06/08/2010 03:55 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Obama and 'The Paradoxical Commandments'

Being President of the United States is a thankless job, especially lately.

Republicans scream bloody murder about Obama's "socialist agenda" and tell him to butt out of the private sector. "Let the free market take care of itself," they scold. "It's self-regulating. Government should leave corporations and businesses alone." But when Big Business finds itself in Big Trouble, these same free market champions scurry to Washington, hat in hand, begging for a handout, crying, "Government must save us. We're too big to fail."

Tea Partiers gather to protest "government takeover of healthcare" and cry hysterically about death panels killing Granny. At the very same tea parties, they yell, "Obama, keep your mitts off our Medicare!" Never mind that Medicare is government-run healthcare.

Palin and her petroleum pals cheer for "Drill, baby, drill" -- hither and yon, here, there and everywhere. But now that we have an oil disaster of epic proportions putting thousands of fishermen and local entrepreneurs out of business (perhaps permanently), killing wildlife and wiping out the Gulf ecosystem, suddenly they're screaming that it's government's fault. They demand that Obama plug the damn hole and fix this mess -- now!

Liberals complain that Obama is too moderate; moderates complain that he's too liberal; and conservatives are convinced he's the reincarnation of Hitler/Stalin/Mao. Many African Americans say that Obama isn't doing enough for them; many whites fear that he isn't watching out for their interests either.

We elected Obama because he was cool in a crisis. Now that we're facing an historic crisis, we hammer him for being cool. "Where's the outrage?" critics cry.

Everyone looks at our President and sees something different -- we each project our own hopes, fears, anxieties, biases, and prejudices on our leader. Perhaps we should all make appointments with our therapists to analyze why we expect our President to be Daddy, Superman, Santa Claus, Moses, Lincoln, Reagan, Gandhi, Patton, JFK, and MLK all rolled into one. How quick we are to anoint a hero! How much quicker still do we tear him down.

There must be days when Obama feels like he's damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. I wonder if he ever wants to throw up his hands and yell back at us, "People! Make up your minds!"

Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, "Hell is other people." It wouldn't surprise me if Obama agreed with him. People can be frustrating, annoying, contrary, irrational and downright infuriating.

Back in 1968, then-college student Kent M. Keith wrote a handbook for student leaders. In it, he listed ten points for young leaders to "help people find meaning in a crazy world." Keith called his list "The Paradoxical Commandments." It is as wise today as it was when Keith wrote it 40+ years ago.

These commandments have made their way around the Internet in recent years -- often misattributed to Mother Teresa. When you read them, you understand why -- they read like something a wise, compassionate saint would write.

Anyone who does his best to live "The Paradoxical Commandments" is following a noble path, for sure. Such a person deserves our respect, our gratitude, and our help. Instead of demanding that our President be all things to all people -- and condemning him when he isn't -- let's give the guy credit for taking on Mission Impossible. Instead of playing armchair quarterback and second-guessing his every move, let's pitch in and give the guy a hand. It's not the President's job to save us from ourselves, it's our job to save ourselves, with his leadership and support.

I don't know if Obama keeps these commandments on a card in his wallet or perhaps on a plaque somewhere. I don't know if he's ever even seen them. But this I know for sure -- he lives them.

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.
Succeed anyway.

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.
Build anyway.

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.

1968, renewed 2001 Kent M. Keith
Reprinted with permission.
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