“Is there any one of the Royal Family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so,” Prince Harry is reported as saying this week. A quote that’s likely to have pleased his family as much as his divorced starlet/humanitarian girlfriend and his desire to “modernize the monarchy.”
His further explanation “we will carry out our duties at the right time… We are not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people… ” is very probably causing the old-timers a few palpitations (The Duke of Edinburgh has been in hospital…)
Indeed the news-wires are a fire; his implication that the Royals, born into a position of enormous privilege, are only doing the job of being royal grudgingly, has, of course, generated a host of headlines; including “Harry: No Royal Wants Throne” (Daily Mail, above).
The Queen espouses a different view; “I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do something else – I can give my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.” Royal sacrifice then to cement societal bonds. Harry probably has some explaining to do to his grandmother…
Duty, there’s probably no other term so good (and quick) at inducing a monster teenage sulk. A chore of a word. It shouts; obligation, onus, responsibility, obedience, respect, debt, sacrifice, burden. Adolescence pet hates – all of them.
There’s something else about duty – it comes with a spectrum. From simple tasks that help others to daily chores, caring commitments, and job requirements to religious rituals and community work and on right to the other end – the potentially soul-sapping, even life- harming (self-sacrifice, honour killings).
There are many motivations to duty too; for sympathy, approval or applause, to enhance self-importance, even self-enoblement. Duty certainly comes in all shapes and sizes.
But Harry’s comments at best show a lack of maturity. For all his schooling and army experience and charity work, he seems to be missing a meaningful understanding “of the people” for whom he and the Royals are carrying out their duties. Is there really a working adult on this planet who has a life without some form of duty? To an employer (or clients/customers), to a spouse, to children, to family, to a neighbourhood, to a community, to wider society… I don’t think so.
So is he saying royal duties are more onerous than ours? He who has no financial obligations or worries, no children, no caring responsibilities. Of course the premature death of his mother has scarred him greatly and formed his outlook, we feel deep sympathy for him. But he needs to be careful; his recent raking over the past and talk of mental anguish, which initially sounded honest and helpful, is starting to sound a bit like whinging.
It seems to be he’s lacking some purpose. He could do with finding some passion/s (well Prince Charles found plants…) and focus on how he can make more of a contribution.
Perhaps a bit history will help him think more deeply about duty;
“What brings no benefit to the hive brings none to the bee” –Meditations – Marcus Aurelius. Reinforcing duty as a responsibility – to contribute to the greater good.
Harry might find much to help him from this Roman Emperor (161- 180 AD), credited for practicing Stoicism. Born into a prominent family Marcus was destined to be a leader and expected to set an example. Responsibilities, he shouldered, with a clear sense of honor, he set high standards for emulation. Written in the form of confessions, his meditations are still revered as a literary monument to a government of service and duty, and have been praised for their “exquisite accent and infinite tenderness.”
Reading nuggets like this – humans are like dogs tied to the back of a cart. We don’t control where we go; the only thing we control is how much we whine and struggle along the way – might just transform his opinion.
Or he could try any of the novels by Jane Austen. “Duty” and “manners” are central to all her work; duty to society, morality and religious seriousness may may make her sound incredibly dull but the reason Ms Austen is still so rever’d is her ability to tells stories with humour and a host of colourful characters. Austen’s novels highlight the dangers of individualism over community; in Mansfield Park, Emma and Sense and Sensibility, she reveals how money and selfishness threaten to destabilize society.
If Harry has ever wondered what happens when those who are born to lives of and privilege and power forget to be grateful, he should read A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. In a story of love, dedication and vengeance, Dickens explores the deep societal divisions between the rich and the poor; contrasting Paris and London during the time of the French revolution.
To watch: Harry doesn’t need to look far into his own ancestry to remember the important part duty has played in his own family;
The Crown (Netflix): From her marriage to Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1947 to the disintegration of her sister Princess Margaret’s engagement to Peter Townsend in 1955; here’s how the Queen took her reign and duties seriously from the start.
and The King’s Speech: The story of King George VI, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch, become worthy of it.
Or he could try Schindler’s List: The story of the German businessman, Oskar Schindler, who risked his life to stand alone against the Nazi Party – a reminder for Harry of the difference one privileged man can make on the lives of many others.
Look Harry some days we don’t want to get up either. “The sight of duty does make one shiver … the actual doing of it would kill one, I think.” (Pastors and Masters, Ivy Compton-Burnett)
We all know duty can become a bore and a chore.
But you have a brilliant living, breathing example to learn from, do like the Queen – view duty as a state of mind; a state of being. And you’ll likely feel a lot less grumpy about it.