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We talk a lot about motivation and engagement in the L&D world. Employees just wanna have fun, etc. It’s a worthy focus, but do you ever think about duty?

Yes, “duty” is an old-fashioned sentiment, but it’s a keeper.

The ancient Roman philosopher Cicero believed duty comes from four sources:

  1. Wisdom: which results intrinsically from being a human being
  2. Social-feeling: which comes from your place in life—in your family, your country, your community, your job
  3. Greatness of spirit: deriving from your own character
  4. Temperance: which is a result of your own moral expectations of yourself

The Marines express “duty” differently, but it’s the same idea: God, Country, Corps, Family, and Self.

Ideas of duty vary from culture to culture and generation to generation. But, even if you don’t have a formal philosophy built around it, you know “duty” when you see it.

(And, most of us feel guilty when we ignore its call.) It’s all too easy to lose track of the things and people to whom we owe a duty. Instead of thinking about my own development, enjoyment, or engagement on a particular day, I may just have to suck it up and eat a live frog. After all, my employer is paying me to do a job.

It also means that instead of going to a movie I may have to help a family member. After all, being part of a family comes with an inherent duty for which I receive no remuneration (except that I can sleep at night).

Of course, our employers and family members have a duty to us also.

If you’re lucky, you have family, friends, and coworkers who do right by you, and an employer who tries to minimize your live frogs, while eating their own.

According to Plato, our noblest duty is not discovering what’s outside the cave, but returning to the cave to teach others what we discovered. Looking at it this way, being a decent human working in the learning and development world is a pretty noble pursuit.

That’s a thought that helps me get through the live-frog days.

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