High School/Adult Book – “The Paradoxical Commandments”

I just got a book out of the public library titled, ANYWAY – The Paradoxical Commandments; Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World by Kent M. Keith.

In this book, the author tells the story of how the Paradoxical Commandments came to be written. They are sometimes attributed to Mother Teresa but were in fact written by an American, Kent Keith. As a 19 year old in 1968, he wrote them to inspire young people to leave their mark on the world by making it a better place.

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.
Succeed anyway.

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.
Build anyway.

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

I couldn’t help but notice how much these “commandments,” and the thinking behind them, fit Level D. I want to show you some of the introduction to this book. These few paragraphs really stood out on the page for me.  This man’s philosophy and approach to life clearly describes the motivation and thinking of Level D of the Discipline without Stress approach.

I think that if you’re interested in promoting responsibility and influencing young people to “do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do,” then a discussion of these Paradoxical Commandments would make a great lesson. See if you don’t agree with me! I wish someone had introduced and discussed them with me while I was in high school.

Taken from the Introduction of the book:

I was nineteen, a sophomore at Harvard, when I wrote the Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership.” They were part of a booklet I wrote for high school student leaders titled The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council…..

During the turbulent sixties, I was actively speaking at high schools, student leadership workshops, and student council conventions in eight states. I encouraged students to work through the system to achieve change. I didn’t tell them that working through the system was easy. I told them that it took sustained effort, and that the sustained effort need to be motivated by a genuine concern for others. I stressed that point because I had seen too many students start out with high hopes and high ideals, and then give up because they got negative feedback or suffered failure. If they really cared about others, they would have the strength to keep trying, even if things were tough.

I laid down the Paradoxical Commandments as a challenge. The challenge is to always do what is right and good and true, even if others don’t appreciate it. Making the world a better place can’t depend on applause. 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.

I had heard lots of excuses, and I wasn’t buying them. OK – maybe people are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. So what? You have to love them anyway. And maybe the good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. So what? You have to do good anyway.

The specific Commandments grew out of my own experience and observations of life. Several incidents that shaped the Commandments are described in the text. However, if there was a single experience behind the Commandments,it was the insight that I had as I walked into the stadium for the student awards ceremony at the end of my senior year at my high school.  It occurred to me at that moment that I was so happy about what I had done that year, and I felt so good about what I had learned and whom I had helped, that I didn’t need any awards. I had already been rewarded. I already had the sense of meaning and satisfaction that came from doing a good job. The meaning and satisfaction were mine, whether or not anybody gave me an award.

That realization was a major breakthrough for me. I felt completely liberated and completely at peace. I knew that if I did what was right and good and true, my actions would have their own intrinsic value. I would always find meaning. I didn’t need to have glory.

Then another few paragraphs further on:

Yes, the world is crazy. If it doesn’t make sense to you, you’re right. It really doesn’t make sense. The point is not to complain about it. The point is not to give up hope. The point is this: The world doesn’t make sense, but you can make sense. You can find personal meaning. That’s what this book is about. It’s about finding personal meaning in a crazy world.

Because the world is crazy and you’re not, you will find personal meaning in paradox. A “paradox” is an idea that is contrary to popular opinion, something that seems to contradict common sense and yet is true. This book is about ten Paradoxical Commandments.

If you can accept the Paradoxical Commandments, then you are free. You are free from the craziness of this world. The Paradoxical Commandments can be your personal declaration on independence. Put them up on your wall as a reminder of your freedom. For the rest of your life, you can do what you believe is right and good and true because it makes sense to you.

The Paradoxical Commandments are not morbid or pessimistic. If you do what is right and good and true, you will often be appreciated for your contributions. But if you can find personal meaning without the world’s applause, you are free. You are free to do what makes sense to you whether or not others appreciate it. You are free to be who you were meant to be. You are free to find the meaning that others miss. And when you find that meaning, you will find a happiness deeper than any you have ever known.

Kent Keith has a website, if you are interested: http://www.paradoxicalcommandments.com/