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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Honor vs. Duty vs. Checking off a Box

I was talking to a friend recently about family.  We came to the determination that sometimes a family's engagement with each other is colored by their faith or beliefs to the extent that they feel compelled to interact with each other.  The idea being that if certain members had their druthers they would pretty well ignore the others.  In other words since the "Good Book" says "honor thy father and mother" and the like, certain family members will humor the others out of a sense of "following the rules".   In other words, in order to be a "proper" Christian, Catholic, or whatever, you should be 'good' to family, even if it is just effectively for show.

We talked it about in terms of honor vs. duty, when I think what we really were considering was a third idea.  That is, checking off a box to their Higher Power or others they want to please.  The box says 'I did what I was supposed to' or 'I made an effort'.  Below, I will explore each of these concepts.


  • From the Army's website, is a matter of carrying out, acting, and living the values of respect, duty, loyalty, selfless service, integrity and personal courage in everything you do. I believe this is commonly how people see it.
  • Essentially, it is doing the right thing because you know it is the right thing to do.  That is to say, you wish to live a life of respect and purpose.  Respect not just for our Higher Power & others, but respect for yourself.  
  • I see it as doing what you know is right and not looking back or second guessing, you just do (often without even pausing to think about it).
  • Many people join the military or otherwise take professions in which they put their life on the line due to a sense of honor.  They feel like they are meant to help others, it is their purpose.
  • I buried my mom, my dad & my immediate older brother out of a sense of honor.  The family needed someone who would make sure each was done right in their final journey.  This included planning & preparing for their memorials/funerals, giving them a respectful eulogy, directing obituaries & making sure that where a shortfall occurred that the funds necessary would be provided to make all of this happen.  It was very draining and it sure wasn't any fun.  But for me, I knew taking care of them and those left behind in those moments was just what needed to be done, period.

  • The English Oxford Living Dictionaries first definition of duty is as follows: A moral or legal obligation; a responsibility.
  • I separate it from honor, because I see duty as something that is often done because there is a requirement to do it.  Meaning, while you respect the legal or moral requirement to do it, there may not be a greater sense of purpose or 'honor' that goes along with doing your 'duty'.
  • While doing something out of duty may not be as noble of doing it out of honor, there is a certain level of respect that is earned for doing someone who does out of duty.  While it may not be as profound as the respect earned for doing something out of honor, it still deserves respect.
  • For me, duty might be making sure your child is properly clothed, fed, educated and kept warm and safe.  It could also be making sure you do your best to do your job well.  In other words, doing the things that we are supposed to, even when we are feeling tired or short on enthusiasm.

  • To me duty implies a sincerity of purpose.  I made this category to cover when we are doing something because we believe it is expected of us, because it will 'look good' or because we have this moral 'law-based' obligation to do it.  When we do something based on any of those, we are hollow inside about it.  In short, we are insincere about purpose and/or are going through the motions.
  • An extreme case of this is illustrated in the Bible.  In Matthew 23:1-12, Jesus condemned the Pharisees as zealots who would tie heavy, law-based loads onto those they led and make a show of 'observing the law' when in reality at best they were observing the letter of the law, but not the spirit of it.  They would often display their 'piety' publicly for show, while privately having no little or no piety.  They'd rationalize that they were set because they 'followed the rules'.
  • Sometimes, we have to check off a box when the rules or regulations or restrictions are so ridiculous that we are forced to jump through hoops (such as when starting a business).  However, what I am meaning is our personal actions being dictated by a need to make ourselves feel better (rationalize) or to appear proper.  An example of this is inviting nearby family over once a year on the holidays because our 'faith' tells us to love each other.  Yet, the balance of the year is spent ignoring them.  To me, that's not family, getting together with people because you are related to them.

I'm not sure what the takeaway from this particular blog is except this: Not everything we do in our lives is out of honor.  Many of our actions are done out of duty and there is plenty to be celebrated there as many do not even meet the basics of that.  However, I believe if our personal actions are largely dictated by the need to 'check off a box', then it is time we reexamine our lives.  That may mean stopping the insincere parts of our lives (such as pretending to be a friend, when we don't want to be one) OR adjusting our frame of mind (respecting that God gave us family and even if they aren't perfect learning to appreciate the gift of family he gave us).

I know this seems like a bit of a judgmental blog, but when often times when I write, I write with a mirror in hand to examine where I can improve or meet  the ideals I espouse.  After considering a little, I guess my secondary takeaway is to be honest with yourself and what animates your action(s).  Only by reflection can we improve.

Thanks for reading and I hope to post again soon.

-- Rich

I believe Eric Clapton honored the memory of his son with this song.  This was a love song to his son who passed way too soon.  This song often brings tears to my eyes listening to it.

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