Tradition, Duty, Commitment and Distraction

Tradition, Duty, Commitment and distraction, can the first three survive the fourth?


Coronation of Queen Elizabeth

Regular readers will have noticed my frequent references to overcoming adversity. Noticed too, my belief that many of the social ills of today are a result of most people in the developed world having lived sheltered (but not necessarily easy) lives in the second half of the 20th and early 21st centuries.

The feeling that “it’s the right thing to do” or it’s my duty” has been replaced by “It’s not my problem” or “I might get sued”. In many areas of modern life, there seems to be a preference for overturning tradition rather than continuing it. That’s not all bad, some traditions need to be ended. However some don’t, the difficult part is deciding which.

On March 11, 2016, I wrote about duty in this post- Duty is it still important? 

That post was inspired by the movie “Testament to Youth”. We had watched it after we decided to stop wasting money and time on our satellite television subscription and change to Netflix.

Tradition and Duty as depicted in The “Crown”

We recently finished watching the series “The Crown” which covered Queen Elizabeth’s life from childhood through her uncle’s abdication, her father’s death and her accession to the throne as a young, inexperienced, woman. The series ends with the Queen’s agonising decision to follow tradition and refuse permission for her sister, Princess Margaret to marry the love of her life, Peter Townsend.

As a child, she had (so the series portrays) promised her father that she would always stand by her younger sister and look after her. A promise she desperately wanted to keep, but finally had to break – because it was the right thing to do.

Looking back 60 years, it seems incredible that the UK government may have fallen if the Queen had chosen family over tradition and duty. If it had allowed a member of the Royal Family to marry a divorced commoner. The series may depart from actual events by perpetuating the widespread belief that Princess Margaret was not given permission to marry.  In 2007, a letter was found that indicated Princess Margaret may have had misgivings about marrying Peter Townsend. It now appears that the Queen and Prime Minister Eden were attempting to remove barriers to the marriage.


Peter Townsend exiting Hawker Hurricane at RAF Fighter Command 1940

How times have changed, three of the Queen’s own children divorced. Her oldest son’s ex-wife involved in an affair with a foreigner and killed in a car crash. Certainly a departure from tradition.

It seems equally incredible, that I was alive in that era. As a three year old, I stood with my parents on a crowded London street watching the coronation procession. I remember many of the makes and models of cars used in the series. Ford Poplars and Prefects, Wolseley, Morris, Austin, Humber, Hillman, MG, Bentley and Rolls Royce. All reminders of an English motoring tradition mostly gone the way of the dinosaur.

England had not fully recovered from the effects of WWII, had just suffered the humiliation of the Suez crisis. The government was not in a strong position, the Queen came under pressure to put duty before family, she did.

The series recalls many other examples of people following tradition throughout that period, selfless devotion to duty. Winston Churchill as Prime Minister for the second time, in his 80’s surviving two strokes, continuing to lead the government. Peter Townsend, Princess Margaret’s fiance quietly disappearing instead of, resorting to twitter, posting weepy “selfies”on Facebook or looking for someone to sue.

Am I an uncritical admirer of the British Royal family? Not at all. I wonder how long the institution can continue in the modern world. With the benefit of hindsight, I think Princess Margaret was treated very badly, as did many British people at the time. But I do believe the monarchy represents what is good about tradition and how the concept of doing one’s duty is still important.

What I do admire is the commitment to filling her role for over 60 years that the Queen has demonstrated. The concept that sometimes we need to do hard things because it is our duty to do the right thing, no matter how hard that may be.

Will the beneficial traditions, the value of duty and commitment survive the distractions of social media, the selfishness of instant gratification, the loss of free speech and the curse of frivolous litigation?

Eventually, I believe they will, but I do believe they will continue to be under attack for most of my remaining years.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

photos courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons.



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