Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

Harvard teen's aphorisms become book years later

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Book Critic

KEITH: Now 53, he wrote motivational list at age19
Kent M. Keith has been a Rhodes scholar, president of Chaminade University and a member of a state cabinet. He has given more than 600 speeches on leadership, law, planning, economic development, education and management.

But the thing that Keith, 53, may become most widely known for is something he wrote when he was just 19, a Harvard undergraduate, working alone in a 5th floor attic, typing away on a red Royal typewriter.

In 10 short paragraphs, just 22 lines, Keith, who was writing a pamphlet aimed at members of student councils, outlined what he called the "Paradoxical Commandments of Leadership."

In addition to offering practical advice for working with people, Keith wanted to tackle an issue he saw as vital: motivation. His message: If you are into leadership for the power, the prestige, the girls (he was, after all, 19) or any other form of "goodie," quit now, before you waste any more time — yours or anyone else's.

Each Paradoxical Commandment first stated a harsh reality, the sort of thing that every leader must face, followed by an "anyway."

No. 1: "People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered. Love them anyway." And on through all the ways that people's shortcomings dog the steps of those who try to good, each ending with the admonition to do the right thing "anyway."

Keith had been active in student government throughout the troubled '60s, graduating from Roosevelt High school as student body president in 1966. This pamphlet, "The Silent Revolution, Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council," was published by the Harvard Student Agencies and went into four printings, with perhaps 25,000 to 30,000 copies circulated in the late 1960s.

Then the "Silent Revolution" indeed went silent. Although he continued to try to live by them himself, Keith heard no more of the Paradoxical Commandments for 20 years.

They were like a message in a bottle he had sent out on the high seas. Then, six or seven years ago, the bottles started coming ashore. He'd hear them quoted, he'd see them photocopied. A year ago, he checked the Internet and found the Commandments on more than 60 Web sites, ranging from that of the Free Speech Movement to that of the Boy Scouts and various churches. Then he learned that 8 of the 10 Commandments had been seen posted in Mother Theresa's Shishu Bavan children's home in Calcutta.

"That was very humbling," said Keith, who, with his reverse-print aloha shirt, calm manner and buttoned-down organizational skills hardly seems like the kind to start a revolution of any kind. "I'm astonished at how far it's gone. People tell me ... 'That's on my refrigerator.' 'My friend gave that to me.' It's almost like it's become an artifact of the culture 33 years later."

As evidence of the artifact's power and influence began to swirl around him, and as even his friends reacted with skepticism at the idea that he had in fact written the Commandments, Keith, de-cided it was time to write a book.

He planned to self-publish. Then his friend Wally Amos, the cookie entrepreneur and inspirational speaker, read the manuscript in one sitting on a flight to St. Louis and called Keith at 1:30 a.m. St. Louis time to insist that he show the work to Honolulu literary agent Roger Jellinek, who also works with the new, Maui-based publisher Inner Ocean.

That was February, and Inner Ocean immediately put the book, "Paradoxical Commandments, Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World" (Inner Ocean, hardback, $15.95) on its first release list, rushing it into print in time for the Maui Writers Conference in September. This proved particularly fortuitous when Jellinek learned that Warner Books actually was readying a manuscript on the Paradoxical Commandments; that project was pulled.

Jellinek, who just returned from the Frankfurt Book Fair, said they're briskly negotiating international rights now. Another of Keith's friends, Dr. Spencer Johnson, author of the mega-bestseller "Who Moved My Cheese," wrote the foreward, declaring that the book "will help you live a life that is rich in personal meaning."

Keith said he's not surprised at the power of the Commandments. Even as a 19-year-old, he said, "I didn't think I was inventing anything. I thought I was describing old truths that many people already knew." All the world's great religions draw similar conclusions: that power, fame and wealth are, in the end, hollow; that meaning comes from within.

Though he attended nine schools in 12 years because of his father's military career, Keith said the Commandments are values that can be traced back to his Nebraska roots. "I grew up in a family where ... (the Commandments) would not be considered unusual thinking," he said.

Keith attributes their power to their brevity and clarity, their lack of connection to any creed or ideology, and the fact that they are "imperatives" that call forth action. "It hits and says, 'Do it.'"

He believes, as he did when he wrote them 33 years ago, that "you've got to be idealistic and realistic both. The challenge is to start with a realistic basis and move to an idealistic conclusion. That's what the Paradoxical Commandments do."

• • •

'The Paradoxical Commandments'

By Kent M. Keith

  1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
  2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
  3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
  4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
  5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
  6. 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.
  7. People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
  8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
  9. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
  10. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.