On Duty

“It’s your duty,” “I am duty-bound,” “the Queen’s duties,” “the duties of the President,” “my duty to God,” “what are my duties?”

A more basic question is, What is “duty?” Of course we can say “that which one is obliged to do” or “one’s responsibility,” but both of these definitions quickly become circular. Perhaps these are even worse than simply circular, they are synonymous. How can we escape the synonymous nature of these definitions? Again, what is duty?

I propose that “duty” is the performance of those activities for which one exists. The two example phrases from the Google search “duty” are “it’s my duty to uphold the law” and “the Queen’s official duties.” If it is the duty of the citizen to uphold the laws, then an individual not upholding the law is not acting as a citizen; if Elizabeth Alexandra Mary shirks in her royal duties, then she is not acting as the queen. The existence of the Queen of England is contingent, or at least the bearing of that title by a given individual, on one performing the duties of that office.

While it may seem extreme to suggest the extension, the same does occur for humans generally. There are particularly cruel or heinous actions which are considered “inhuman,” and that designation extends to those who perform those actions. I wish not to describe any such, but will allow the reader to reflect on history or fiction and realize this to be true. Those persons have not only neglected, but rejected their duty of humanity, and have been stripped of that designation.

One does not necessarily lose their status when duties are shirked, though that may be an outcome. Such it is, for instance, that Nellie Bertram secured for herself the position of Manager at the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin in the television show The Office. She was performing the duties of the Manager and shortly was recognized as such. Andy, who had been the Manager, had shirked the duties and was stripped of the office.1

Most often, though, negative consequences are either are less severe or completely absent. Rather, this should be used, as many questions should, for personal introspection and betterment. There are duties associated with all positions. Whatever position one occupies, they should seek to understand and fulfill those duties. If one occupies any position in a company, church, family, organization, government, or even humanity, there are duties associated with that position. To not perform according to those duties is, in effect, to not be in that position at that time. From above, Andy was not performing the duties of Manager and so, at that moment, was not being the Manager; if my job requires a certain task and I do not perform that task, I am not acting as someone who does that job. If that is the case, I should seek to better fulfill my duty.

Stay purple!

1. The Office (US Version) S8E19

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