An External Conscience

(The following is my Chaplain’s Message from the Winter 2014 Issue of the Minnesota Police Chief Magazine)

                 “An External Conscience”

I had a conversation with a cop recently who was facing some signifiant professional and personal challenges. He’s someone I’ve known professionally for several years, but we aren’t particularly close since our paths seldom cross with any frequency. As we were talking, I asked him if anyone was looking after his personal well-being as he went through this challenging time. Since we weren’t likely to have much contact in the future, I wanted to make sure he had on-going care resources available… resources that he would actually utilize. Like most cops, he replied that he was fine and had plenty of resources. I asked again who he had watching him, someone that knew him well enough to notice if his behavior and health were changing in a negative way. And I asked if that person was someone who would intervene appropriately if needed? After pestering him for an answer for awhile, he finally replied “Fine, I’ll activate my external conscience.”

I had never heard the term external conscience before, but now it has become something I use with some frequency. I do a fair amount of training these days, particularly on the topic of personal health and fitness. As most of you reading this are aware, the foundation of this training is based on the concept of promoting Physical Health of the Body, Mental Health of the Mind and Spiritual Health of the Soul. One of the exercises we use, is a discussion where we identify the different health care providers available for each of the three categories of health. We talk about the doctors, nurses, physical therapists and others who provide physical health care. We look at the different providers of mental health care that includes psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and counselors. We conclude by exploring our spiritual health care providers, such as pastors, rabbis, priests, imams, lay ministers and yours truly… chaplains!

Then we talk about the two providers that are universal to all health care categories. The first and most important is… you! You need to personally take responsibility for your health care services. But the second is just as important. It is someone close to you who knows you well. It is someone you trust such as a family member, close friend, colleague or even one of the above listed providers when you share a close personal relationship. This is a person who can pay attention to your health from the outside, someone who can be objective and honest. I previously called this person a trusted friend. Now I have a more scholarly term, your external conscience!

When we go through the exercise of naming types of health care providers, the next step is actually naming the person who fills those roles. Sometimes we get to name the individual person we want to care for us but, especially with our physical health, we often get whoever is available from a specific care team (none of our three kids were delivered by our primary OB doctor). The same is true for picking your external conscience provider. Find an individual (and some backups) that know you well and that you trust. Then ask them if they would be willing to be your care provider when those inevitable challenges of life hit you head on. And offer your services to them when needed as well.

I really believe that with a quality external conscience care provider, your life will be healthier, happier and more fulfilling. For you and all those around you!

Take Care, Pastor Dan.