Do It Anyway: Finding Personal Meaning and Happiness by Living the Paradoxical Commandmentsby Kent M. Keith
Dr. Kent Keith published the Paradoxical Commandments as part of a book he wrote for student leaders in the 1960s when he was an undergraduate at Harvard. These maxims for finding meaning in the face of adversity took on a life of their own, making their way into countless speeches, advice columns, books, institutions, and homes around the world. They were even found on the wall of Mother Teresa’s children’s home in Calcutta. They became the basis of Keith’s bestselling book Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments.
Do It Anyway expands on the vision behind the Paradoxical Commandments. It includes forty stories of people who live the commandments each day and gives you the examples, tools, and encouragement to find personal meaning and deep happiness, no matter who you are or what your circumstances, even when times are tough.
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Do It Anyway
Finding Personal Meaning and Deep Happiness by Living the Paradoxical Commandments
By Kent M. Keith, Kirsten Whatley
New World LibraryCopyright © 2003 Kent M. Keith
All rights reserved.
You Can Do It Anyway
It's a Crazy World
* * *
Okay, you're right. The world is crazy. Your world may be especially crazy. But I promise that you can still find personal meaning and deep happiness.
The Paradoxical Commandments are guidelines for finding meaning in a crazy world. That's why the first phrase in each commandment is about adversity, or difficulty, or disappointment. But each statement about adversity is followed by a positive commandment to do it anyway.
The paradox in each case is that even when things are going badly in the world around us, we can still find personal meaning and deep happiness. We can do that by facing the worst in the world with the best in ourselves.
You and I, as individuals, can't control the external world. We can't control the economy or the rate of population growth. We can't control the weather or natural disasters like fires and floods. We can't control when terrorists may strike or wars may break out. We can't control which companies will acquire which companies, or which jobs will be eliminated, or which jobs will open up. We can work hard, and prepare, and seize opportunities. But there are lots of things in our external world that we just cannot control.
For example, your sector of the economy may take a hit, and the company you work for goes bankrupt. You are talented and good at your work, but suddenly you are out of a job.
You may start your own small business, and a fire destroys your files, records, and product designs. You have to start all over.
You may be in line for a political appointment, but your party loses the election. You don't get the job, even though you worked hard for it and are qualified to do it.
Your supervisor may be very competent and not interested in changing jobs. You are qualified for promotion, but her position is not likely to open up for a long, long time.
There are lots of circumstances that we just can't control. However, there is something very important that we can control.
We can control our inner lives. We get to decide who we are going to be and how we are going to live. We can decide to love people, and do good, and succeed, and be honest and frank, and think big, and fight for the underdog, and build, and help people, and give the world our best. We can live our values, and stay close to our families and friends, and do what is right and good and true — no matter what. No matter what. The good news is that these are the things that give people the most personal meaning and the deepest happiness.
What do I mean by "personal meaning"? I mean something that is significant and meaningful to you personally. And what is "deep happiness"? I think of it as the kind of happiness that touches your spirit and connects with your soul. People have many names for it. Some people may call it self- actualization. Others call it self-fulfillment. Still others call it being centered. People of faith may call it finding God's will for their lives. But whatever you call it, finding personal meaning is the key to being deeply happy. And that personal meaning can be yours, no matter what.
* * *
How am I coping with a crazy world?
1. What do I think is crazy about the world?
2. What is crazy about my daily world?
3. What can I do to influence the craziness in the world?
4. What can I do to influence the craziness in my daily world?
5. Do I decide each day to control my inner life? Why? Why not?
6. What is "deep happiness" to me? What words do I use to explain it?
7. How do I feel when I'm not deeply happy?
8. How do I feel when I am deeply happy?
* * *
A Personal Declaration of Independence
The Paradoxical Commandments are a personal declaration of independence from all the external factors we can't control. We don't have to depend on the external world for meaning and happiness. We can find them in our inner lives.
Executive coach Ken Hill came across the Paradoxical Commandments in the early nineties. For him:
The Paradoxical Commandments are a reminder that we aren't victims in this world. We are actors who can do what needs to be done — even in the face of resistance. It is interesting to see how some of the leaders and professionals I work with seem to instinctively act in positive ways regardless of the odds against them. But all too often I have clients who are tempted to think of themselves as victims. It is a joy to help these clients strengthen their emotional competencies to the point where they can move beyond feeling victimized to feeling real confidence and a sense of empowerment. One of the questions they have to answer is: What steps can I take, independent of the actions of others, that will get me headed in the right direction? An understanding of the Paradoxical Commandments can help people answer questions like that and can help them go on to build fuller, richer lives for themselves.
Our personal meaning and deep happiness don't depend on the way the world treats us. They depend on how we respond to the way the world treats us. How we respond is always up to us. It's our decision. It's about our inner lives, the part of the world that we control.
* * *
Do I understand the factors that I do and do not control?
