Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Duty Free

What do you think of “duty” as a reason for action?

A lot of people think that you should do things because they are your duty- and legally this may be so in certain contexts- but in voluntary life, I think duty is a poor reason to act.

I think I must be wrong, but here’s my reasoning. Please pick holes in it.

Imaging there’s an elderly relative that needs your help. You have a moral duty to help them.

Is duty alone sufficient grounds for action?

Already I sound awful.

But if I was the elderly person, I wouldn’t want my younger relative acting out of duty!

Out of thanks, yes. Out of gratitude, yes. Out of loving concern, compassion, goodness, kindness… Any of these- fine!

Why does matter? I just think it does. Maybe if I needed the help I wouldn’t care about the motivation of the helper.

Should we act out of a sense of duty? (I feel myself wanting to say “of course we should”)

But I think willing volunteers are better than duty-bound conscripts.

Any thoughts?

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13 thoughts on “Duty Free

  1. I get what you mean and I agree, I would want to be looked after out of love, compassion and not out of duty. I think of duty in the context of armed services or civil service jobs. Good one.

    • I still feel I must be wrong on this topic – but so far, everyone is agreeing…

      • I’ve been thinking about duty since your post and am beginning to think part of the problem is in the definition of duty we have all been assuming. We have all agreed that we don’t want to be at the receiving end of duty without love, duty with resentment or duty from some moral high ground.

        But let’s take a look at duty that we embrace. In relation to our children, perhaps. I think most of us would agree that if we have children, we have a duty to care for them. But most of the time – when the teenagers aren’t acting like two year olds anyway – we don’t resent that duty. In fact, we don’t care and cook and clean and ferry them around out of sense of duty but out of love. We might find ourselves harried and frazzled sometimes, but we really wouldn’t consider farming them out on a permanent basis. And we don’t refrain from that out a sense of duty.

        We don’t do it because we really want to care for them. And because someone who would neglect their children is not the kind of person we want to be.

        And that gets to the core, I think, of this problem of duty. If we learn to do something out of fear of punishment, we are less apt to learn that these are things we want to do of our own free will. We don’t reflect on the fact that we may want to be the kind of person who is generous, who doesn’t always put themselves first, who helps other people in need, who values the truth, etc.

        So I would like to rephrase my attitude toward duty. I would like to say that there are things which you might call “duty,” which I want to do freely, with an open heart. Sometimes they may take effort and sacrifice, but they are intrinsically rewarding nonetheless. As Eleanor pointed out, perhaps “duty” is sometimes a sign post toward behaviors that are a reflection of the kind of person I want to be.

        But let us remember: DUTY does need to be examined carefully. I don’t have a duty to “obey” my husband. I don’t have a duty to be loyal to my group at the cost of betraying others. I don’t have a duty to protect family members from all the consequences of their behavior simply because I love them.

        Oh my goodness: This is no longer a comment. It’s approaching a diatribe. I think you touched a hot button on this one, Sanstorm.

        Terry

      • Thanks Terry for your thoughtful comment.
        I don’t think I am at a tidy conclusion yet .
        Working on it.
        😕

  2. Yes, I think so too! Not only do I not want to be looked after by someone who is simply doing their duty. I don’t even want to be looked after because someone believes that I’m made in the image and likeness of God. I want them to like ME.

    But I would add another reason that I do not think that acting out of duty is all that great. When we do something out of moral duty and not because we want to, we feel like martyrs. And then we feel morally superior. Along with possibly feeling guilty every time we don’t – and sometimes can’t or shouldn’t – help.

    I think if I don’t want to be loving and generous and all those virtuous things because I feel happier than if I live a crabbed self-seeking life, then I should at least admit it and at least refrain from hypocrisy.

    And you know what? there are times and people who I really don’t help because I really don’t want to.

    Great post. Thank you.

  3. eleanor on said:

    I agree that in so far as motive is important, a motive of love is preferable to that of duty. But duty can be of use in propelling us to action which we would not otherwise wish to take at all. Better surely to be prompted to good action than to sit and do nothing at all! One would hope that actions commenced out of duty would continue in loving service. Perhaps that is too idealistic. I can only speak I suppose for the fact that I have taken action out of duty and once I have begun my motives adjust to another higher motive.

    Thanks for making me think!

    • I like this idea Eleanor – it is reminding me of a previous post where I ended up garbling about the relationship between the mind and behaviour – alienated from God because of evil behaviour / do not conform, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind/ test and approve the will of God – and all that.
      Maybe the trick is to take the hint, do the ‘duty’ and then discover the higher motivation through the experience.

  4. Thanks for your comments everyone. Still processing!

  5. Duty benefits society but it doesn’t neccessarily benefit the indivudual. We all do things out of a sense of duty and are often either resigned or resentful. However without acting out of a sense of duty whether to our immediate family or the wider community there would likely be negative knock on effects. As with everything one should find a balance between individual needs and desires and those of the social group. Of course when duty meets desire all is well and one should never be afraid to just say no.

  6. Scotstig on said:

    Is the word duty not mostly used within the police and armed forces. We ask these organisations to carry out their duties for jobs that we would certainly not do ourselves. Without duty these organisations would fall apart with everyone having an opinion on how a task is completed.

    You make a point about being old and wanting to be cared for out of love and compassion. In 21st century Britain many old people are cared for privately or by the state not by loved ones but by professionals doing their duty. Because these people take a pride in their duties care is paramount and relatives are only witnesses. I would much rather be cared for by a care professional than a well meaning relative because the professional’s trained, proud duty is much more reliable than a relative whose life has been destroyed by my care.

    Lastly, I watched an interview with the Duke of Edinburgh at 90. He did not care for the interview, the interviewer and the questions being asked. As far as he saw it, it was his navy sense of duty that made him successful as the Queen’s consort, charity president etc. He decided on a mission and it was his duty to carry it out. No waffle, no criticism, no dissent just duty. Honour was not his to receive. That single mindedness had always got him through. Annoying but effective. Duty is about doing things for the greater good or the law without dissent.

    • Hey there Scotstig!
      Firstly I am not counting contractual duty like in the services or any job. It is my duty to turn up at work and duty is a good enough reason for turning up, kind of..
      I think with the elderly thing I don’t mean that one would have to do the duty physically yourself – but to ensure it is done is a “duty” I think.
      As for the Grand Old Duke – I only saw a glimpse of him disregarding Fiona Bruce.
      He may have had a life of duty, but he did not to his duty to his interviewer really – as in answering the questions relevantly?? I think he doesn’t believe in the kind of duty I don’t believe in.
      Man, I am getting garbled. Apologies – and thanks for contributing!

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