This poem and prayer was found on the walls of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta:
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.
If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
If you are honest and truthful,
people may deceive you.
Be honest and truthful 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 the best you have,
and it may 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.
The origin of the poem: Kent M. Keith’s Paradoxical Commandments
This poem was originally written by Kent M. Keith in 1968 as a booklet for student leaders—he had called it The Paradoxical Commandments. At the time Kent was just 19 years old himself, and he had no way of knowing that they’d spread far around the world.
On his website, Kent told the story of why he wrote it and what inspired him:
I went to college during the “student revolution” of the late 1960s. There was conflict and confrontation on many college and high school campuses, but there was also idealism and hope that positive change could be achieved. I worked mostly with high school student leaders during that time. I traveled the country, giving more than a hundred speeches in eight different states.Kent M. Keith, Paradoxical Commandments
What I found disturbing was that so many young people went out to change the world but came back too soon. They gave up because change did not occur quickly, or people did not appreciate what they were trying to do. I urged them to love people, because change takes time, and love is one of the only motivations strong enough to keep you with the people and the process until change is achieved. I also told them that if they do what they believe is right, and good, and true, their actions will be meaningful, and that meaning can sustain them as they continue their work. If people appreciate you, that’s fine, but if you have the meaning, you don’t have to have the glory.
When I was 19, a college sophomore, I wrote a booklet for high school student leaders about the motivation and methods of working together with others to bring about change. That booklet included 149 words that I called “The Paradoxical Commandments.” The Paradoxical Commandments are guidelines for finding meaning in the face of adversity. The commandments subsequently spread around the world, until they had been used by millions of people in more than a hundred countries.
Almost 30 years later, in 1993, Kent learned that Mother Teresa had put a copy of the Paradoxical Commandments up on her wall at her children’s home in Calcutta, and that inspired him to start sharing his message again.