Duty is an obligation or responsibility we have to someone—be they a person or an entity. Our concept of duty is often tied up with the notion of honor and serving. It is honorable to stand by our commitments and serve others…. most of the time. Duty can often be used to excuse away all kinds of unacceptable and immoral behavior, however. This is where it becomes a problem.
On the topic of duty, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“Many are the crimes that have been committed in the name of duty. Ministers neglect their children in the name of duty. People kill one another in the name of duty. We abandon ourselves and our dreams in the name of duty. We feed our addiction by overworking and then justify our behavior as our duty to our family. We batter our bodies in the name of duty. Duty becomes the excuse for much of our addictive life.
We addicts will use anything for a fix. We will take the most noble idea and turn it into a nightmare to perpetuate our addictions. We are tricky, and the disease is tricky.
When we use duty to batter ourselves and others, it has, indeed, become any ‘icy shadow.’”
Wars have been fought in the name of duty. Dreams have been sacrificed in the name of duty. When duty is used as a means to justify these ends—to excuse ourselves for working too much, bringing harm and neglect to others, or furthering someone else’s goals at the expense of ourselves—we are no longer being honorable. Duty is about responsibility, and we have a responsibility to ourselves first and foremost. We must keep a clear mind and recall what our true priorities are. Life is meant for enjoyment, not for slaving away in misery. Not for neglecting our minds and our bodies, and certainly not for neglecting the people we love most.