Love Them Anyway, The Paradoxical Commandments
Each day at least once it happens. Sometimes on particularly trying days, it feels like it happens all day long.
I get some bad news or I see something upsetting and I find the “Anyway” verses tapping me on the shoulder and wagging their fingers at me. For as far back as I can remember, these words come to mind: Love them anyway. Do it anyway. Create anyway.
I was a 22 year old college kid when I first read them myself. I wanted to be somewhere else, do something better, make bigger differences in the world. I started (but sadly never finished) the process of joining the Peace Corps and that led me to join a host of humanitarian groups that were idealistic in the same way I was idealistic at 22. It was inside these circles that the “Anyway” verses first moved into my psyche and took up a permanent residence there.
You know the verses I’m talking about. They’re the ones that say something like, “People are horrible, mean and rude. Love them anyway.” They’re the verses that give you every excuse in the world to be jaded and cynical and then they charge you to rise above those temptations. They’re exactly the kinds of sentiments a saint would write and they’re often credited to Mother Teresa because she had them displayed on the wall of her orphanage in India.
Only Mother Teresa didn’t write them. A 19-year old kid named Kent Keith did, and he wrote them when he was a sophomore at Harvard University working on his Political Science degree.
Did I mention he was 19?
It was 1968…the hot middle of the Civil Rights Movement when America was as volatile and treacherous a place as anyone could imagine. And then here’s this college kid writing a handbook on student leadership who also happens to, as a side note, hammer out a list of maxims that winds up in the hands of Mother Teresa. THE Mother Teresa!!!
It gets more bizarre. In 1997 right after Mother Teresa died, Kent Keith was attending a Rotary Club Meeting. As the keynote speaker delivered thoughtful remarks on her passing, everyone bowed their heads as the guy recited a silent prayer. Then he quoted the ‘Anyway’ verses, or at least 8 out of the original 10 of them as Keith himself listened on, and Dr. Keith instantly recognized the words as his own.
After a little research, Dr. Keith discovered the likely journey his sentiments had taken in the thirty years since he first wrote them. The Paradoxical Commandments, as they were originally named, had been reformatted to look like a poem and they’d been retitled “Anyway” by someone we will never know. They were immortalized once Mother Teresa crafted the majority of them into a sign for the wall of the Shishu Bhavan, her children’s home in Calcutta. Since then, folks just always associated them with her. Dr. Keith says he didn’t mind.
And the rest is history. Let’s be honest, that’s some impressive company to share a history with.
I was reading my “Anyway’ verses recently and I wondered about what kind of kid comes up with something so…big. So I emailed the guy myself and asked him. Turns out he is alive and well and answers his emails. It made my day.
Good Morning Dr. Keith,
I was wondering if there was a specific event back in 1968 that caused you to achieve such introspection? Those are impressively lofty visions for a 19 year old kid! I wish all of my students saw the world that way, at that age. I am so appreciative of your time.
Thank you for your message. In answer to your question, back in the sixties I was working with student leaders. It was a time of conflict and confrontation on many campuses, but also a time of hope and idealism. I noticed that many students gave up trying to make the world a better place because change didn’t take place quickly and people didn’t seem to appreciate what they were trying to do. I encouraged them to love people, because that is one of the few motivations that is strong enough to keep you going during the change process– which usually takes time. I also told them that if they went out to do what is right and good, they would get a lot of meaning and satisfaction. That meaning and satisfaction would be theirs, whether anyone appreciated them or not. I wrote the Paradoxical Commandments to encourage people to stay focused on doing what is right and good because that is where they will find the meaning, even in the face of adversity.
I was blessed to grow up in a family that lived this way. I thought I was reporting, not inventing. Of course, I had my own way of writing the message, using a statement of adversity followed by a positive commandment. But I was basically describing a way of living that I was experiencing through my parents and aunts and uncles. They were good at quietly doing the right thing, anyway.
All my best–
Ahhhhh. He had great parents. Well, of course he did. Thank God for strong mothers and fathers. You already know how I feel about the importance of having those.
Here they are. I hope they come to mean as much to you as they have always meant to me.
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 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
For more information on Dr. Keith, please visit his Website