To paraphrase Wikipedia, a “mensch” is a Yiddish expression describing someone to admire and emulate; someone of noble character. The key to being a real mensch is character, dignity, a sense of responsibility and doing what is right.
There was once a time, not too long ago, when our political leaders, corporate heads, sports heroes, actors and news anchors (among others) recognized the heightened visibility of their respective statuses and governed their behavior accordingly.
Our standard bearers were people of integrity. Honesty and accuracy were important to them. They actually did what they promised to do. Whether you agreed with them or not, you understood they honestly tried to do the right thing, and take actions for the greater good. They worked hard and earned what they received. They shared credit. They recognized and appreciated how fortunate they were, and used their elevated status to help others. They had a smile, a warm handshake and a kind word for strangers. They treated others with dignity. They embraced the differences of those dissimilar from themselves. There was mutual respect. They exuded a sense of goodwill, and didn’t feel the need to lower the status or reputation of someone else to elevate their own. They believed in being fair, and encouraged competition and differences of opinion. They understood what it meant to “respectfully disagree.” When they messed up, they admitted and owned their mistakes instead of blaming others. They promised to learn from their errors and lapses of judgment, and committed themselves to be better going forward. This was the American ideal and by and large, we were a country of mensches. These values made us proud to be Americans.
Obviously, not everyone conformed to this ideal. But those that didn’t were outliers – they were exceptions to the rule.
Seems to me that more and more these days, we are presented with examples that make us feel like this paradigm has been flipped on its head. Our leaders and others believe they are above the law; immune from the rules of decency. They make statements that can’t possibly be true. They deny things that can’t possibly be false. They view disagreement as disloyalty. They take from others to benefit themselves and their friends. They touch the bodies of others without permission. They take credit for everything good and blame others for problems. They sew fear, insult our differences, encourage distrust and eschew goodwill. Still feeling the pride?
Where have all the mensches gone?