“1- People can be illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered… Love them anyway.
2- If you do good, people might accuse you of selfish ulterior motives… Do good anyway.
3- If you are successful, you might win false friends and true enemies… Succeed anyway.
4- The good you do today might be forgotten tomorrow… Do good anyway.
5- Honesty and frankness might make you vulnerable… Be honest and frank anyway.
6- 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.
7- People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs… Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
8- What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight… Build anyway.
9- People really need help but they may attack you if you do help them… Help people anyway.
10- Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth… Give the world the best you have … anyway.”
The Paradoxical Commandments caught my eyes when an associate dean shared it with me as a prayer from Mother Teresa. Searching for its origin, it turned out it was originally written by Dr. Kent Keith, a Rhodes Scholar, during his undergraduate years at Harvard. There is evidence to suggest that Mother Teresa had a modified copy of the poem on her wall. This could be why it has been attributed to her under the title “Final Analysis.”
Reading it the first time, I had mixed thoughts. I was intrigued, confused and paradoxically inspired. Each line embraces a paradox of life and human behavior. And with every line, I was left with more appreciation for the paradox of human nature.
The first of the paradoxical commandments “People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway” has elements of truth. Despite that some around us might not be as grateful or reasonable as we hope they would, it does not provide a reason to prevent us from caring for the many others who could be more grateful and more reasonable.
Thinking about co-workers, employees and bosses, some can act in an illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered manner. “Doing good anyway,” they might reciprocate the good. They also might not. Doing good does not mean they have to care for us because we cared for them; it simply means we give ourselves and them a chance to move on.
“The good you do today might be forgotten tomorrow.” Some of the good work might be forgotten. At the end, “to forget is human.” Much of the good work yet won’t go unnoticed. It – paradoxically – comes back to us when we expect it the least … and, often, when we need it the most.
The final line left me – paradoxically – uplifted. “Kicks in the teeth” are integral component of our life curriculum. Altruism – even when not appreciated – is an act of maturity and empathy. It ought to be done…anyway.
- Poem From Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments – Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World. Dr. Kent Kieth