COMMENTARY 766.1: The Paradoxical Commandments

In 1968, when Kent M. Keith* was a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard University, he wrote “The Paradoxical Commandments” as part of a booklet for student leaders. He describes the Commandments as guidelines for finding personal meaning in the face of adversity:

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 favor 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.

The essence of these Commandments is that each of us must choose to do what we think we should do, even when we think we have good reasons not to. They remind us that we are capable of rising above common practices that demean our nature and our culture.

We can rationalize distorting the Golden Rule as “Do unto others as they have done unto you” or “Do unto others before they do unto you,” but, in the terminology of the 60s, we then become part of the problem rather than the solution.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

* To learn more about Dr. Keith and his work, visit

Comments 15

    1. Hey Elizabeth
      That would seem to depend on Mother Teresa being born later or writing earlier, don’t you think? Besides, the sentiment behind this goes far deeper than plagiarism. The phrase “Love them anyway” scored in the 17 million duplicate range, while the phrase “Do good anyway” was up in the 3 million duplicated range. This pokes enormous holes in your whole idea of bringing plagiarism into this. Perhaps you should a step back and realize that these Commandments are a state of mind for people whether they are religious or irreligious.

  1. Thank you for reprinting Dr. Keith’s work. He graciously agreed to speak at a conference I attended and then offered a workshop as well. He is an engaging speaker as well as a thoughtful and gracious presenter.
    We would all do well to practice these commandments, as did Mother Teresa on whose wall were found 6 of Kent’s 10 Paradoxical Commandments!

    1. I have had the good fortune to serve on the Key Leader Advisory Council for the Key Leader Program sponsored by Kiwanis International with Kent. He does walk his talk and is a humble, funny and extremely intelligent individual. As the Executive Director of the Robert Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, his contributions are many, impactful and far-reaching. When I first met him and he shared The Paradoxical Commandmants, my immediate response was: “So YOU are anonymous.” He laughed and then shared his story. I have given his books as graduation presents for students graduating from high school and college and they are always welcomed!! (And no, I’m not his press or literary agent, just an admirer!)

  2. Making the right decision for the right reason is the essence of character. Especially in the face of adversity or negative reactions or consequences, our character is revealed.

    1. Yes, Jon.
      I really like that comment. It is precise, short and very true! Here’s hoping that everybody makes a point of thinking about that…

  3. Words to remember & live by! For the past few years (especially #1, #5 & #9) , I’ve had to live by the essence of these commandments without knowing the exact verbiage. I now intend to print them out, frame them, hang them on my office wall & review them daily as a constant reminder and continue to live life “anyway”. Eric Butterworth’s book “Spritual Economics” (1993) also captures the essence of these principles.

    Thanks for the FYI !!


  4. I just took the liberty to print these commandments for my 16 year old son.
    He said, “I can quote you saying this to some one”, referring to commandment #1.
    I never read them before.

    Thank you Dr. Keith

  5. These words are inspiring. Thank you for sharing them, and introducing us to Dr. Keith. I now need to read his book & website on Servant Leadership. Nearly 20 years ago in grad school, I read Peter Block’s book on Stewardship, and have been in love with this thinking ever since. It is encouraging to see like-minded individuals. Bless you, Michael.

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