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There are many things that we do in life. In fact, there are an unlimited number of things and activities that we can fill our lives with. Some are necessary, some are good, and some simply use up our time. The question then becomes why? Why are we doing these things, and do all of these things really matter?
Have we allowed chronic busyness to replace meaning in our lives?
I suggest igniting your inner mensch. She will guide you to do the right things for the right reasons.
Mensch is a Yiddish term, defined as a person of integrity and honor.
Being a mensch is not related to success, wealth, or social status. Yiddish maven Leo Rosten defines a mensch as “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.”
A mensch is someone who is ethical and admirable. It is the highest form of praise one can receive.
In his book The Art of the Start, Guy Kawasaki suggests three foundations on which to build a life of menschhood: “helping lots of people, doing what’s right, and paying back society—simple concepts that are hard to implement.”
There are four reasons to help others.
- Because the person you help might help you later.
- Because you want to be seen and rewarded for doing good deeds.
- Because you know you should.
- Because service and helping others brings you joy.
The easiest people to help are those whom you think will benefit you someday. This type of service is also the least valuable to you because the intent is for future personal benefit.
What really separates a mensch from others is their intentions.
“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” – Samuel Johnson
A mensch helps others because they receive intrinsic joy from helping others, regardless of whether or not they can help them in return. Service is given without expecting anything in return.
“There are few joys greater than helping others.” – Guy Kawasaki
Doing What’s Right
“The right thing and the easy thing are never the same.” – Kami Garcia
The right thing isn’t the easy thing. It isn’t the it’s-not-a-big-deal thing, the no-one-will-notice thing, the I-can-get-away-with-it thing. It’s doing the right thing, every time, even when no one is watching.
“Integrity means always doing what is right and good, regardless of the immediate consequences. It means being righteous from the very depth of our soul, not only in our actions but, more importantly, in our thoughts and in our hearts.” – Joseph B. Wirthin
Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching. This means doing the right thing even when it’s not easy.
- Keep Promises. A person with integrity does what they say they will do. They keep their promises and have the courage to make their actions consistent with their knowledge of what’s right and wrong.
- Be Honest. Integrity requires honesty. A person who has integrity is honest in their dealings. They repay debts, clean up their own messes, and focus on performance.
- Be Accountable. A person with integrity accepts responsibility for their actions. They don’t cover up bad news, they find solutions to their problems. They use mistakes and failures as an opportunity to learn and improve.
“If we surround ourselves with people who are dishonest and willing to cut corners to get ahead, then we’ll surely find ourselves following a pattern of first enduring their behavior, then accepting their behavior, and finally adopting their behavior. If you want to build a reputation as a person of integrity then surround yourself with people of integrity. – Amy Rees Anderson
Doing the right thing is one of the keys to becoming a mensch. It means taking the high and often difficult road.
- a good name or public esteem.
- A privilege.
- A person of superior standing.
- One whose worth brings respect or fame.
- A keen sense of ethical conduct: integrity.
verb: regard with great respect. Fulfill an obligation or keep an agreement.
“If there is one word that describes the meaning of character, it is the word honor. Without honor, civilization would not long exist. Without honor, there could be no dependable contracts, no lasting marriages, no trust nor happiness.”
“An honorable man or woman is one who is truthful; free from deceit; above cheating, lying, stealing, or any form of deception. An honorable man or woman is one who learns early that one cannot do wrong and feel right.” – Ezra Taft Benson
Honor and honesty, like charity, are active attributes. Regardless of how honorable and true our intentions are, you can only become honest and honorable by acting on your intentions.
Pay Back Society
The third foundation of becoming a mensch is based on gratitude. A mensch pays back society for gifts already received. For gifts that he is grateful for.
“Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this Earth.” – N. Eldon Tanner
Consider the gifts society gives:
- A place to live
- Family and friends
Paying back society is not about obtaining money. Nor does it require being wealthy. There are many “currencies” that can be used to pay back society. Payments can be made with time, expertise, work, emotional support, and money.
Guy Kawasaki states, “The key concept is that a mensch pays back—that is, for goodness already received—as opposed to pays forward in expectation of return.”
Our Choices Determine Who We Are
Our choices, and more specifically our actions, determine who we are. And the good news is that incorporating the qualities of mensch into our lives can really be a simple thing.
Take for example a trip to the grocery store I had a few weeks ago. It was pouring down rain. I ran into the store, did my shopping and hurried to unload everything into the car. When I was loading my bags into the trunk I noticed that one of my items had fallen down underneath some of the bags. I sat in the car and looked over the receipt. It wasn’t there. I hadn’t paid for it.
Then the choice came. Do I just drive home and not go back in and pay for it, or do I go back in and do the right thing?
I zipped up my jacket, threw on my hood and ran back through the pouring rain into the store. I waited in line until I got back up to the register and paid for my item. The cashier recognized me and asked if I had forgotten something. I responded no, and told her that I had found the unpaid item as I was unloading my cart. We completed the transaction and I went home knowing that I did the right thing.
The item was small, and cost less than five dollars. I could have easily just gone home and no one would have noticed. No one but me.
I knew what the right choice was, and I aligned my actions with what I knew to be right.
I have learned that you will never regret making the right choice. Sometimes it’s the hard thing to do. Sometimes other’s won’t understand why you are doing it, but you will never regret it.
A Mensch Inside All of Us
There is an mensch inside each one of us. There is an honorable person full of integrity and love, willing to help others and do the right thing.
Regardless of who we have been in the past, regardless of our economic circumstances, our challenges, or our weaknesses, we have ultimate control over our actions. We can choose to do the right things for the right reasons and make the world a better place in the process.
The Making of a Mensch by Let it Ripple Films
- Benson, Ezra Taft (1984). lds.org. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/new-era/1984/07/honor?lang=eng
- Kawasaki, G. (2004). The Art of the Start. New York, NY: The Penguin Group. P. 211-213.
- lds.org: Self-Reliance Principle 10: Show Integrity. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/topics/pef-self-reliance/live/show-integrity?lang=eng&old=true
- Let it Ripple Film Studio. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.letitripple.org/films/making-of-a-mensch/
- Merriam-Webster. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/honor?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld
- Merriam-Webster.com. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mensch