When I was in my formative teen years (4 decades ago), I came across this advice (that I’m about to share with you). It shaped my personality and became part of my code of ethics. It has served me well, especially in the face of daunting challenges and harsh treatment.
The Paradoxical Commandments
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 to 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.
© Dr. Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001
That version was written in 1968
Recently, I came across another version, apparently uttered by Mother Teresa. I was confused about the similarity between both versions. With a bit of research, I discovered the truth. The original version was indeed penned by Dr. Keith (as above) when he was a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard College. It was published at the time in a Harvard publication.
Some years later, the poem ended up (slightly modified) on Mother Teresa’s wall. Upon her passing in 1997, it would be seen in a book about her life but the attribution was uncertain.
In a strange twist of events, the original author, Dr. Keith, was in a rotary meeting in 1997 (29 years after he wrote this creed). At the meeting’s open, one of the club members wished to share a tribute to Mother Teresa as she had just passed away. Dr. Keith bowed his head in respect as he listenned. But his serene disposition shifted as his recognition grew — he was in shock to hear a poem so similar to the one he had penned 29 years earlier.
After the meeting, he asked about the source of that reading and was amazed to figure out that it was his original poem which had been so lovingly displayed on Mother Teresa’s wall – as chosen by her.
You can read about the unusual history direct from the source:
The Mother Teresa Connection
The book this was originally published in:
Do It Anyway: The Handbook for Finding Personal Meaning and Deep Happiness in a Crazy World (author’s website for this and other books to strengthen your moral fiber.)
Thank you Dr. Keith for this gift of uncommon sensibility. It shaped my lifelong commitment to be a good person. Even decades later, as I discovered just how broken the world really is – and getting kicked in the teeth a few times – it helped me to reaffirm that commitment… anyway.
Later in my life, I sometimes did deep acts of kindness for people who had been cruel to me. Knowing they needed help and I could do that from afar, I kept a generosity of spirit… anyway. When someone asked why I did such a thing for people who were mean, I answered; “It’s about the kind of person I am, not because they deserve it.”
As I reflect on this poem, I can see in hindsight how much it shaped my character. No matter how people treated me, I learned to be kind and charitable… anyway.