The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001
he Paradoxical Commandments were written by Kent M. Keith in 1968 as part of a booklet for student leaders, when he was 19, a sophomore at Harvard College. They were part of The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council, his first booklet for high school student leaders. Here is how it all came about.
As a senior at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu, Kent was heavily involved in student government. He was student body president and also president of the Honolulu High School Association. He was excited about the challenges of leadership and good leadership techniques.
Because Hawaii did not have a student council leadership workshop to train student council leaders, Kent founded the Hawaii Student Leadership Institute, which held its first session in the summer of 1966. This was the first leadership workshop for high school student leaders that was founded and run entirely by high school students.
Kent went on to attend Harvard. During his four years as an undergraduate there, he gave more than 150 speeches at high schools, student leadership workshops, and state student council conventions in eight states. These were the turbulent sixties, when student activists were seizing buildings, throwing rocks at police, and shouting down opponents. Kent provided an alternative voice. In his public speaking, Kent encouraged students to care about others, and to work through the system to achieve change. One thing he learned was students didn’t know how to work through the system to bring about change. Some of them also tended to give up quickly when they faced difficulties or failures. They needed deeper, longer-lasting reasons to keep trying.
“I saw a lot of idealistic young people go out into the world to do what they thought was right, and good, and true, only to come back a short time later, discouraged, or embittered, because they got negative feedback, or nobody appreciated them, or they failed to get the results they had hoped for.” recalls Keith. “I told them that if they were going to change the world, they had to really love people, and if they did, that love would sustain them. I also told them that they couldn’t be in it for fame or glory. I said that if they did what was right and good and true, they would find meaning and satisfaction, and that meaning and satisfaction would be enough. If they had the meaning, they didn’t need the glory.”
Kent M. Keith (spring 1969)
In his sophomore year at Harvard, Kent began writing a booklet for high school student leaders that addressed both the how and the why of leading change. The booklet was titled The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council, and it was published by Harvard Student Agencies in 1968. The Paradoxical Commandments were part of Chapter Two, entitled “Brotherly What?”
“I laid down the Paradoxical Commandments as a challenge,” Keith said. “The challenge is to always do what is right and good and true, even if others don’t appreciate it. You have to keep striving, no matter what, because if you don’t, many of the things that need to be done in our world will never get done.”
He revised the booklet and a new edition, The Silent Revolution in the Seventies, was published by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) in 1972. Somewhere around 30,000 copies of the two editions were sold in the late sixties and early seventies. Kent also wrote two other booklets for student councils. The Silent Majority: The Problem of Apathy and the Student Council was published by the NASSP in 1971, and Now You’re in the Middle: A Handbook for the Student Council Adviser was published by NASSP in 1972.
Immediately after publication of The Silent Revolution, the Paradoxical Commandments were used by student leaders in speeches and student newspaper articles. Over the past 30 years, they have spread throughout the country and around the world.
The Mother Teresa Connection
Mother Teresa put the Paradoxical Commandments up on the wall of her children’s home in Calcutta. The fact that the commandments were on her wall was reported in a book compiled by Lucinda Vardey, Mother Teresa: A Simple Path, which was published in 1995. As a result, some people have attributed the Paradoxical Commandments to Mother Teresa.
“I found out about it in September 1997 at my Rotary Club meeting. We usually begin each meeting with a prayer or a thought for the day, and a fellow Rotarian of mine got up and noted that Mother Teresa had died, and said that, in her memory, he wanted to read a poem she had written that was titled “Anyway.” I bowed my head in contemplation, and was astonished to recognize what he read-it was eight of the original ten Paradoxical Commandments.”
“I went up after the meeting and asked him where he got the poem. He said it was in a book about Mother Teresa, but he couldn’t remember the title. So the next night I went to a bookstore and started looking through the shelf of books about the life and works of Mother Teresa. I found it, on the last page before the appendices in Mother Teresa: A Simple Path. The Paradoxical Commandments had been reformatted to look like a poem, and they had been retitled “Anyway.” There was no author listed, but at the bottom of the page, it said: “From a sign on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, the children’s home in Calcutta.”
Mother Teresa thought that the Paradoxical Commandments were important enough to put up on the wall of her children’s home. That really hit me. I wanted to laugh, and cry, and shout-and I was getting chills up and down my spine. Perhaps it hit me hard because I had a lot of respect for Mother Teresa, and perhaps because I knew something about children’s homes. Whatever the reason, it had a huge impact on me. That was when I decided to speak and write about the Paradoxical Commandments again, thirty years after I first wrote them.”
