Parable on the Futility of Duty

76. Parable on the Futility of Duty

The servants in Jesus’ parable lack freedom. When we operate out of duty or obligation we are like those servants – enslaved by the demands and expectations of our culture. This is not hard to relate to. Just think about all the things you do not because you want to do them, but because you feel you should do them. That is slavery. If you think about it long enough you’ll probably reach the conclusion that you operate in slave mode the vast majority of the time. But that is not how we are meant to live. We are meant to be free.

This is not to say that we should only do what we feel like doing; the point is to be aware of what we do and why, and to act out of conscious volition. Are we cutting two inches off the pot roast because that is how it was always done, or because the roast is indeed too big for our pan?

I remember talking to a friend of mine who said her goal was to own her home by the time she was 30. I asked her why she chose that goal. She could not answer. While most everyone she knew would say yes, great goal, she could not produce her own internal, autonomous reason for adopting it. She was driven by a cultural value system that had never been examined in the light of her own interests and priorities. Had she done so, she may have still kept the same goal, or she may not have. But whatever she decided, it would have been her choice; not an unconscious, inherited set of priorities.

When our choices are autonomous, they have lasting value. When they are not, disillusionment is often the result. Think about your own experience of acting out of duty, and ask yourself if the outcome wasn’t ultimately a loss of energy and drive mixed in with a good amount of resentment. Doing things out of duty is like running off of a non-rechargeable battery. We can do it for while but eventually we run out of energy and grind to a halt. This may be what depression is all about. But doing things based on an autonomous relationship with reality is like running off of an outlet: the energy supply never ends.