Do Good Anyway. The Paradoxical Commandments

Mother Teresa? Kent M. Keith? Dempsey Byrd? Howard Ferguson? E. T. Gurney? Lucinda Vardey? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mother Teresa is credited with a very popular collection of wise rules. Here are the first two:

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered; Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.

Usually there are between eight and ten statements, and each one ends with the word “anyway”. The precise phrasing for each statement varies. In addition, the collection ends with the following coda:

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.

Did Mother Teresa create this valuable set of principles?

Quote Investigator: No. The original collection of sayings were created by a college student named Kent M. Keith and published in 1968 in a pamphlet titled “The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council”. Below are the original expressions given in the pamphlet. To simplify exposition a two-digit number has been added before each statement. There was no coda in the original text [KKSR]:

01: People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

02: If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

03: If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

04: The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

05: Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

06: The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

07: People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

08: What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

09: 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.

Note that Kent M. Keith has a website that includes a page listing the expressions above which he calls the “Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership”. Keith discusses the origin of the commandments, and his claims are consistent with the documentary evidence that QI has located.

The statements provided by the questioner do differ somewhat from the expressions given by Keith. For example, in commandment 01 the ordering of the initial three terms is different: “unreasonable, illogical and self-centered” versus “illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.” Also, the final phrase is different: “Forgive them anyway” versus “Love them anyway.”

In commandment 02 the word “kind” is used instead of “good”. The first phrase is: “If you are kind” versus “If you do good.” The final phrase is: “Be kind anyway” versus “Do good anyway.”

Indeed, the sayings did evolve during decades of transmission, and multiple variants have been published in newspapers, books, and magazines. Sometimes entire statements have been deleted. But Keith’s “Paradoxical Commandments” function as the foundational text, and other sets have been directly or indirectly derived from them.

The commandments have been incorrectly ascribed to other individuals including: Dempsey Byrd, Howard Ferguson, E. T. Gurney, and Mother Teresa. The earliest misattribution located by QI appeared in 1972. Details are given further below. Note that incorrect attributions often occur even when a person does not actively seek to claim credit.

The frequent ascription to Mother Teresa stems from the misreading of a book about the famous Catholic charity worker called “A Simple Path” that was compiled by Lucinda Vardey and released in 1995. The page preceding the appendices was titled “ANYWAY”, and it presented versions of eight of the ten statements under investigation. Statements 06 and 07 were omitted. A note at the bottom of the page said [MTLV]:

From a sign on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, the children’s home in Calcutta.

So the words were not directly attributed to Mother Teresa. Instead, some person at a children’s home operated by her charity organization posted a note with the sayings. Nevertheless, one or more readers of the book decided incorrectly to credit Mother Teresa with the sayings.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The sayings initially appeared in a manual for student leaders written by Kent M. Keith and copyrighted in 1968 as discussed above. In 1972 a revised edition of pamphlet was published, and it included a collection of commandments that was identical to the original. Keith was listed as the author and all ten statements were reprinted [KKS2].

In December 1972 the commandments, in slightly modified form, were given a new attribution in a syndicated newspaper article. The following excerpt shows the introduction and the first commandment [DBTR]:

Dempsey Byrd has put together ten rules which you can make your own to your eternal profit. We’ll tell you who Dempsey Byrd is after you read his rules. They are:

1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love and trust them anyway.

The first statement above ends with the phrase: “Love and trust them anyway.” Keith’s original expression ended with “Love them anyway.” The newspaper article listed ten statements total that were nearly identical to Keith’s expressions. The article identified Dempsey Byrd as the editor of “Hearsight”, a publication of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind.

In 1981 the sayings were misattributed again in a profile of a wrestling coach named Howard Ferguson that was published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer of Ohio. A sidebar article printed the ten statements with the following introduction [HFPD]:

These are St. Edward wrestling coach Howard Ferguson’s “Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership.”

