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Rights vs Duties


Explanations > Preferences > Rights vs Duties

Rights | Duties | Discussion | So what?


People tend to view themselves as having rights and duties. Some tend more to feel they have a right to things. Others see themselves more in having the duty to provide. This can have a significant effect on how they behave. While we all have some rights and some duties, some of us focus more on one than the other.


Some people feel they have rights, that they should receive certain things or should be allowed to engage in certain actions without hindrance or consequence. Those who feel they have rights consider themselves to be entitled to a range of benefits, from getting first choice when there are others involved to not having to work and being supported by other people.

The sense of having the right to have or do something can come in many forms, for example:

  • A teenager feeling they have the right to do whatever they like without bearing the consequences.
  • A disabled person feels they have the right to support so they have a decent quality of life.
  • A manager feels they have the right to speak unpleasantly to their staff.
  • A person crossing a field feels they have the right to do so in order to get to the other side.

People often use 'rights' as a justification for their actions, which may be anti-social or even illegal. Those with a higher sense of rights as opposed to duties, are likely to be more selfish and 'users' of others who they feel are obliged to provide them with things they have the right to have (or at least not try to stop them).


People with a sense of duty feel obliged to act in certain ways and that they will be wrong and bad if they do not do this.

The sense of duty can include actions such as:

  • A parent working long hours to earn money to support their family.
  • A soldier running into enemy gunfire as they seek to protect their country.
  • A leader who feels it is important to be open and honest with employees about upcoming change.

Those with a greater sense of duty are the 'givers' in life with more concern for others. As generosity is related to happiness, these people tend to be more cheerful and content than those who have a greater focus on their rights.


Duties and rights are often based in beliefs and values. These may be socially defined, both generically or within a certain social context, for example where groups of disadvantaged people encourage each other to demand their rights.

The sense of having rights can come from early life where parents and other carers were perhaps too generous. Likewise, the sense of duty can be instilled by ensuring children carry out chores and help others. Duty is also instilled in certain professions such as the armed forces, where 'unnatural acts' such as killing others and putting oneself in danger are required.

People with a sense of duty may well support those who feel they have rights, making the 'rights vs duties' preference a matched pair. Those who feel they have rights need those who feel a sense of duty in order to fulfil their entitlements. In some ways also the people with a sense of duty also need the people with 'rights' so they can give and fulfil their duty. In this way, those with duty preferences often stand up for the rights of others.

In practice, the only rights and duties we have are those which are defined by law, policy or other rules which are enforced to ensure the rights of people are protected and that those who have duties (such as parents and police officers) carry out their jobs correctly.

So what?

Understand what real rights and duties you and others have and work from this. Beware of people with a rights focus who try to impose this on you as being a duty you must fulfil. Beware also of extremes in either end of this preference scale, in particular those who feel they have the right to be fully supported by you so they can 'retire' from the real world.

See also


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