The Paradoxical Commandments

After watching "Bombshell," a documentary about the inventor and Hollywood actress Heddy Lamarr, I was inspired to look up a poem that Heddy read to her children and to the audience. I'd heard pieces of the poem before, but coming from her lips, after I'd been told the story of her incredibly accomplished and difficult life, the words carried new depth for me. 

The poem is "The Paradoxical Commandments" by Dr. Kent M. Keith, who wrote it in 1968 and refreshed it in 2001. It encapsulates so much of what I find difficult about life: the need to give myself and efforts away without expectation of any return. Not only can we not expect a return from our altruistic efforts, we often get a kick in the teeth.

I've been rewarded with a punch in the gut enough times for my best and kindest efforts that I'm tempted to recoil from opportunities to trust, be vulnerable, collaborative, and generous. I want to protect myself, but I know the loneliness that accompanies that choice. I have to be generous, I have to be vulnerable, then I will die. Sometimes I find this notion so challenging and depressing I can't get out of bed. What is the point of any of this anyway? Why is there so much pain involved in this bizarre ritual of daily life?  Keith's poem, and Lamarr's life, makes me want to get out of bed to do my kindest best (despite the judgement, disregard, and futility) at least for one more day.

Heddy's story is incredibly heartbreaking and inspiring. So often we see creative intelligent women falling apart under the pressure of fame and expectation before they mature into wise elders who can pass on some of their hard-earned knowledge (RIP Amy Winehouse and many more). Heddy didn't get to impart all her knowledge, but I gleaned a lot from the story that she and her family did get to tell about her life. (Check out "Bombshell" on Netflix)

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 will 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.

© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

April Rose