In 1983 the commandments appeared in the widely-distributed advice-column of Ann Landers with another incorrect ascription. A reader in Ontario sent Landers a collection containing eight of the statements under the title “Thoughts to Ponder” along with the following prefatory comment [EGAL]:

Occasionally, you print an inspiring poem or an essay by another author. Will you consider this contribution from the Canadian Hemophilia Society? It was written by E. T. Gurney, the executive director.

In 1995 a book about Mother Teresa titled “A Simple Path” was published and it included a page listing eight of the statements. The author Lucinda Vardey stated that the commandments were posted on the wall of a children’s home associated with Mother Teresa’s charity group [MTLV].

The words were rapidly reassigned to Mother Teresa herself. For example, in October 1997 a letter in an Illinois newspaper discussed the recent resignation of a Fire Chief. When the Chief stepped down “he read an inscription that he attributed to Mother Teresa.” The words were part of the eight statement version of the commandments, and the newspaper reprinted them [ILLH].

By December 1999 a modified version of the sayings under the title  “Do It Anyway” was being attributed to Mother Teresa. This version had eight statements and a coda. Here is an excerpt from a Texas newspaper showing the modified eighth statement and the coda [MTTX]:

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway.

In 2002 a New York Times article told the tale of Keith and his crowd-pleasing collection of aphorisms. The article explained that the words had been improperly ascribed to Mother Teresa for several years. Yet, Keith eventually triumphed with a lucrative book deal [KKNY].

In conclusion, Kent M. Keith crafted the “Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership” when he was a young student at Harvard University in 1968. His words have been misattributed to at least four different people including Mother Teresa. The commandments have also been altered over the decades. Sometime between 1995 and 1999 a coda was added that Keith dislikes.

(Thanks to Gene Torisky whose email query inspired this question and answer.)

[KKSR] 1969 (Copyright 1968), The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council by Kent M. Keith, 4th edition, Chapter Two: Brotherly What?, Quote Page 11, Harvard Student Agencies, Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans; Many thanks to the librarians of the Olin C. Bailey Library of Hendrix College)

[KKS2] 1972, The Silent Revolution in the Seventies: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council by Kent M. Keith, (Revised edition of “The Silent Revolution”), Chapter Two: Brotherly What?, Quote Page 8 [also stamped Page 18], National Association of Secondary School Principals, Washington, D.C. (Verified on paper)

[DBTR] 1972 December 3, The Robesonian, The Way It Is With People, [Globe Syndicate], Quote Page 4A, Column 6, Lumberton, North Carolina. (Google News Archive)

[MTLV] 1995, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa, Compiled by Lucinda Vardey,
Quote Page 185 (unnumbered), Ballantine Books, New York. (Verified on paper)

[HFPD] 1981 March 9, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Page 8-C [GNB Page 38], Wrestling Is a Way of Life, Sidebar:  Howard Ferguson’s 10 Commandments, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

[EGAL] 1983 May 13, Telegraph-Herald, Ann Landers: Do It Anyway,
Page 6, Column 2, Dubuque, Iowa. (Google News Archive)

[ILLH] 1997 October 8, The State Journal-Register, Letter to the Editor,  [Letter from Lisa Hopper, Springfield],  Page 6, Springfield, Illinois. (NewsBank Access World News)

[MTTX] 1999 December 26, El Paso Times, Section: Opinion, “Some lessons were just meant to be” by John Laird, Page: 12A, El Paso, Texas. (NewsBank Access World News) (Two semicolons were added to the excerpted text.)

[KKNY] 2002 March 8, New York Times, Good Things for Maxim Writer Who Waited by David D. Kirkpatrick, Page A1, New York. (ProQuest)

One thought on “Do Good Anyway. The Paradoxical Commandments

  1. Re: “paradoxical commandments”: In terms of appropriation or attribution, we tend, in our “self” oriented culture, to be fixated on only ONE source whereas it is often a collection of sources that someone compiles & condenses into a readable form. Mr Keith apparently did this & it’s unclear in the article whether he claimed to be the sole author or the compiler of sayings he appropriated from various sources. If he did not give proper attribution to the various sources he most likely collected them from then he is guilty of an indifferent form of plagiarism.

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