1. What external factors affect me the most right now?
2. How am I responding to those external factors?
3. How can I find the most personal meaning and deep happiness in my response?
4. What can I do to strengthen my inner life, the part of the world that I do control?
* * *
The Paradoxical Commandments are also a "no excuses" policy. Sure, some people are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. So what? That's no excuse. You need to love them anyway. Why? Because love is an important source of personal meaning. You don't want to miss all that meaning, just because people can be difficult.
Typical Excuses for Not Finding Personal Meaning
Everyone has his or her own favorite excuses for not doing the things that would lead to personal meaning and deep happiness. Here are some typical excuses:
1. I can't just now. I'm busy. Maybe tomorrow.
2. I'll think about it. I'll try to make a plan.
3. I'm tired. I just want to sit here on the sofa and watch TV.
4. The economy is bad. Maybe when things improve ...
5. The economy is hot. Maybe when things slow down ...
6. I would if I could, but circumstances just aren't right.
7. I don't know how to look for personal meaning and deep happiness. I'm not sure how I would adjust if I found it.
8. People will think I've gone off the deep end if I do something that is really meaningful.
9. People will feel threatened if I do something really meaningful.
10. I don't know how to do anything really meaningful.
11. I tried it once and it didn't work.
12. A friend tried it once and it didn't work.
And maybe the good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. So what? That's no excuse. You have to do good anyway. Why? Because doing good will make your life meaningful.
I am always optimistic. I believe that if you follow the Paradoxical Commandments and live the paradoxical life, things will usually work out for you. If you love people, and help people, and do what's right and good and true, you're bound to receive recognition and praise.
But what if things don't work out, or nobody notices your good work? The answer is: So what? You still have to live the paradoxical life. No matter what the world does to you, you have to stay focused on personal meaning and do it anyway. Why? Because that is where you will find deep happiness.
In short, if you follow the Paradoxical Commandments, you won't let excuses prevent you from finding personal meaning and deep happiness. You'll do what is meaningful, anyway.
* * *
What are my excuses for not finding personal meaning?
1. What excuses do I use most often in my daily life? Why?
2. How do I feel when I make those excuses? Why?
3. What are the real reasons I don't do things that give me personal meaning and deep happiness?
4. How can I address those reasons so that I can stop making excuses?
* * *
Breaking Away from a Difficult Past
I have met and heard from counselors and therapists who work with people who have difficult pasts. Some of these people grew up in poverty. Some were mistreated when they were children. Some have unresolved conflicts that seem to paralyze them. Some got a "raw deal" from a friend, a spouse, or an employer. Some have been addicted to alcohol or drugs. Some have committed crimes.
What the counselors and therapists have told me is that the Paradoxical Commandments have often been used by people who need to break away from a difficult past. Penny Patton, codirector of the Center for Therapeutic Justice, shares this insight:
The use of paradox in our Correctional Community Recovery "social learning model" offers the participant an immediate opportunity to see another solution or path. It is the perfect intervention for people experiencing a "spiritual emergency" or glimpse of something greater than his or her self. In my work in jails and prisons, the Paradoxical Commandments "fit" because they offer pro-social and specific directives to do something now, in the present moment, that will enhance a cultural or environmental shift that promotes both individual and community wellness.
Dave Coleman, a university professor, says:
The power of the Paradoxical Commandments is in the paradox: You can only break away from a difficult past if you acknowledge it. The commandments start with the harsh realities that challenge our everyday commitments to others. But then they go beyond those harsh realities and point to a renewed life, a life that is positive and is not tied to what has happened in the past. They don't forget the truth of brokenness and conflict. They show us a way to heal brokenness and overcome conflict in simple, yet profound ways.
Joe Rice broke away from the harsh realities of his early life. He grew up in a family of migrant workers who picked fruit in orchards in California. His father was a violent man who regularly beat his children, especially when he was drunk. At an early age, Joe witnessed his father kill an African American man for no reason other than his color. In his senior year of high school, Joe hid in the bedroom closet while his father beat his mother. He was too scared to breathe, let alone stand up for her. His father left the house, saying he would be back to get Joe next. Joe found his mother lying on the floor. He held her and cried.
Joe decided to fight. He waited alone in his room with a butcher knife. When his father came back, Joe defended himself, and then he ran. His father's wounds were superficial, and didn't stop him from looking for Joe, well into the night. Joe hid in a vineyard three blocks from his house. He was sent to a secret place away from his family to finish his last two months of high school. Two weeks after graduation, he boarded a Greyhound bus, and set off alone to start a new life in a new world.
What Joe found in that new world was a lot of good people who were willing to help him, and teach him, and encourage him. He decided to become a person who did that for others. After he completed his college degree, he became a Peace Corps volunteer, and then a distinguished educator.
It was clear to Joe at an early age that people are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. But Joe dedicated his life to loving them anyway.
