Duty, a Tough and Overlooked Source of Resistance to Change

My cat finally died this week forcing me to ponder how duty can create resistance to change.

We adopted this cat seven years ago from a shelter. Who knows what happened to her in her first seven or eight years but she was smart enough to cozy up to us and secure a home. Quickly we discovered how very neurotic, destructive and unaffectionate she was. We never seriously considered returning her to the shelter because a mature cat might not get a third chance.  She became a responsibility and duty.

How often does our sense of duty prevent us from acting in ways that would clearly improve our situation? What belief or ideals form that sense of duty? When people put up with a bad situation, the reasons are seldom as simple as a love of the status quo or a fear of the unknown. They may well be making rational choices based on different values than the change advocates hold.  

You see decisions like this play out all the time:

  • People stay in jobs where the work is worthwhile, but the boss is crazy and the resources are inadequate to do the job right.
  • Families don’t abandon dysfunctional family members even when they are destroying the quality of life for everyone.
  • Patriotism and citizenship require honor and respect for the country and our leaders, yet governments should be opposed when they act in unjust and unwise ways.

No amount of inspiration, coaching and action planning is going to move people off values and beliefs that run this deep.   If duty is the source of resistance, these values have to be surfaced and examined.  Until new values or a different sense of duty comes into play, change will be difficult.

I could afford the patience to outlast my cat because she was not that essential to my wellbeing.  I paid a relatively low price for accepting this duty. In many cases people pay too dear a price for their sense of duty.  They cannot and should not wait for the cat to die.