“Do your duty!” It is a central command in the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna goes to the center of the battlefield and is about to go to war with relatives. The rest of the book identifies what one’s duty is in this life and why it’s important to carry that out.
For Buddhists there are the Five Precepts that address their duties. These include abstaining from killing, stealing, lying, adultery and drinking alcohol.
For Jews it’s abiding by the 613 social laws, Mitzvot, and most importantly, living by the tenants of the Decalogue and the Torah. Jewish custom also encourages the reading of Rabbinical commentary such as the Mishnah and the Talmud to help in discerning what is called forth from God.
For Muslims it’s being true to the Five Pillars of Islam and honoring Allah through the Qu’ran.
This phrase, “Do your duty,” resonates because it is universal in its truth.
I’m also reminded that Atticus Finch utters these words in the classic American novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird” when he has just completed laying out the facts of Tom Robinson’s innocence and the jury is about to deliberate. In his heart, I sense that Atticus knows that they will do their duty as racists and not jurists.
Given the information we have, it’s imperative that we carry out our duties in life. In Christian thinking, it’s answering the call through being true to the gospels and following Jesus’ teachings, but it’s also a deeper more meaningful statement that reverberates on many levels.
It is our duty to be true to God’s call. In other words, to exercise our morality in any given situation. It is our duty to observe the virtues we are called to demonstrate in bringing us closer to God’s love. It is our duty to alleviate suffering wherever we see it. Most importantly, for Christians, it is our duty to remain faithful to the message of love and to conquer fear by standing in solidarity with One God and not being duplicitous in standing strong. Ram Dass, the mystic, noted that it is our duty to “love, serve and remember.”
Given the nature of life, answering this call to duty is a tall order. There are situations where we are called upon to be honest and if it is done lovingly through reason and prudence one should not be inhibited from asserting convictions to help another or to remind one another the call to love.
There are social situations that require us not to talk about religion and politics, but our unwillingness to address compassion and to remind our brothers and sisters of being loving and compassionate is not abiding by our Christian call. For Catholics, one of the reasons Vatican II was so important is because it was a call to prevent the horrors of WW2 from happening again. We are called to evangelize the Bible through the example of our lives. St. Francis said, “Teach the gospels and, if necessary, use words.” Be the example with your life.
The actor Liv Shreiber has been working with the people of Ukraine during the war against Russia. He tells the story of a Ukrainian getting emotional and crying because a child, selling dog biscuits in America, made $68 and sent it directly to him. The child was doing his duty and did it without so much as uttering a word.
We can address the above scenario from many different perspectives. The student was aware enough to address a social injustice in his own way. He was telling someone they are not alone through his care and concern for the individual’s well-being. He was also bringing attention to others through his actions in teaching them to address an injustice that impacts everyone directly or indirectly.
There have been times in my life where I’ve heard people say things and thought, “I should’ve said something there.” I would go so far as to say I was derelict in my duty in not speaking up having been caught off guard, but life is a great teacher and prepares us for future events where we are called to speak up.
When we consider the lack of concern that resulted from indifference to others during WW2, particularly the Nazis, it is imperative that we speak. When someone is indifferent to a dictator exploiting another country, it is time to speak. When someone is indifferent to the pains of the poor, it is time to speak. When someone is exploiting the poor for their own gains, it is time to speak. When someone is lying and spreading lies to encourage a political agenda to gain traction on power, it is time to speak. When someone is indifferent to racism, sexism, ageism, it is time to speak.
In the words of Robert Kennedy:
“Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.”
How we discuss issues is for another article. The civility and honesty with which we speak deserves the time and attention to address the importance of discourse.
How we exercise our duty and how we can become more efficient in addressing our duty with our lives comes from individual discernment and experience.