A duty is defined as a responsibility, obligation, or something we must do as part of the community. As a citizen of a country, everyone has duties to fulfill to ensure the general welfare and healthy coexistence among individuals.

Duties are the civic responsibilities every person has to protect, respect, and exercise their rights and to protect and respect the rights of others. This means that, when exercising a right, a series of duties or obligations must also be fulfilled. For example, in order to assert the right to education, people have a duty to go to school and study. Another example is the fact that, in order to guarantee a person’s right to a trial by jury in a criminal case, others need to fulfill their duty to serve as jurors. All people have rights. Some rights belong to us simply because we exist. These rights are known as human rights. Other rights are granted by the State by way of laws. These are known as civil rights. Civil rights include the rights recognized by the Constitution, which are also known as constitutional rights.

Legal, Moral, or Social Obligations

In general terms, duties are obligations everyone has as part of a society or community in order to live in harmony with one another. These obligations may be legal, moral, or social.

What are legal duties?

Legal or statutory duties are obligations that arise from the rules established by the government, such as the Constitution, laws, regulations, and ordinances. There are consequences for not fulfilling legal duties, such as a penalties or sanctions. For example, there is a law that provides that everyone must stop at a red traffic light. If you run a red light, the police may give you a ticket between $300 and $500.

What are moral duties?

Moral duties are responsibilities that arise from each person’s individual values and beliefs. Values have to do with what each person considers to be correct. These ideas regarding what is and is not correct lead to the rules by which each person behaves.

Values and beliefs vary according to a diversity of personalities, cultures, and life experiences. Diversity involves recognizing each person’s right to develop as a member of the society in which they live. In turn, social coexistence requires respecting, tolerating, accepting, and celebrating each person’s different qualities and the diversity they bring.
In short, moral duties are obligations arising from each individual’s conscience. For example, a moral duty is avoiding foul language in everyday conversations.

What are social duties?

Social duties are obligations that stem from social awareness and the sense of belonging to a group. These are behaviors and responsibilities that are expected based on the community’s understanding of what is right or wrong and what is fair or unfair. For example, in Puerto Rico, people say buen provecho (“enjoy your meal») when eating or salud (“bless you”) when a person sneezes. These expressions are not required by law but are still said to promote a peaceful coexistence and the getting along with others in society. Another example of a social duty that is not written in any law is that what is borrowed should be returned.

What are some examples of duties?

There are duties that arise from the Constitution and exist in a democratic system such as Puerto Rico. One of our primary duties as members of a democratic society is to abide by the law and participate, by way of voting, in the election of a government made up of individuals who are willing to hold office with integrity.

In addition, we have duties to our communities, such as the duty to help keep spaces clean, protect the environment, and report any situation that could put the safety of others at risk, among others.

Other examples of duties are:

  • respecting people’s dignity
  • treating all people equally
  • respecting people’s privacy
  • expressing ourselves and participating in matters that affect us all
  • contributing to the community’s welfare
  • protecting and making good use of our natural resources
  • assessing the government’s actions and the manner they are carried out
  • voting in order to elect the people who will represent us
  • serving as jurors in court
  • appearing in court as witnesses and being completely truthful
Why is it important to fulfill our duties?

By fulfilling our duties, we promote a healthy coexistence among people in a peaceful, respectful, and dignified environment. Good coexistence practices and healthy interpersonal relationships create better living conditions for everyone.

Revised: February 2023