In Defense of Duty

Duty and responsibility have lost stature to autonomy and creativity--Alas.

Posted Feb 19, 2017

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

When I say the word “duty,” how do you feel? For many, "duty" evokes a negative response—The word seems militaristic, even fascist, certainly a restriction of a person’s autonomy.

Duty's negative image is unfortunate because, over the millennia, duty has yielded great benefit, whether a duty to family, community, or the world. Without being driven by duty, more spouses would run from family responsibility. More residents would leave for safer surrounds, leaving their community to sink further. More people would prioritize selfish pleasures over trying to make the world a better place. And yes, that includes military duty. The world might today be run by Nazis if not for the countless soldiers willing to sacrifice pleasure and risk their lives because of duty.

I define duty as the willingness to replace the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of contribution, a willingness to forgo personal pleasure in the service of a larger good, to be comfortable with being uncomfortable if it will likely yield greater benefit to one’s sphere of influence.

Alas, I believe that duty’s importance has diminished in recent decades, perhaps spawned in part by the pleasure-first ‘60s and its hub of drugs, dropping out, and rebelling against authority. Today, autonomy and artistic creativity, even eccentricity, seem more valued than duty and its offshoots: responsibility, discipline, and respect for authority. I believe duty deserves a more exalted place in our hierarchy of values.

Might you want to look inward to decide if you are too focused on the pursuit of happiness over the pursuit of contribution, of duty? Are you too concerned with escaping from discomfort than with accepting a measure of discomfort in exchange for making a bigger difference?

Duty isn’t all about self-sacrifice. It enables you to put your head on the pillow each night feeling good about the life you’re living and, at your life’s end, feeling good about the life you’ve led.

I've created a short video that addresses this issue.

If you might like career or personal coaching from Marty Nemko, email him a brief description of your situation: mnemko@comcast.net.