We need to acknowledge the past, learn what we can from it, and then move on. If our lives are stuck in the past, we need to get unstuck. It may not be easy. We may need help, and it may take time. But even as we struggle, we need to remember that personal meaning and deep happiness can be ours. We can break away. We can start new lives. We can do it anyway.
* * *
A Difficult Present
Many of us are struggling with the present. Sometimes, the present is difficult because of the society we live in. But even then, we can find meaning in loving and helping others.
I grew up during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a communist, totalitarian country, and the Soviets were our biggest enemy. Sadly, while the Cold War was raging, the Soviet people themselves suffered badly. They lived in a police state and they had no freedom. They endured a low standard of living, with little food and clothing, and shabby housing. Their daily lives were a struggle.
In the summer of 1972, when I was twenty-four, I crossed the Soviet Union on my way from England to Japan. I had lived in England for two years as a student, and was on my way to study for two years in Japan. What struck me during my two weeks in the Soviet Union was that so many of the people I saw seemed to be very tired. They seemed listless, as though they were only going through the motions. I saw little spirit, little happiness, little hope. Political repression and economic depression had taken their toll.
And yet, during that trip, I received crucial help from a Russian man I had never seen before and would never see again. I never learned his name. But he saved me from a dire fate because he was willing to do it anyway. Without his help, I might well have ended up in a Soviet jail.
Before entering the Soviet Union, I did what all tourists had to do: I went to the Soviet tourism office, known as Intourist, and paid in advance for all my airplane and train tickets, hotel rooms, and meals for the trip. After paying for everything, I set aside some extra spending money to buy souvenirs once I got into the country. I didn't have much — I was on a typical student budget. I had to count my pennies.
Once I got into the Soviet Union, Intourist told me that there had been a mistake, and I hadn't paid enough. The Soviets were greedy for foreign currency, and I became convinced that they would say or do anything to get more of it. At any rate, after a week in Leningrad and a week in Moscow, I had no more foreign currency and only 25 rubles. A ruble sold for about 25 cents on the black market, but the government sold them for $1.25. While I had little money left, I wasn't worried. After all, I had already paid for my transportation, room, and board.
However, when I arrived at the Moscow airport to fly east to Irkutsk, I was told that my luggage exceeded the weight limit, and it would cost 26 rubles (U.S. $32.50) more than I had paid previously. Well, I didn't have 26 rubles, I only had 25, and the plane was departing momentarily. If I didn't make the plane, the rest of my trip would evaporate, because I would miss all my connections and forfeit all the money I had prepaid for my travel and meals. I was particularly angry because the London Intourist office had told me specifically that there was no excess baggage charge.
During the Cold War, there were plenty of stories about Americans being dragged off airplanes or seized in their hotel rooms and never heard from again. I had been told by other travelers that Americans had been locked up and not even allowed a phone call to the American embassy. I didn't know what would happen, but I knew I had only a minute or two to resolve my problem.
I told the people at the counter that I had only 25 rubles. They weren't going to budge. I opened my backpack and began to look for things to throw away to lighten my luggage. I had brought a lot of luggage because I knew it would be several months before my trunk would arrive in Japan.
I started to throw things away. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and I turned around. It was a Russian airline pilot, a young man of perhaps thirty in a blue Aeroflot uniform. He handed me a ruble.
I don't recall him saying anything. I don't think he spoke English. He just handed me the ruble.
I thanked him profusely, hurriedly repacked my luggage, rushed to the counter, and ran out on the tarmac to the plane. I was the last one on board — the plane took off just one minute later. As we lifted off, I thought that I now knew what it was like to meet an angel. He even had those little silver wings on his shoulders!
The Russian pilot had nothing to gain by helping me. There was nothing I could do to help him in return. He knew he would never see me again. Even worse, our governments were "enemies," so helping me might have endangered his career. He had every reason to believe that the KGB, the Soviet secret police, were watching and recording his actions. But he followed a Paradoxical Commandment — and did good, anyway.
No matter how difficult our lives are, right now, we can still love people, help people, and do good. Like the Russian pilot, we can still find personal meaning. The opportunities are all around us.
Excerpted from Do It Anyway by Kent M. Keith, Kirsten Whatley. Copyright © 2003 Kent M. Keith. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Dr. Keith is known nationally and internationally as the author of the Paradoxical Commandments, which he wrote and published in 1968 at the age of nineteen. The first edition of his book The Paradoxical Commandments: Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World was published by Inner Ocean Publishing of Maui in October 2001. A new edition, titled Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments, was published by G. P. Putnam's Sons in April 2002, and has become a national bestseller. The rights to his book have been sold in twenty countries. Dr. Keith has appeared on the front page of the New York Times and has been featured in People magazine, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Family Circle. He was interviewed by Katie Couric on NBC's Today show, and has appeared on a dozen TV shows and more than seventy radio programs in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Dr. Keith lives in Manoa Valley, Honolulu, with his wife, Elizabeth, and their three children, Kristina, Spencer, and Angela. He is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted through paradoxicalcommandments.com.
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