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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 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.

The Paradoxical Commandments, often attributed to Mother Teresa and others, were actually written by Kent Keith in 1968, when he was 19, a sophomore at Harvard College. They were part of The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council, his first booklet for high school student leaders. Here is how it all came about.

As a senior at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu, Kent was heavily involved in student government. He was student body president and also president of the Honolulu High School Association. He was excited about the challenges of leadership and good leadership techniques.
Because Hawaii did not have a student council leadership workshop to train student council leaders, Kent founded the Hawaii Student Leadership Institute, which held its first session in the summer of 1966. This was the first leadership workshop for high school student leaders that was founded and run entirely by high school students.

Kent went on to attend Harvard. During his four years as an undergraduate there, he gave more than 150 speeches at high schools, student leadership workshops, and state student council conventions in eight states. These were the turbulent sixties, when student activists were seizing buildings, throwing rocks at police, and shouting down opponents. Kent provided an alternative voice. In his public speaking, Kent encouraged students to care about others, and to work through the system to achieve change. One thing he learned was students didn't know how to work through the system to bring about change. Some of them also tended to give up quickly when they faced difficulties or failures. They needed deeper, longer-lasting reasons to keep trying.

"I saw a lot of idealistic young people go out into the world to do what they thought was right, and good, and true, only to come back a short time later, discouraged, or embittered, because they got negative feedback, or nobody appreciated them, or they failed to get the results they had hoped for." recalls Keith. "I told them that if they were going to change the world, they had to really love people, and if they did, that love would sustain them. I also told them that they couldn't be in it for fame or glory. I said that if they did what was right and good and true, they would find meaning and satisfaction, and that meaning and satisfaction would be enough. If they had the meaning, they didn't need the glory."

In his sophomore year at Harvard, Kent began writing a booklet for high school student leaders that addressed both the how and the why of leading change. The booklet was titled The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council, and it was published by Harvard Student Agencies in 1968. The Paradoxical Commandments were part of Chapter Two, entitled "Brotherly What?"

"I laid down the Paradoxical Commandments as a challenge," Keith said. "The challenge is to always do what is right and good and true, even if others don't appreciate it. 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."

He revised the booklet and a new edition, The Silent Revolution in the Seventies, was published by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) in 1972. Somewhere around 30,000 copies of the two editions were sold in the late sixties and early seventies. Kent also wrote two other booklets for student councils. The Silent Majority: The Problem of Apathy and the Student Council was published by the NASSP in 1971, and Now You're in the Middle: A Handbook for the Student Council Adviser was published by NASSP in 1972.

Immediately after publication of The Silent Revolution, the Paradoxical Commandments were used by student leaders in speeches and student newspaper articles. Over the past 30 years, they have spread throughout the country and around the world. Find out more about Dr. Keith on his website,