This I Believe - 2013

Tuesday, January 1, 2013
I believe in doing my duty.

When I was in the Navy, "duty" was a word that was thrown around on a daily basis. Being on duty meant you were the "on deck crew" - a cadre of sailors and officers who remained on the ship for a 24 hour period who could get the ship underway in case of an emergency without having to wait for the rest of the crew to be recalled. Most considered it a necessary evil, just a part of being in the Armed Forces.

But being on duty is not at all the same as doing my duty.

For me, duty is an obligation I impose on myself. It's the promise I make to be the kind of person I aspire to be, to personify the qualities that I admire in others, to keep my word, to give good value for the money I earn, to treat those whom I invite into my life in a way that will make me proud at the end of my life rather than otherwise.

When I was a younger woman, I would sometimes see duty as something that was imposed from the outside. Duty was something I owed to other people, people who oftentimes attempted to define what I owed without my consent. This perception had a tendency to lead to resentment and a deep-seated resistance surrounding others' expectations. It took me many years to discover and internalize the idea that duty was something I took on voluntarily. And because the promise is always one I make to myself rather than to others, I'm the only one who can determine where my duty lies and if and when I've fulfilled it.

Making a commitment to doing my duty provides me with a yardstick on which to base my behavior. It allows me to determine a correct course of action based not on how I feel at that exact moment, possibly influenced by depression or despair, but by my considered, voluntarily accepted obligations. I may reconsider whether or not I have a duty to a specific individual, but not in the moment, and not without long and thoughtful consideration.

I believe that doing my duty - as I define it - is a cornerstone of an ethical life.

2 comments:

Anne C. said...

Wise Janiece is wise. (And probably shaking her head at the suggestion that she is wise.)

beatrice in Paris said...

I think that Janiece's definition of internally defined duty (as opposed to externally imposed duty)is more difficult. It's easier to blow off somebody else's idea of an obligation.