“There is no right without a parallel duty, no liberty without the supremacy of law, no high destiny without earnest perseverance, no greatness without self-denial” (Francis Lieber).
DOING OUR DUTY PROBABLY SOUNDS LIKE A DREARY CHORE, BUT PROPERLY CONCEIVED, OUR DUTIES ARE AMONG OUR HIGHEST PRIVILEGES. And in a culture where freedom often pushes duty aside, we need to be reminded of the need for duty. Without a sense of duty, our freedoms will soon get away from us.
Most of us engage in what T. S. Eliot called the “endless struggle” to think well of ourselves. We want — in fact, we need — to be able to see ourselves in a favorable light. But how can we do that? There is only one way, really, and that is by paying serious attention to our conscience and doing our duty. Goethe was exactly right: “How shall we learn to know ourselves? By reflection? Never, but only through action. Strive to do your duty, and you will know what is in you.”
There is no better gift we can give to our loved ones than to discharge our responsibilities faithfully, not only to them but also to others. When people know we can be trusted to do what we should, no matter what, their relationship with us is surrounded and supported by trust. Not needing to wonder what we might do (or not do), our family and friends can relax in their relationship with us.
Chauncey Wright wrote, “What a fearful object a long-neglected duty gets to be.” I agree. There is nothing so tiring as the constant hanging on of some responsibility we’ve been putting off. If you have ever finally stepped up to a duty and done something you had been procrastinating for a long time, you know the wonderful feeling of freedom that results. So there is much to be said not only for doing what we should, but for doing it in a timely fashion — today.
On special occasions, duty can be a “big” thing, but more often it is ordinary. It consists of doing the many “little” things that each day’s work places before us. So if you think you can default on your daily duties but still have the character to do what is right when the big occasion arrives and you are in the spotlight, you are sadly mistaken.
“Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones” (Phillips Brooks).