It is not as though I believe that bad things don’t happen to good people. They do. Indeed, as Kent Keith writes in the last of his 10 “Paradoxical Commandments:” “Give the world the best you have and you will get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.” But I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself.
Kent Keith was an unusual student at Harvard in the 1960s. He was a moderate – calling for change but within “the system!” He was also wise beyond his years, publishing and distributing 30,000 copies of a pamphlet about the aforementioned Paradoxical Commandments. The essence of his message was that the world is not especially kind to those who lead, but that leading is the way to create a life of meaning and purpose. To heck with what the others say! Lead anyway!
Well, fast-forward three decades. At his monthly Rotary club meeting, 50-something Kent bows his head to hear a poem attributed to Mother Teresa. His fellow Rotarian reads . . . you guessed it, Kent’s own Paradoxical Commandments. Kent tells the disbelieving fellow that he wrote those lines, asks where the gentleman found the quote, and heads to the library to find it in a book about Mother Teresa. Although a few times before in the preceding 35 years these commandments had found their way back to him, he was utterly blown away at the notion that his words had been placed on the wall of an orphanage by Mother Teresa, in India, a world away. He took it as a clear sign that he should re-publish his work. There are other unusual twists to this story; for example, someone else was about to publish the Commandments, not knowing that someone had written and copyrighted them 30 years ago. One might have imagined an 11th commandment: “If you write, others will steal your best ideas. Write anyway.” Kent did publish his book, a simple and wonderful read called “Anyway: the Paradoxical Commandments: Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World”. His stories offer a context that could support anyone from a recent high school graduate to a sixty year old middle manager.
Kent was recently named the new CEO of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership in Indianapolis. If you are familiar with Greenleaf — the man or the Institute named for him — you know that Kent Keith’s spirit of “leading anyway” fits perfectly. The Keith-Greenleaf focus is on doing good work, leading so that those around you grow in wisdom , trusting this will yield good results. Those results may not appear right away. It may take 30 some years before the world is ready for your work. And even still you may never see it, never know just how it mattered. But as Kent Keith would say, do it anyway. The good has a way of living in spite of us. So, though no one may appreciate it today,
Lead with your best self, anyway!
Anyway: The Paradoxical CommandmentsÂ
By: Kent M. Keith
Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments: Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World