Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Am I a Mensch?...

I sent out an email this morning to everyone at RFE/RL here in Prague telling them it has been an honor and a pleasure to have worked with them for the last two years. I have received some very nice replies, including one that said in part "Where I come from, New York, we sometimes use a Yiddish word, which would seem apt to describe you and that is to say you're a real 'mensch'."

I have heard the word "mensch" but did not have a full unserstanding of its meaning so I asked this person for a definition. She sent a link to this blog which includes the definition of the word "mensch" from Leo Rosten, the author of The Joys of Yiddish, 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.

This blog then also gives the steps to menschdom:

1. Help people who cannot help you. A mensch helps people who cannot ever return the favor. He doesn't care if the recipient is rich, famous, or powerful. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't help rich, famous, or powerful people (indeed, they may need the most help), but you shouldn't help only rich, famous, and powerful people.

2. Help without the expectation of return. A mensch helps people without the expectation of return--at least in this life. What's the payoff? Not that there has to be a payoff, but the payoff is the pure satisfaction of helping others. Nothing more, nothing less.

3. Help many people. Menschdom is a numbers game: you should help many people, so you don't hide your generosity under a bushel. (Of course, not even a mensch can help everyone. To try to do so would mean failing to help anyone.)

4. Do the right thing the right way. A mensch always does the right thing the right way. She would never cop an attitude like, “We're not as bad as Enron.” There is a bright, clear line between right and wrong, and a mensch never crosses that line.

5. Pay back society. A mensch realizes that he's blessed. For example, entrepreneurs are blessed with vision and passion plus the ability to recruit, raise money, and change the world. These blessings come with the obligation to pay back society. The baseline is that we owe something to society--we're not a doing a favor by paying back society.

So back to the question of whether or not I am a mensch? No, I don't think so, but it is cretainly something to aspire to, and I am happy that there are some who think I am already there.

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