Written by Dotty Winters


A higher state of conscientiousness

Hard work and luck are all very well, reckons Dotty Winters, but conscientiousness knocks them both into a cocked hat. Here, the comedian sings the praises of doing stuff the nice way.

Illustrations by Claire Jones.

Illustrations by Claire Jones.

Conscientious (adj): led by, or defined by, a desire to do the right thing; principled; thorough; liable to complete all Christmas shopping by mid-October and file tax return in May.

I’d like, politely, and with your permission, to sing the praises of conscientiousness. The meek may inherit the Earth (good luck with that, it’s a mess) but the conscientious get enough stamps on their loyalty card to get a free latte. Conscientiousness is a hugely underrated attribute.

Luck is fickle and judgey. Like a poorly trained dog, luck is nice enough when it’s there, but impossible to summon effectively if it leaves to poop on someone else’s lawn.

Hard work is all very well, and should usually be rewarded, but it can be a bit mindless, not to mention inconvenient. Sure, hard work makes a great film montage, but it’s not often truly motivated by conscience, and tends to require unquestioning obedience. Daniel-san may have mastered karate and catching flies with chopsticks, but did it cure him of his teenage angst or get him to eat his broccoli? Did it?

“I’ve never seen ‘You don’t have to be conscientious to work here, but it helps’ printed on a laminated sign. Somewhere along the way conscientiousness has lost the street-cred and power it once had.”

Hard work is a battle against your human weakness and failings, but for the conscientious no battle is required: no amount of force can prevent you from putting the last piece in that jigsaw, even if no one is watching. Conscientiousness kicks hard work’s arse, ‘cos you only have to do the things your conscience allows, and let me tell you my conscience can be a pretty flexible taskmaster.

If someone assigns me a stupid task (special shout out to that one boss who asked me to print all his emails in duplicate and file them in case we needed to reference them later), conscientiousness does not require me to complete it; if there is a smarter or easier way to get to the right outcome, I can skip steps 3–7.

If someone made one of those fancy-pants word clouds to summarise all my school reports ever it would be the word “conscientious” writ large and bold in the centre (with possible supporting roles for “straight fringe”, “brave fashion choices” and “unrivalled novelty rubber collection”).

But as I’ve grown older I haven’t heard the word so much. I don’t see it on Conscientious Babe T-shirts. As far as I know it’s not part of any rapper’s name, and I’ve never seen “You don’t have to be conscientious to work here, but it helps” printed on a laminated sign. Somewhere along the way conscientiousness has lost the street-cred and power it once had.

Claire Jones Hard WorkI fear that the word has become a form of damnation through faint praise, by people who have failed to appreciate the sterling service provided by the conscientious among us. People-pleasing is right at the heart of conscientiousness. In recent years people-pleasing has become a pejorative term, used to indicate that someone is weak-willed and subservient. I don’t get it. I like people who like me. I like people who act like they want to be liked. Conscientiousness allows me to indulge this guilty pleasure (not pleasing people who are dicks, obviously. My conscience doesn’t give a fuck about people who are dicks). I worry about people who value not caring what anyone thinks about them above all else. Well, I say “worry about”. I mean “avoid”.

We’re told to encourage our children to follow their dreams, no matter what: to work hard and never, ever give up. Working hard and never giving up is a great way to produce a million glassy-eyed X-Factor hopefuls who believe they can sing and are entitled to fame because it’s their dream. Conscientious people work hard at the things they are good at, work round the things they aren’t so good at, do the things they love while ensuring they have a back-up plan in place, and worry about what people think about them. It makes for much worse reality TV, but I don’t think we should discount it altogether. After all, someone has to keep tax inspectors occupied the other 11 months of the year.


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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.