The Paradoxical Commandments

The Paradoxical Commandments is both a poem and a book by Kent M. Keith. He wrote the poem as an undergraduate. Two decades after writing the original poem, Dr. Keith wrote a book of the same title expanding on the themes of the poem: The Paradoxical Commandments: Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World.

Using the well-known ten-commandment format, he wrote:

  1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
  2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
  3. If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
  4. The good you do today, will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
  5. Honesty and frankness 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 favour 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 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.

Mother Teresa published a version, which Kent Keith titled “The Final Analysis,” from the wording of commandment nine.

  1. People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centred. Forgive them anyway.
  2. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
  3. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
  4. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
  5. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
  6. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
  7. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
  8. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
  9. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Dr. Keith had an issue with the last statement in Mother Teresa’s version:

“…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 must love people and help people anyway. We can’t give up on them, 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.”