A Multi-Generational Perspective - Doing Your Duty & Social Distancing

Where does our Duty lie? COVID-19 created new dynamics which many of us have struggled to grasp. We face health, economic and personal financial concerns. Is it our Duty - our moral obligation - to stay home, social distance and prevent the spread of this virus?  Is it our moral obligation to keep people employed, off unemployment and out of the need for food banks? We might wonder. We also might also wonder if it is our moral obligation when it impacts our family’s nest egg, the ability to send our kids to college or to still be able to retire.

These are all big decisions which take a lot of work to process. I believe the 6 Habits of Character can provide framework to help us do that processing well. That is why in today’s post, we will discuss the habit of Duty.

You see, the choices families make right now expose their priorities and perspectives. These competing perspectives often cut across generational lines.  Throughout this series of blogs, my son Jake and I have sought to examine the unique issues we all face in this pandemic and find ways to still exercise character.  

Jake graduated college a year ago. This meant the spring and summer of 2020 was scheduled to be a very busy wedding season. He had 4 weddings to attend between March and October, with another 10 friends getting married during those same months.

With COVID-19, everything changed. A month into social distancing, something interesting happened. Jake’s friends, whose big days were planned to the nth degree, started social distancing weddings. They conducted private weddings in their backyards or in a secluded park, rather than a lavish wedding as originally planned. 

For these couples, a major life milestone was disrupted by the pandemic. Rather than risking the health and wellbeing of the people they had planned to celebrate with, they decided to honor the guidelines issued by the CDC and change their plans. They believed it was their Duty, even on their wedding day. 

We define Duty as, “Taking action based on assigned tasks and moral obligations.” But let’s take it a step further and uncover how exercising Duty looks different to different generations.

Jake’s Perspective: 

I have noticed protests of individuals wanting to reopen the economy, roll back social distancing regulations and move on with life. Of course everyone wants these things to happen. But with the threat of COVID-19 not yet eradicated, experts have warned against a premature reopening. 

For many people my age, this is frustrating. Many of my friends are losing their jobs, their newfound independence as an adult and even their wedding days. I have a lot of sympathy for anyone who has to postpone or reimagine their weddings. Yet, I respect the fact they are putting the guidelines of experts ahead of their own desires. That is not easy. It certainly is not the way they imagined their wedding, even just a few months ago.

Their Duty to the sick and the at-risk in their community led to them make a hard decision. Of course they would rather have their weddings as planned, with their friends and family gathered to celebrate. But because of the unprecedented crisis we are in, they had to pivot. Their example of Duty is encouraging for us all.

How can you determine your Duty?

  • Ask yourself what is most important. People’s lives are on the line. Even if you and your family are healthy, many people aren’t so lucky. They wear masks and stay six feet away from everyone to protect themselves or an at-risk loved one. Their health should not be sacrificed under any circumstances.

  • Make sacrifices with others in mind. Selflessness and Duty go together. When you decide to wear a mask to the grocery store, or give a wide berth on the sidewalk, or even give up your big wedding celebration, you are making a sacrifice with the safety of others in mind.

  • Understand that doing the right thing can hurt. Not being able to work - hurts. Staying in your house all day - hurts. But if by exercising Duty, you are helping save lives – this matters. The grandmother who stays healthy will be able to bless her grandchild’s life; the cancer-stricken father who stays healthy will be able to beat the disease and watch his children grow up. Your Duty in this time is not necessarily about you. 

Different generations likely see their Duty in a different light. However, my dad always tells me Selflessness and Duty are inseparable. His perspective and specific suggestions make a lot of sense to me now in the midst of the pandemic.

Dave’s Thoughts:

I am a small business owner with a consulting company. We shut our office and my team is working remotely.  But while at home, I have begun to realize the long-term effects. The clients our company relies on for our revenue have been vastly affected by COVID-19. Their cash reserves are dwindling and they are cutting costs just to survive.  As a result, we are doing the same things. We know the ripple effect could mean it will take considerable time for our clients and us to become healthy again.

As we get older, (or as my dad, The General, says, “We get chronologically superior.”) our responsibilities to others grow.  While we each have a moral obligation to our society, no matter what generation we represent, our moral obligations become more personal as we age. Think of the additional responsibility we gain as we move from being single and supporting only ourselves to the expanding responsibilities of being a spouse, parent, manager, vice-president or business owner.  

Each of our moral obligations represent another person and have our own individual emotions tied to it. The faces of our kids, our employees and even our employees’ kids can drive our sense of Duty to them. In a time like this, many of us are unsure if we will be able to follow through on our promises to them. 

This is the tension I feel. It’s not about me. It is about those faces I see.

My struggle between Duty to the larger, yet faceless health concerns feels as if it stands in contrast to my Duty to the economic and family issues I feel daily.  I know I am not alone. Many of you feel the same. To guide my thinking, I have asked myself:

“What has Duty looked like in the past?”

  • Remember your parents/grandparents. The sense of Duty exercised by the Greatest Generation - the World War II generation - involved incredible sacrifice both financially and personally. These sacrifices did not last a few months. They lasted years.  From 1941-1945, husbands and wives lived on different continents, fought wars and worked factory jobs - all while the nation had food rationing. If they could do that, I believe we can social distance for a few months. I want to live up to their example.

  • Keep the big picture. In my lifetime, I have seen the Arab Oil Embargo, the stock market drop of 1987, 9/11 and the great recession of 2008. Each of these created economic hardships. Those struggles were real in the short-run.  But, those years were followed by economic growth.  Historically speaking, economies go up and down. In up economies and down economies, the people I love were always there. This reminds me to take the time to fulfill my moral obligations to the relationships with the people I care about, no matter what the economy is doing.

  • Prepare for the future. Something unexpected and scary will happen again in the future. This is life. It is my moral obligation to be a leader who is better prepared when life throws me another curve ball.  I must be better prepared professionally and personally next time than I was this time. It is my moral obligation to learn and commit to growing through all of this. 

Selflessness and Duty go hand-in-hand. Taking action based on our moral obligations often means we sacrifice something for someone or something else. For the younger generations, you may be sacrificing big weddings, graduations and vacations. For the older generations it may be sacrificing short-term financial goals or even changing career goals.  These matter whether we view them as big or small. But, we each have a higher moral obligation.  

We are all giving up something during the pandemic. Our healthcare workers, law enforcement and first responders are acting based on their moral obligations - and we honor them for it.  Duty may be an antiquated concept in some circles, but it is an essential habit we all have the opportunity to exercise in these strange times.  It is what Leaders of Character choose to do.

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