I’m preparing a long business ethics program for a large corporation with some ethics issues (which is to say, for a large corporation), and while reviewing my files on business leadership re-discovered some material that I hadn’t looked at for a long while. One of them was “Anyway,” a poem that was also turned into an inspirational book by its author, Dr. Kent M. Keith. He first wrote it for student leaders in 1968 while an undergraduate at Harvard.
One wonders if what he called “The Paradoxical Commandments” would have occurred to anyone but a student, before he could become jaded, cynical, disillusioned, or stuffed with so many scholarly details, controversies and nuances regarding ethics that such an idealistic view was tainted forever. (I should note that Dr. Keith has obviously become none of those things, perhaps because he was able to remain true to his own youthful advice.)
The poem is really about trust, the essence of ethics. There is no question that those who trust—in people, in institutions, in justice, in fairness—will inevitably be betrayed and disappointed, sometimes tragically. Yet to stop trusting in those things, which so much human experience and simple logic dictates is the safest, most sensible course, is to damn one’s life and the society we live in to perpetual mediocrity, fear, and darkness. Democracy is based on trust of an idea: that human beings can be trusted to live their own lives, and that under the inspiration and catalyst of freedom, will create, persevere, love and build a healthy and happy society. There is plenty of evidence that suggests that trusting this idea is risky and foolish, yet trust is its only hope for fruition. So we must trust anyway.
I’ve never posted Dr. Keith’s poem on Ethics Alarms before. I should have. Here it is:
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.
© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001
Graphic: Tom’s Hardware