Mother Teresa, now officially Saint Teresa (since September 4), left a legacy of inspirational work and writings. Many remember her for what is often referred to as the “do it anyway” poem/prayer.
This poem has been shared by many and reprinted in different forms. But Mother Teresa did not write the words. That honor goes to a man called Kent M. Keith, who wrote them and called them “The Paradoxical Commandments.” Keith was a 19 year old sophomore in college when he wrote the words for the book, The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council, published by Harvard Student Agencies in 1968.
How did the poem become so closely tied to Mother Teresa? Keith tells us that he was told that Mother Teresa had posted a version of the poem on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, a children’s home in Calcutta, and this was subsequently mentioned in a book about the life and work of Mother Teresa (called Mother Teresa: A Simple Path), and the rest is history.
So, without further ado, this is what was written on the wall in Calcutta:
People are unreasonable, illogical, 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,
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY
What you spent years building may be
People really need help
but may attack you if you 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’VE GOT ANYWAY.
There are actually two missing parts from the above version but far from being disappointed or outraged that his words have been reprinted millions of times, often incomplete, and with authorship attributed to Mother Teresa, Keith has always been far more delighted by the broad distribution and impact of his Commandments, than he has been bothered by the lack of accurate attribution. He says,
“The way I see it, while this expression of words and ideas may be mine, the concepts themselves are fundamental and universal. They are truths that make sense to almost everyone.”
Keith has gone on to publish Anyway, with 40 real-life stories of how the Paradoxical Commandments have been applied in diverse circumstances by different kinds of people.
His emphasis continues to be on the power of daily choices – not the big ticket decisions or events in life but the small, seemingly mundane everyday choices we make and how we relate to every person we encounter in our lives. Keith also talks about the importance of simple pleasures: loving and being loved, enjoying family and friends, knowing what matters most, and doing the right thing even when that doesn’t seem to make much sense. Preachiness, in Keith’s view, has no place here.
Whilst acknowledging a strong spiritual basis for the Commandments, Keith says it was never written to send a purely idealistic “safe in the garden” message. Rather it was intended to inspire people to break away from excuses and make the right decisions for the right reasons on a daily basis, even in very difficult situations.
May you inspire and be inspired this weekend!