Ten paradoxical commandments

Rev. Yme Woensdregt

Last week, I wrote about a reflection by Jean Vanier about what makes life worth living. His deep focus was on the power of relationship to make life whole and good for all. Specifically, his focus was on two questions: “Do you love me? Do you love me as I am?”

I was moved by the short video in which he spoke simply, eloquently, deeply about the power of love to make life good and rich.

It reminded me of some words Mother Teresa wrote on the wall of her home for children in Calcutta. You may remember that she was made a saint, and she is now referred to as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

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

“If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

“If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

“What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

“If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

“The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

“Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

“In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

Those words mesh nicely with the wisdom of Vanier’s reflections. Saint Teresa’s words reflect the potential of relationship as we live our lives with integrity and grace.

I decided to do a little bit of research, and I discovered that a “secular” version was written by Kent Keith, a 19–year–old sophomore at Harvard College in 1968. (You need to know that I don’t normally separate life into secular and sacred — I believe Truth is One, but sometimes it’s helpful to categorize things in this way.) In his booklet for high school student leaders, Keith developed a list of what he called “The Paradoxical Commandments”:

• 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 win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

• 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. Build anyway.

• 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.

In the turbulent 1960s, Keith wrote, “I saw a lot of idealistic young people go out into the world to do what they thought was right, and good, and true, only to come back a short time later, discouraged, or embittered, because they got negative feedback, or nobody appreciated them, or they failed to get the results they had hoped for. I told them that if they were going to change the world, they had to really love people, and if they did, that love would sustain them. I also told them that they couldn’t be in it for fame or glory. I said that if they did what was right and good and true, they would find meaning and satisfaction, and that meaning and satisfaction would be enough. If they had the meaning, they didn’t need the glory.”

As with Vanier, these are words to live by. They help us reach beyond ourselves so that we become enmeshed in a community in which we seek the welfare of all.

Rev. Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook

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