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February 11, 2006

How to Be a Mensch

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I have a theory (as opposed to a dream) that Heaven is a three-class Boeing 777. You can sit in a narrow seat that doesn't recline and eat chicken-like substances next to a screaming baby in coach class. Or, you can sit in a slightly wider seat that reclines slightly more and eat a beef-like substance in business class.

But The Goal is to spend eternity in first class--specifically Singapore Airlines first class. Here your seat reclines to a completely flat position, and there's a power outlet, personal video player, wireless access to the Internet, and noise-cancelling headphones. There are also chefs, not microwave ovens.

You cannot buy your way into first class; nor can you use frequent flyer miles. The only way to earn an upgrade is to be a mensch. Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, defines mensch this way:

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.

Here is my humble attempt to help you achieve 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.

Exercise: It's the end of your life. What three things do you want people to remember you for?
1.
2.
3.

If you'd like to read more about this subject, I suggest Joshua Halberstam's book called Everyday Ethics: Inspired Solutions to Real-Life Dilemmas.

I hope this helps you become a mensch. No need to thank me if it does--helping you is reward enough--ie, “Don't menschion it.”

Written at: Atherton, California.

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» How to Be a Mensch from oomph
Guy Kawasaki schrijft op zijn blog over hoe je iemand kan zijn die gerespecteerd en geliefd is. Waar mijn oog op viel: Help mensen die jou niet kunnen helpen, help zonder iets terug te verwachten, help veel mensen.Bron: Let the [Read More]

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Comments

Help without the expectation of return - really cool!

Guy's points are well taken, and I'd like to add that there can never be enough mensches in the world. More people need to get on the path of doing good and thinking of others.

Robin
author
How to Marry a Mensch
www.lovecoach.com

Congratulation for such a great post that remind us that entrepreneur are after all just human beings, which must strive for having strong moral values & ethics.

However in your book, "The Art of Start" there's this chapter "Position against the leader" (Page 90/91)

Which made me realize that being a genuine Mensch could be incompatible with the act of positioning your product or service against the market leader, since by doing so you've got to say more or less that the competition sucks and and our company provide better product/services.

Best Regards from France,
Tarek


kawasaki@garage.com kawasaki@garage.com

Hi Guy,
As a former aerospace engineer and former Apple emplyee, and Lisa owner, I have been a fan of yours from the beginning. After departed the heights of high tech to expolore the overlooked regions of deep low tech, my research took me to the tortous technologies of Solar and Water that had been abandoned for the dramatic arena of hare paced -e- technologies. Not surprisingly though, the electrons of both high and low technologies move at the same rate. At any rate I developed a technology that truly is exciting as watching paint dry and will prove to be a life saver for much of humanity. After more than 20 years, my first prototype is still steadfastly operating day and night and has proven to be almost maintenance free. I have personally invested more than a million dollars of my own resources into the development of this and other related technologies culminating in the design of a solar powered high volume utility scale sea water desalination system. Please see my lowest tech concept at: livingwatersystem.com . I would like to share this technology with the world and am requesting your assistance.

Yours Truly

David Wetzel

A mensch like post indeed, Guy.

-a Christian in the emerging reformed and missional tradition.

This blog posting was of great use in learning new information and also in exchanging our views. Thank you, Guy!

Michael,
http://racemotion.org


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Great post, how interesting it must be that there's actually a life beyond the paycheck. I especially like the last set of questions, too many people live as if that day never comes

Not many people have truly answered the 3 points, so here I go:

It's the end of your life. What three things do you want people to remember you for?

1) Been a good Father
2) Been a good Husband
3) Always been a sincere freind to those at my funeral. (and those who wanted to come but couldnt make it of course)

Great insights. May I suggest reading "Love Is the Killer App" by Tim Sanders. The Mensch philosophy is right up there with that book. I have found the most happiness in offering what I can to those who need it.

Can you be a true Mensch and a great leader? Read HBR this month, particularly the articles entitled "The Nice Guy" and "The Great Intimidators". These articles appear to rip the Mensch types. Of course there's a balance, but it would seem that it is, at best, a challenging equilibrium and, at worst, an outright impossibility to be a true Mensch and a great machiavellian leader.

I read Luke 6:27-38 this morning, Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount. Pretty much the same message. Maybe this should post should be called Guy's sermon from the 777??

There's a good example in _The Apartment_, when Jack Lemmon's character has his moral compass put out of whack because he wants to be friends with the executives in his office and on witnessing the consequences of this his neighbour tells him to be a mensch - don't be an executive, don't be a guy, be a human being.


This is a great topic to talk to girls about during courting, lol. Seriously the world needs more Menschs but its not fun doing it to rich people!

Cool. Definitely something to aspire to.

I really like this post! It says everything I belive in...

Brendon,

Re: recently flying in economy...you're not dead yet.

:-)

Guy

Guy
I've noticed a trend in the past. Whenever I make someone else feel good, I feel good. The strength of feeling is directly proportional with how much I really hekp the other person - how much value can be placed in my help. So, to explain, I get the most joy out of helping people that really need help. I even prefer to stay completely anonymous if I possibly can to prevent any ideas of "owing me one" or having to repay the favour.

But the thing is this. You can alter lives. You have the ability to create an alternate future for someone by doing something spectacular (and no money needs to be involved). Usually, people who recieve spectacular help when needed end up paying it forward to someone else down the line. And that's a something that really brings a smile to my face.

Great post Guy,

It is good that you got us thinking about these things today. We enjoy the great rewards of the positions of leadership we are blessed with, but sometimes forget "to whom much is given, much is required".

I'll add on to this, though. What "class" we end up in can be much more simple than your well-thought-out list. Simply being a better person is not as easy as a checklist. Our motives are why we sometimes have trouble implementing them.

This "simple" answer I speak of has much deeper implications that will result in not only much more than that list being fulfilled, but much, much more. Curious?

What a great reminder of what we all should aspire to! Another to go up on the wall o' da cube.

Oh no, Guy!

I'm just about to fly from Australian to London on a 777 and, yep, you guessed it, I'm in economy!

But wait - do you think if I mentioned I'm the President of my son's Scout troop, Vice Prez of a charity group, give free speeches to the local high school, etc .....oh wait,

That would mean I have an expectation of a return.

Rats. I'm stuck in economy aren't I??!

Thanks for a terrific web site (and if any Emirates staff are reading - flying out of Brisbane Feb 22!).

Ah ha! This was great advice! Guy recently spoke at San Jose State University and offered this as a BONUS step to his "10 Steps of an Entrepreneur." I took notes on this presentation and posted them here: http://e-bizz.blogspot.com/2006/02/10-steps-of-entrepreneurship-guy.html

But, Guy thank you very much AGAIN for your sharing your expertise and offering us with advice.

Christopher Salazar

Funny thing is that 'Mensch' is german for 'human being'. If one does a double translation of the whole idea then 'to be mensch' would translate into 'to be human'. Or, for the better effect, 'not to be mensch' is 'not to be human'.

guy,
thank you.
mikey

Giving back and helping others is something you should always do. :) It's important to help others (without motives), and chances are it'll pay back in some way at another time.

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