Saturday, 22 January 2011

Duty and vows; failure and success

For better or worse, this post feels like the spirit of Tangentville, whatever that is.

It started with Edward Sturton's excellent interview with Tom Hooper, director of "The King's Speech".

Hooper depicts George V as a man driven by a sense of duty to do a job which he did not want, and by which he was terrified. That legacy has been passed down, and lies at the heart of what our current queen regards as the discharging of her role as head of state. An overwhelming sense of duty can give human beings tunnel vision, and can lead people into dark places. We may succeed in doing what we see as our duty or we may fail. Thus Diana, late Princess Of Wales, found herself caught up in others' sense of duty, the politics of royal marriage and the need for clear succession to the throne, while her husband, having discharged his duty to his family and country, clearly fell short of his obligations to a woman who loved him - obligations he had freely taken on. This is to say nothing more than sometimes we succeed, with good results, and sometimes we fail, with tragic results. Our success or failure may result from conflicting personal priorities, or from some endemic personal weakness.

Being lately married myself, I'm bound to think of the vows I have recently made, and previous vows I had to break in order to make them. All the individual can do is to follow his/her conscience. Every set of circumstances is unique. Past failure doesn't guarantee future failure, as those fond of making blanket judgments might say. And we may find that tendency in ourselves in different areas. For instance, it strikes me that the Roman Catholic church's monumental mishandling of the sexual abuse of children by priests has tended to make me hostile to priests who have done absolutely nothing to deserve hostility. Celibacy may be too risky for the Church hierarchy to insist upon it, but that doesn't mean it can never work for some people. As I say, sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed, and only we can know the most likely outcome, based on previous experience and self-knowledge. It would seem that charles failed Diana because, God help them both, he did not love her enough. On an individual level, love certainly seems to be a better basis for human action than duty.