No doubt you’ve seen some version of the “paradoxical commandments” below.
The first time I read them, they were attributed to Mother Teresa. An internet search suggests she did keep a version of those commandments posted on the wall of her Calcutta orphanage.
But several sources agree that they originated with a Harvard undergraduate named Kent M. Keith and were first published under his name in 1968.
Many other people — famous, infamous and anonymous — including, for instance, the late Rev. Robert Schuller, have adapted slightly different versions of the commandments.
Some listings have eight commandments, some nine, some 10. Some include a brief coda.
This, as nearly as I can tell from visiting multiple internet sites, including a website purportedly operated by Keith, is the original version:
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 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 with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men 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 might be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
People really need help but might 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.
As I mentioned, somewhere along the way, someone else attached a coda to the commandments. I like it, too. It says:
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway.
For some reason, the paradoxical commandments popped into my mind after I read an email from a reader about the column I wrote for Christmas Eve.
In case you missed that column, I told a story about my minister dad taking me along on a Christmas mission of mercy when I was a schoolboy. We carried food and toys to a destitute house where a young father was dying of cancer. My dad taught me a lesson: many people are suffering, and it’s our job to help them.
I urged readers to do something kind for someone who needed help, particularly during this holy season. Take provisions to a hungry family. Overtip a harried waitress.
A reader responded that, unlike me, he wasn’t much inclined toward religion, but he agreed with my point: We should help the unfortunate.
He ended with this:
“I just wish that stories like (yours) could be told more often throughout the year. Waitresses need help more than during Christmas; our neighbors, friends and those we’ve never met struggle in their own way every day. You are in a position to remind us all to be kind to each other, to be charitable to each other, and to be — dare I say it — tolerant of one another. Please keep writing, and please help us all to remember to Love Thy Neighbor — year-round and not just as a one-off at Christmas.”
For some untelling reason, this caused the paradoxical commandments to pop into my head.
Like a lot of people, I often found myself enduring 2017 in a funk that ranged from fear to fury. Our society is as polarized and brain-dead and uncharitable as I’ve ever seen it. I’ve never been an alarmist, but I swear some days it has seemed as if the planet has come off its hinges.
And that has carried over into my columns, and maybe into my sermons. Certainly it’s provided me a daily, perpetual scowl.
What the paradoxical commandments tell us is that, yes indeed, people and life itself can be unjust, dangerous and frustrating. You and I can choose the right actions — and still the world might blow up in our faces.
Nonetheless, the commandments and coda say, do right anyway.
Treat people fairly. Be honest. Help an underdog. Be positive. Give your best.
It’s not about how others might respond to the good you perform. It’s about being faithful to the Lord; it’s between you and him. Do right because it’s right, regardless of what others do and regardless of the outcome.
So I’ve made myself a vow for 2018. I hope you readers will help me keep it, that you’ll remind me of this when I inevitably lose my resolve.
My resolution is: I’m going to lay aside both anger and fear. I’ll love even the illogical, selfish and arrogant.
In this space, my tiny corner of the public square, I’ll attempt to be a better voice for whatever’s peaceable and positive and loving — without hurling blame and insults at those with other views, even if I think they deserve that.
I’ll choose to tell stories that build up rather than tear down.
This, I swear, is my goal. Please hold me to it.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.