Duty – a word we’ve heard and used many times, but what does it mean to “do one’s duty”?
Duty is described in a couple of ways in the dictionary:
- Conduct due (owed) to parents or superiors (fulfilling obligations in a respectful manner due to the nature of the relationship)
- Obligatory tasks that arise from one’s position or relationship (in the military, a commander can demand action from subordinates because they must fulfill their duty to their leader)
- A moral obligation (putting emphasis on the idea that “duty” distinguishes right from wrong and puts focus on fulfilling that which is righteous)
- At the Latin root of “duty” is “debt”
In pursuing their duty, scouts acknowledge that they have an obligation to distinguish right from wrong and strive to make the choice of right over wrong. Because duty also depends on relationships (God, Others, Self) the expression of duty fulfilled includes (but isn’t limited to):
- Obeying God’s commands for Christ-like living (as a Christian, but also pursuing your own faith if you’re not a Christian)
- Honoring parents’ direction and correction
- Obeying proper instructions given by adults who have authority over the scout, and
- The development of discipline in his daily conduct.
The 1911 Boy Scout handbook mentions “duty” at least 28 times. Here’s one of my favorite quotes on duty; “Faithfulness to duty is another one of the scout virtues. When it is a scout’s duty to do something, he dare not shirk. A scout is faithful to his own interest and the interests of others. He is true to his country and his God.”
The consistent practice of fulfilling duty is one part of growing in wisdom – seeing the consequences of one’s choices should lead to making better choices in the future. Can a scout be a great scout if he fails in his duty? Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the scouting movement in Great Britain said; “We never fail when we try to do our duty, we always fail when we neglect to do it.” The key here is to do your best and learn from mistakes when they happen.
Thankfully, God gave us a spirit of power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7 “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”) Further, God’s word gives us guidance on how to do our duty and in doing so acquire a disciplined and prudent life by doing what is right and just and fair (Psalm 1:1-3 — Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper).
Since doing one’s duty depends on the relationship and the guidelines that have been communicated, the scout oath continues to specify examples of relationships between the scout and God, Country, and others. Last but not least, the scout also has duties to himself.
We’ll examine these specific duties in the coming weeks.