Last week my six-year-old son received the ‘Responsibility’ spotlight award. Apparently, it is a big thing when you are a first grader at his elementary school. I was proud but also a little bit worried. Perhaps it is too soon to be responsible. The word that I heard many times as a child was: ‘Duty’. Duty was a trendy word in 1986 in Eastern Europe, but now it is completely out of fashion. It is responsibility the word that a first grader in the US is taught.
So where are you, my dear reader when it comes to Duty and Responsibility? Do you like it, do you hate it, does it drive you?
When it’s 6. 15 0 am and the alarm goes off, do you jump out of the bed? Why do you do that? There is one answer to it: Duty.
As many parents and working people do, I also get out of bed at 6.15. When I enter the room of my 6-year old (Mrs. Responsibility) there is yawning, screaming, sleep- walking towards the washroom and sometimes rejection of every T-shirt. There is complaining about my taste in socks, but after 15 minutes we manage to get to the kitchen for breakfast.
I don’t like my mornings and I even wonder whether raising kids with a strong sense of discipline and duty from such a young age is a good think. We are no different than the communists who were preparing the five-year old children like me to become pioneers. But what else can we do?
The society rules are clear – the school is offered but the discipline comes with it. I hate to say it, but in the morning, I am not the patient leadership coach who gives clients the time to think. In the morning with the kids, I am a tough soccer coach with a whistle and a timer in my hand. I am cheering them up and ushering them towards the front door to catch the school bus.
In leadership training, one of the most often question we pose when it comes to the life’s purpose is: What gets you up in the morning? I always struggled to come up with an intelligent answer to that one – the truth is there are only 2 things for me: the alarm clock or one of my kids showing up next to my bed.
In fact, what lies behind the alarm clock is the word Duty. …the duty towards the employer who pays you salary or the client you serve, but ultimately it is the duty towards your family or even the future family if you are planning for one at some point.
In this new world of purpose driven mission statements, duty is a world we don’t like. To me it felt old-fashion, it reminding me of the communist propaganda from the first 10 years of my life in Romania. To a lot of my friends from The Netherlands, duty sounds like attending the extended family birthday parties or even worse like the catholic church.. Here in America duty is associated with army and patriotism.
But, still if we were to give ‘Duty’ the credit it deserves in the world, we would soon realize that Duty is what makes the world move.
It did so ever since humans started to organize themselves in social units called families. As the social forms got sophisticated Duty became the driving force behind churches, armies and countries, it is what makes the 7. bil people on this planet subdued, obedient and compliant to the order of things. Duty is often hidden in words such as Love, Dedication, Loyalty and Patriotism. Still, Love without duty is simply a fleeing affair, loyalty without duty is an empty word and Patriotism without duty is hypocrisy.
Despite our reluctance to admit it, for generations and generations the primary duty of any girl was to become a woman and bear children. It will take years of feminist movements to remove that predefined norm in so many of our societies. As early as the age of 3 we start observing our mothers who dutifully attend to our feeding and nurturing needs and without realizing we learn why is it important. Later, in school we learn to practice duty in small steps, by learning to obey rules and doing our homework.
There is still a short period of our life, when we are ultimately free of that clenching gasp of Duty – the teenager rebel time. We think that we escaped it but when we are not paying attention, a new duty might come into play and that is the Duty to our GANG of friends.
Later, as a young adult you go to work in an organization and you learn duty to your boss and to your team, in order to get the monthly salary to feed your family. The Circle is complete and the next 30 to 40 years until your retirement, you are driven by this invisible force that makes you do things you don’t want. While Responsibility and Duty for the others is important, where is the DUTY to ourselves? What kind of responsibility do we have to keep our health and mind sane until the end? What kind of responsibility do we have towards our childhood dreams.
How can we keep our eyes open to see duty for what it is. When we turn 80 or even older and we look back on our life – what will we think it’s important and what will be our regrets?
👍Steliana van de Rijt-Economu, the author ‘Mothers as leaders‘ is a leadership and positive intelligence coach.