If you look at the Roman Virtues home page, you will see Dutifulness described as "more than religious piety; a respect for the natural order socially, politically, and religiously." People in modern times, at least in the West, have a particular disrespect for the natural order. In America, for example, one is not believed deserve greater respect because of a birthright or lineage but by who he or she is, and they usually feel more comfortable lampooning those with privilege rather than those without. It is possible to see this Dutifulness in a modern light, however, especially if you remove the word "natural" from the description. Think of all the people in your life that have been your "superior". The list would include people such as teachers, employers, parents, project leaders, ministers maybe, etc. It is easier to see that these people should be treated with respect, not because they naturally deserve it from you, but because of the work they did to reach their level of responsibility and also for the benefit of their mutual respect. When you frequently disrespect those in authority over you, you not only hurt your reputation and chances of success but you are likely discounting the experience or advice from someone who has (hopefully) proven to be qualified. Being too quick to disregard those over you out of jealousy or overconfidence will poison your world view and attitude over time, and you should be willing, when appropriate, to give up decision making to another person—even if that person isn’t doing as well as you believe you would be.

If you have a problem showing respect toward those in authority and you realize that it has more to do with their position rather than a fair judgment on their character, you need to discover the reason behind your poor behavior. It could be jealousy of those who have been more successful, or it may be you have anxiety issues that crop up when someone is looking over your shoulder and evaluating your work. It could be a slightly twisted world view or even something simple as bad manners. Whatever the reason may be, if you have a hard time being "dutiful" even when it is clearly you interest to do so, then you need to take some time for serious self-reflection and figure out what is keeping you from being able to work well under a supervisor and tackle that problem so you have that obstacle out of your way. Large, human societies demand that some people oversee the work of others, and while the system isn't always fair you can't successfully participate in society unless you have some basic skills that permit you to be responsible to a superior.

Now, Dutifulness according to the Roman Virtues also includes "the ideas of patriotism and devotion to others." This means two things. One, that you respect and support your country, and that can be improved by using the technique above and by the habit of getting involved in the political process. The second part concerns how you show devotion not only to your work and the cause of a boss, but also for those closest to you. You should be dutiful toward your family and to those that are like family, and you should respect them and be willing to sacrifice for their benefit. The latter is more of a personal side of dutifulness, but you can also achieve success with this side using the same technique up above. If you love your family and close friends, and you want good things for them but have difficulty being devoted to them, you need to take time for self-reflection and find out what it is that is keeping you from committing fully to the relationship. There are plenty of potential obstacles, but some common ones include fear, anger, depression, or some form of selfishness.

While there have been some good guidelines given up above that will help you with this virtue, here are some more concrete activities that may help you further:


  • Go Above and Beyond for a Loved One, at Least for a Period: We can't do everything for everyone, but our character really does change after we alter our behavior even if our good actions aren't completely spontaneous at first. For instance, people who smile more tend to become happier, and people who show affection grow to be more naturally affectionate over time. With this in mind, try to set aside an extended period of time that you really go out of your way to nurture and help someone you believe you need to be more dutiful to. This will allow you to see how this affects your relationship, attitude and, if you do it long enough, your character. You might not be able to indefinitely maintain the same level of attention after the experiment, but make a new long term goal after you have finished and seen the results.
  • Stop the Workplace Gossip: While you should probably stop gossiping in general, take extra care not to "bad-mouth" the boss—even when you're positive he or she's not around. Like I mentioned in the previous example, our actions help dictate our character and practicing more respect while talking about supervisors is one way to eventually be more respectful of them in general.
  • Finish One (or Two or Three) Projects with Full Attention: After a job is no longer new, one sometimes tries to get through work days with as little effort as possible. While you don't want to make tasks more complicated than they have to be, this habit can spiral into more and more lazy behavior—and certainly make you less dutiful toward your job. Turning around all of your bad behavior at once might be daunting, but choose one important task or project and then be determined to get it done meticulously well; the idea is to do it so well that anyone paying close attention will notice something is different. When that is over, chose one or two more tasks and do the same thing. You will hopefully see a difference either in your own pride or in the appreciation of those you work under. After the experiment, make new goals based on the what you've learned so you can maintain a significant improvement.
  • Work on Industry: If the above activity isn't enough or doesn't easily apply to you, work on the Industry value from the Roman Virtues. Being industrious might, over time, make you more open to being dutiful to your employers or teachers (which is always easier when they begin to respect you more as well).

Your Record

Whenever you act out in resentment of authority (this could be gossip, direct confrontation, or avoiding work), mark yourself at "fault". Whenever you show disrespect toward your loved ones, mark yourself at fault. Make some goals based on the activities up above. If you fail to complete your chosen activities or if you fall short on your goals, then mark yourself at fault.


Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles, and kindnesses, and small obligations, given habitually, are what win and preserve the heart and secure comfort.

Humphry Davy, English Chemist

True happiness is to understand our duties toward God and man; to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence on the future; not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears, but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is abundantly sufficient.

Seneca, Roman Philosopher

We are face to face with our destiny and we must meet it with a high and resolute courage. For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th American President

Golden Mean

Irresponsibility, Carelessness, Negligence, Unreliability

Recommended Reading

Honest, Direct, Respectful: Three Simple Words that will Change your Life — by Dennis D. Adams

This book is about being honest and respectful in your communication, but since actions turn inward into feelings, this isn't a bad book to read for help on this subject.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most — by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, Roger Fisher

Informative and enjoyable book for discussing what matters most. In studying hundreds of conversations the authors have discovered that "each difficult conversation is really three conversations... And in each of these conversations we make predictable errors that distort our thoughts and feelings, and get us into trouble."

General Rules

Practice virtues daily so that they become ‘habits of the heart’.

Don‘t strive for perfection.

Never give up! Remember: even the greats have off days.

Rely on your intuition.

Avoid extremes. Strive to achieve the golden mean between excess and deficiency of a virtue.

Have fun and enjoy the program with humor and optimism.

So long as I am acting from duty and conviction, I am indifferent to taunts and jeers. I think they will probably do me more good than harm. Winston Churchill