Life’s heaviest burden is to have nothing to carry

Many people feel that they are weighed down by duties, obligations, and responsibilities. To them, the title of this article seems strange. They don’t realize that complaining about carrying out one’s duties, is like complaining about having to eat! Most people realize that eating is not only necessary, but can be a source of great pleasure. The same is true for performing our responsibilities. We actualize our potential by fulfilling our obligations, which leads to pleasure and happiness. In fact, the harder the duty is to perform, the greater the pleasure on its completion. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe makes an outstanding point, “How can we know ourselves? Never by reflection, but only through action. Begin at once to do your duty and immediately you will know what is inside you.”

Duty is enmeshed with human life. We cannot separate the two. For as Daniel Webster said on April 6, 1830, “A sense of duty pursues us ever. It is omnipresent, like the Deity. If we take to ourselves the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, duty performed or duty violated is still with us, for our happiness or our misery. If we say the darkness shall cover us, in the darkness as in the light our obligations are yet with us.” Here’s how Joseph Joubert expressed a similar thought, “Without duty, life is sort of boneless; it cannot hold itself together.”

What is meant by duty? Duty refers to what is DUE to others. For example, parents have the duty to care for their children and teachers have the duty to bring out the best in their pupils. What about responsibility? Responsibility is to hold ourselves accountable. It is a way of saying, “the buck stops here.” It also recognizes that if we take credit for our successes, we must take responsibility for our failures. Of course, we cannot be held responsible for situations beyond our control, but we are responsible for the way we act during such situations.

Why be responsible?

1. Freedom. When we are responsible, we are free; we are in charge of our lives. When we abdicate responsibility, we become slaves to our base desires. Max Stirner explains: “Whoever will be free must make himself free. Freedom is no fairy gift to fall into a man’s lap. What is freedom? To have the will to be responsible for one’s self.”

2. Greatness. As Winston Churchill said, “Responsibility is the price of greatness.” If we wish to do great things, we must start by accepting responsibilities for the small things we ought to be doing each day. Oprah Winfrey also makes a good point: “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”

3. Self-growth. As we carry out our obligations, we develop character, self-respect, self-esteem, and peace of mind. Our responsibilities also give meaning to life and allow us to experience happiness.

Tips on self-improvement

1. Learn the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.

2. “Do something every day that you don’t want to do. This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.” (Mark Twain)

3. Change your focus from the effort it takes to do your duty to the pleasure you will experience on its completion.

4. Make plans to fulfill your obligations. We are all familiar with “to-do” lists, but get into the habit of creating “ought-to-do” lists and schedule your obligations into your day. “What, then, is your duty? What the day demands.” (Goethe)

Final thoughts

I realize that some people think God gave us quick reactions so we could duck responsibility, but I know you don’t fall in that category. So, do your duty for duty’s sake, asking for nothing in return. Be the sky, not the soil. “The soil in return for her service keeps the tree tied to her, the sky asks nothing and leaves it free.” (Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet, playwright, novelist, musician, and painter, 1861-1941)

Sir Walter Scott describes our folly: “We build statues out of snow, and weep to see them melt.” How should we build our character? Out of snow? If it is to be enduring, shouldn’t we forge it in the furnace of responsibility, mold it with obligation, and glaze it with duty? Some final thoughts follow.

“Our duty is to be useful, not according to our desires but according to our powers.” (Henri Frdric Amiel)

“Duty is the sublimest word in the language. You can never do more than your duty. You should never wish to do less.” (Robert E. Lee)

“The most beautiful things in the universe are the starry heavens above us and the feeling of duty within us.” (Indian Proverb)

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I acted and beheld that duty was joy.” (Rabindranath Tagore)