The Paradoxical Commandments were written by Kent M. Keith when he was 19, a sophomore at Harvard College. He wrote them as part of a book for student leaders entitled The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council, published by Harvard Student Agencies in 1968. The Paradoxical Commandments subsequently spread all over the world, and have been used by millions of people.
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.
As Kent explains in his book, Do It Anyway: The Handbook for Finding Personal Meaning and Deep Happiness in a Crazy World:
“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.”
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
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