The Queen has just celebrated her ninetieth birthday
Amidst all the words that have been spoken about her over the past few days, one thing is repeated over and over again – the profound sense of duty that she has displayed throughout her long reign. The leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, is no fan of the monarchy, but he said about her on her birthday, “whatever differing views people across this country have about the institution, the vast majority share an opinion that her majesty has served this country with a clear sense of public service and public duty”; adding that “she’s carried out that duty with enormous warmth.”
Duty – not a word much used today
And when it is used, it comes across as a bit pejorative. No wonder. Here’s one dictionary’s definition: “a moral or legal obligation; an action or task required by a person’s position or occupation”; or even “the respectful and obedient conduct due a superior.” The thesaurus gives alternative words such as “burden”, “chore”, “obligation” or “commitment”, with opposites like “fun”, “entertainment” and “advantage”!
We’re not big on duty today
We see it as far too restricting of our freedom and individuality. We live in the age of the selfie. We need to be “true to ourselves” and “do our own thing”. But that’s only one side of the equation. We cannot kid ourselves that we just live to and for ourselves as individuals. Because if we do, we find there is a big cost.
Human living rotates around two very different poles
The first is the individuality of “me”. I am separate and distinct from others and I need to understand, accept and be comfortable with myself. I am of significance and no one has the right to deny that of me. Too often we struggle with low self esteem and confidence, with all the attendant consequences.
But the other pole is the togetherness of “us”
Like it or not, we humans are a social species which functions properly when our relational and social connections are healthy – when we give and receive respect and honour. I have responsibilities and obligations which if not met will bring damage to myself and others.
Both poles are crucial
And if we overemphasise one, we lose out on the other, with catastrophic results.
The Queen’s generation is well known for its stoicism and sense of duty
That’s seen as rather quaint and old-fashioned today. But before we turn the page and move on, here’s a question. What will we have lost with their passing?