I published and copyrighted “The Paradoxical Commandments” as part of a booklet for student leaders in 1968. Unknown to me, the commandments subsequently spread around the world. The discovery that changed my life was the discovery that Mother Teresa had put the Paradoxical Commandments on the wall of her children’s home in Calcutta. I learned that in 1997.
But what exactly was on Mother Teresa’s wall? I am certain that was not the “Final Analysis” version of the commandments that has been circulating on websites under her name. That is important to me, because the “Final Analysis” version can be read in a way that is inconsistent with Christian teachings and the message of the Paradoxical Commandments themselves.
According to Lucinda Vardey, in Mother Teresa: A Simple Path (New York: Ballantine Books, 1995), page 185, there was “a sign on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, the children’s home in Calcutta.” This is what the sign said:
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.
This version includes eight of the original ten Paradoxical Commandments. The two that are missing are the sixth (Think big anyway) and the seventh (Fight for a few underdogs anyway). The wording of the other eight commandments is very close to what I wrote back in 1968.
In 1999, Rev. Robert Schuller published “Anyway” in his book, Turning Hurts into Halos (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers). He recalled that he was part of the 15-member presidential delegation that represented the United States at Mother Teresa’s funeral. When they visited Mother Teresa’s orphanage, one of the sisters said: “Dr. Schuller, look what Mother Teresa had enlarged, framed, and hung in the front lobby here.” This is what Dr. Schuller was shown:
People are unreasonable, illogical, 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
...be successful anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow
...do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable
...be honest and frank anyway.
People love underdogs but follow only top dogs
...follow some underdog anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight
People really need help but may attack you if you try to help
...help people anyway.
If you give the world the best you have, you may get kicked in the teeth
...but give the world the best you have
This version has nine of the original ten Paradoxical Commandments. Only the sixth commandment is missing (Think big anyway). Again, the wording is close to what I wrote back in 1968.
A version of the commandments that has been circulating on the web under Mother Teresa’s name is a version I call “The Final Analysis” because of its last two lines. Here is one example of that version:
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 false friends and some true friends; succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world your best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
The last two lines about “the final analysis” trouble me, because they can be read in a way that is inconsistent with Christian teachings and the message of the Paradoxical Commandments themselves. The “final analysis” phrase seems to justify giving up on, or ignoring, or discounting other people. That is what Jesus told us we should not do.
Jesus said that there are two great commandments—to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. So in the final analysis, it is between you and God, but it is also between you and “them.” And when it comes to them, Jesus made it clear that we have to love people and help people anyway. We can’t give up on them or ignore them or write them off. That is the point of the Paradoxical Commandments as well—we find meaning when we love and help people, no matter who they may be, or how difficult they may be. We find meaning by loving and helping them anyway.