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A Fascinating Book on Personal Responsibility, Character and Conscience


10Apr 2010

Some books are just incredibly thought-provoking. I was recently referred to The Language of Conscience by two good friends whom I highly respect. So I ordered it and have been reading it (it is one of those books you do not finish in a couple of hours). And I am intrigued. I am not sure I fully understand all of the concepts — and I think I agree with most of the premises. But I am still thinking about it. The author, Tieman “Skipper” Dippel, Jr., sounds like a fascinating man. So I thought I’d share a bit — possibly to whet your appetite as well. Here are some quotes from the book:

“Conscience is good for society and civilization whether it is taught or whether it is instinctive. . . It is important to look at conscience as if it were a muscle or a nerve. The more you exercise it and the more you sensitize it, the more effective it is going to be.”

Tielman uses the term, “enlightened conservatism”, but do not think that he is talking about political conservatism — otherwise your assumptions and associations will lead you astray. “Enlightened conservatism, as a concept, is well described as trying create an environment in which ethical actions of character can best be performed. . . the character of choice of conscience and concern for others prevails over-self-interest.”

He goes on to contrast decisions made through convenience versus decisions made through conscience. “(D)isciples of conscience look to the future and their children to build a greater society. The disciples of convenience look more to their gains at the present. . . Leaders of convenience often have to step on teh people below them and pull down the people above them. Their weapons are personal attacks, distraction, and the negative emotions. Leaders of conscience use constructive leadership to help others move forward positively. . . Their weapons have to be integrity of purpose and devotion to common goals.”

“In order to achieve the common good, the world’s people must reach the point of saying, ‘What do I think about that?’ rather than just ‘How do I feel about that?’ . . It is in reasoning together in toleration and in appreciation of common values and common moral codes that one can seek the common good by looking beyond personal self-interest and past historical prejudices.”

Note that the book is actually a compilation of papers written and lectures given from the 1970s to early part of the twenty-first century. Tielman shows an amazing foresight on a number of issues:

“I do not see the future as being dominated so much by clashes of great ideologies such as capitalism vs. communism, as by more subtle but extremely potent influences on the culture that determines civilization’s direction. The new subtle concept is victimization and victimhood. It argues that society owes more than basic rights and that government should grow in order to fill those rights.”

“The right question is not whether you want big government or small government. The right question is what should be the role of government as the expression of the combined will of the people in regard not just to the protection of individual rights and dignity, but to the granting of economic benefits on the concept of victimization vs. individual responsibility.

“Character is the acceptance of individual responsibility. . . You cannot build character and courage by taking away initiative and independence, and you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.”

He then quotes Theodore Roosevelt: “The things that will destroy America are prosperity at any price, peace at any price, safety first instead of duty first, and love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life.” Wow. And that was state over 100 years ago.

He later comments on the Internet. “One of the Internet’s great benefits is that it will make information readily available to an enormous quantity of people on an individual basis. But, it is a double-edged sword since one benefit and detriment of the Internet is that it will provide information easily available to an enormous quantity of people on an immediate basis. With quick availability to information, people will feel less of a need to read books and to think about the concepts that help them remember those individual parcels of date and weave them together. Without the knowledge that is gained from in-depth thought, it is difficult to gain the wisdom of how to use the ever-increasing amounts of data.”

“it will likely occur in an information age that will have two parts — an age of knowledge that expands rapidly with the dissemination of information. And than an age of wisdom necessary to process the excess of information where trust and experience are very valued and character re-emerges. . . Wisdom requires a perspective, a very basic position from which to make judgments. It is at this point that leadership becomes particularly critical in providing guidance and direction. Leadership defines culture and thereby defines civilization, and whether those leaders are directed by conscience or merely by their own convenience will determine the direction that civilization will take. . . The contrast of the Renaissance and the Dark Ages shows that leadership can move culture both ways.”

There is much more thought-provoking (to me) content — and incredible foresight on issues regarding China, the movement of politics in the U.S., and the increasing role of non-profit organizations in our culture. I would highly recommend this book to others who are trying to make sense of the macro-economic, cultural and political confusion which seems to exist.

[A final side-note: This book has been translated into Chinese and reportedly is one of the few Western books used as a text in Chinese universities.]

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