What Was on Mother Teresa’s Wall
What exactly was on Mother Teresa’s wall? According to Lucinda Vardey, in Mother Teresa: A Simple Path, page 185, there was “a sign on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, the children’s home in Calcutta.” This is what the sign said:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered,
LOVE THEM ANYWAY
If you do good, people will accuse you of
selfish, ulterior motives,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
If you are successful,
you win false friends and true enemies,
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY
What you spent years building may be
People really need help
but may attack you if you help them,
HELP PEOPLE ANYWAY
Give the world the best you have
And you’ll get kicked in the teeth,
GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU’VE GOT ANYWAY.
This version includes eight of the original ten Paradoxical Commandments. The two that are missing are the sixth (Think big anyway) and the seventh (Fight for a few underdogs anyway). The wording of the other eight commandments is very close to Kent Keith’s original, written in 1968.
In 1999, Rev. Robert Schuller published “Anyway” in his book, Turning Hurts into Halos. He recalled that he was part of the 15-member presidential delegation that represented the United States at Mother Teresa’s funeral. When they visited Mother Teresa’s orphanage, one of the sisters said: “Dr. Schuller, look what Mother Teresa had enlarged, framed, and hung in the front lobby here.” This is what Dr. Schuller was shown:
People are unreasonable, illogical, self-centered
…love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives
…do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies
…be successful anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow
…do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable
…be honest and frank anyway.
People love underdogs but follow only top dogs
…follow some underdog anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight
People really need help but may attack you if you try to help
…help people anyway.
If you give the world the best you have, you may get kicked in the teeth
…but give the world the best you have
This version has nine of the original ten Paradoxical Commandments. Only the sixth commandment is missing (Think big anyway). Again, the wording is close to Kent Keith’s original, written in 1968. A version of the commandments that has been circulating on the web under Mother Teresa’s name is a version sometimes called “The Final Analysis” because of its last two lines. Here is one example of that version:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true friends; succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world your best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
Here are Kent Keith’s comments on this version:
Of course, this is not the original version, nor the version that was on Mother Teresa’s wall, although it is sometimes attributed to her.
The last two lines in this “final analysis” version trouble me, because they can be read in a way that is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus, the life of Mother Teresa, and the message of the Paradoxical Commandments themselves. The statement that “it was never between you and them anyway” seems to justify giving up on, or ignoring, or discounting other people.
That is what Jesus told us we should not do. Jesus said that there are two great commandments-to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. So in the final analysis, it is between you and God, but it is also between you and “them.” And when it comes to them, Jesus made it clear that we have to love people and help people anyway. We can’t give up on them or ignore them or write them off. That is the point of the Paradoxical Commandments as well-we find meaning when we love and help people, no matter who they may be, or how difficult they may be. We find meaning by loving and helping them anyway.
Meet the Author of the Paradoxical Commandments
Dr. Kent M. Keith is a dynamic speaker and writer whose mission is to help people find personal meaning in a crazy world. He has been featured on the front page of The New York Times and in People magazine, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Family Circle. He was interviewed by Katie Couric on the NBC Today Show and by Dr. Schuller on The Hour of Power. He has appeared on dozens of TV shows and more than 100 radio programs in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
Dr. Keith has given over 900 presentations, conference papers, and seminars. His presentations and seminars are focused on servant leadership and finding personal meaning at home and at work.
Dr. Keith is known nationally and internationally as the author of the Paradoxical Commandments, which he wrote and published in 1968 in a booklet for student leaders.
His book, Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments was published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in April 2002, and became a national bestseller. His narration of Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments won a national “Audie” award from the Audio Publishers Association as the best audiobook of 2003 in the personal development/ motivational category. His second book, Do It Anyway: The Handbook for Finding Personal Meaning and Deep Happiness in a Crazy World, was published by Inner Ocean Publishing in November 2003. His third book, Jesus Did It Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments for Christians, was published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in October 2005. His newest book, Have Faith Anyway: The Vision of Habakkuk for Our Times, was published by Jossey-Bass in September 2008. Dr. Keith is also the author of the Universal Moral Code, a set of fundamental moral principles that can be found throughout the world, and The Case for Servant Leadership published in 2008 by the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
Dr. Keith has been an attorney, a state government official, a high tech park developer, president of a private university, graduate school lecturer, community organizer, and YMCA executive. He is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership.He earned a B.A. in Government from Harvard University, an M.A. in Philosophy and Politics from Oxford University, a Certificate in Japanese from Waseda University in Tokyo, a J.D. from the University of Hawaii, and an Ed. D. from the University of Southern California. He is a Rhodes Scholar.
Dr. Keith and his wife Elizabeth have three children.
More information about Dr. Keith and his work can be found at www.KentMKeith.com and www.UniversalMoralCode.com. Additional products based on the Paradoxical Commandments can be found at www.ParadoxicalChristians.com.