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.

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