
Unfortunately, I did not realize that CCTV’s were monitoring the traffic. The Border patrol police caught me jumping lanes, and I was in for an unpleasant surprise. When I arrived at the checkpoint, an officer from the border patrol police was waiting. The officer asked me to step out of my car. He escorted me to the Superintendent’s office for a hearing, much to the chagrin of my family and amusement of other onlookers. I was feeling like a felon.
“Mr. Veturi, I don’t know how it is in your home country. This is Singapore, and we take rules very seriously. This is your first infringement, and we have noted your details. If you are caught not complying with the rules again, we will impose a fine of $2500.” The message was direct and brutal.
“I apologize, officer. I will not repeat this mistake.” I quickly exited the superintendent’s office, deeply embarrassed and shameful. To this day, my kids and my wife don’t tire of pointing out how I had deliberately broken the traffic rule to save some time.
This experience brought home an important life lesson for me.
Do the right thing even when no one is watching.
From our childhood, we are conditioned to comply with rules based on some authority that overlooks what we do. It could be our parents keeping a benign eye on what we do, our teachers at school, professors in the college, our bosses at work, etc.
Implicitly, we do the right thing because of the presence of these authority figures. Sometimes, when the supervision is not there, we tend to slack out. We have this rule-breaking devil that emerges out of the shadows of our personality and tells us it’s ok not to do the right thing. As it was in my case. “it looks like there is no traffic police monitoring. It’s ok for me to cut the lane.”
The shame of that experience has become a reminder that the true test of my character is not what I do when under the spotlight; it is what I do when no one is watching.
More than the world, you are your biggest witness to whatever you do.
- You lie, and you may think that you have got the better of the other person. But your conscience has caught you out.
- “I’ll wake up a 6.30 am,” you promise yourself. You wake up at 8.00 am. No one outside bothers, but your conscience is keeping track. It knows.
- Your boss trusts you to do something at the highest standard. What you do, how you do, he may never check on you. But your inner witness will know whether you are slacking out or operating to the highest standard.
Whenever I am tempted or seduced to do something I should not be doing, I remind myself of my inner witness, my conscience watching me all the time. It ensures that I play by the rules.
“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”John Wooden