“England expects that every man will do his duty” – the signal given by Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson from his flagship HMS Victory as the Battle of Trafalgar was about to commence – is perhaps the most well known quote about duty. If you went to a southern military college, “Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less.” by General Robert E. Lee comes readily to mind as well. They speak of duty through a 19th century military concept of honor. But there are other ways of looking at it – such as these:
Make it a point to do something every day that you don’t want to do. This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.
A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”
Victor Frankl – Man’s Search For Meaning, 1946
Do not confuse “duty” with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.
But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad than it is with the leech who wants “just a few minutes of your time, please — this won’t take long.” Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time — and squawk for more!
So learn to say No — and to be rude about it when necessary.
Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you.
(This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don’t do it because it is “expected” of you.)
Robert A. Heinlein – Time Enough for Love, 1973
The destiny of mankind is not decided by material computation. When great causes are on the move in the world …we learn that we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.
Winston S. Churchill – Radio address to the US, June 1941
Never mind your happiness; do your duty.
Peter F. Drucker