The Paradoxical Commandments written by Dr. Kent M. Keith in 1968 state: “Give the world your best and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.” If ever there were a list of how to live counter to the culture, counter to human instinct, this is it.
There is a group of mothers that I come into contact with on a regular basis. I smile at these women and try to make eye contact but mostly what I get in return are eyes that look down and then away. I am invisible. On these days that I pass them, searching for a smile, searching for acknowledgement that I exist, I think of Dr. Keith’s paradoxical commandments. They are so hard. I don’t want to smile anyway. I want to lash out. But I don’t. I just smile, even though a little piece of me just died.
Recently Sean and I were in Wal-Mart looking at cards. He is sitting in the front of the cart. A man comes down the aisle behind me. I see his eyes light up as the man approaches. Sean gives him a smile that would melt an iceberg. As the man passes, I watch his face fall. Tears well up in his eyes. “That man didn’t smile at me!” he says. He is crushed. I am crushed for him. He doesn’t understand. I certainly don’t understand. I think of Dr. Kent and his commandments and how hard they are. They are so hard.
“I don’t know why he didn’t smile at you,” I say to comfort him. “But that’s okay. Just smile at him anyway.”
“Just smile anyway,” I repeat, not for emphasis, but so that I might just convince myself.
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 will win false friends and true enemies.
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.
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.