Sunday, April 14, 2013

Paradoxical Commandment #1*tWyZZN5vJr9XMtQh-nK0yYjqgiI1zAz60IdTQATXFRfIRBhNYCXIMTmZOdPzKuOtGwvA4Kbplr9LzljZfRG/words.jpg
Words have always had power over me.  Crafted correctly, hammered together in creative ways, they illuminate this experience we call life.  Written or spoken, powerful words have always moved the human race.  Over the next weeks, I will explore a collection of words that have guided me for the past decade. Kent M. Keith penned “The Paradoxical Commandments” in 1968 as part of a pamphlet titled The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council.  Dr. Keith, at the time a 19 year old sophomore at Harvard, sought to empower the rebellious youth of the ‘60s by offering an alternative to violence by creating change within the system.  He echoes the sentiment found in the paraphrased words often attributed to Mohandas Gandhi - “Be the change you want to see in the world.

This week, I dwell on the first commandment, quite possibly the most frustrating of the ten for me.

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

Right away, the difficulty stands out.  I encountered this problem more as a public school teacher than I have at any other point in my life.  Each student arrives carrying their own baggage, every parent their own perceptions, and every colleague their own agenda.  Schools lie at the epicenter of our culture, sending wave after wave of students into the world, reflections of the people they encountered in their youth.  Those waves have the power to destroy.  They also have the power build.
Not me.  I am not that pretty.
I live in an auto-centric city; we drive everywhere.  Of course I have cursed other drivers for their illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered decisions while behind the wheel.  The road offers a great education in the first commandment.  Finding the patience, the resolve, and the commitment to allow others to drive how they will, without growing angry, breeds a sense of peace in the rest of our lives.
Does this make you mad?  Does it surprise you?
Are you surprised when the sky is blue?  You know what to expect when you step from your home and look up, so why be surprised?  The same is true for people.  Why do we allow what we already know about other people to affect us?

Ultimately, the most profound aspect of the first commandment lies within its simplicity.  We know people are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.  We KNOW it.  So, why do we respond with anything other than love?

Accept what you already know to be true.  People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.  Why give them the power to dictate your moods, your feelings, and your actions?  Reserve the power for yourself.  Follow the first commandment and choose to love them instead.

I don’t always consider myself successful in my attempts to live by the first commandment.  Certain people press buttons more than others.  Driving always offers opportunities to practice love.  Strangers who leave shopping carts in the middle of parking lots test my strength.  But, despite every temptation towards an angry, negative response, I strive to hold tightly to the spirit of the first paradoxical commandment.  I am a person who loves first, no matter the situation.  Every day in which I practice this belief leads me closer to living a life in which it is absolutely and permanently true.

- I first encountered an adapted version of the “Paradoxical Commandments,” titled “The Final Analysis,” while listening to a Wayne Dyer audio CD in my early twenties.  The meaning and message struck me as true, helping guide my thoughts and actions as I developed from a big kid into a real adult.  Later, I discovered the poem was not actually written by Mother Theresa at all, but adapted, framed, and hung on the wall in her Calcutta orphanage.  She cared about its message enough to use it to empower the weak and marginalized children to whom she gave her life.

The Paradoxical Commandments are reprinted with permission.  © Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

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