Mark Goldberg

Being a mensch

Be a “mensch.”

A very basic instruction to our kids. It means being a decent human being. A person of integrity and honor.

My brother and I were talking about some characteristics of menschlichtkeit. Treating everyone with respect is a big one. I recall going to a dinner for a job interview about 30 years ago and as we were being escorted to our table, a napkin fell from the tray of a busboy who was clearing dishes. I picked up the napkin and handed it to the service staff member. Many years later, I was told that this simple act won me the job before the actual interview ever took place.

How do you treat everyday people, the waiters and busboys, the flight attendants, the cleaning crews, strangers you have never met? Are you a “mensch” or do you reserve your acts of common decency just for your friends or those who can immediately impact your career?

Why is this so foreign to engagements on social media?

Complete strangers, who I envision are writing from their parents’ basement while hiding behind mythological-based pseudonyms, feel compelled to issue coprolalic comments as a response to posts with which they disagree. We led a generation to believe that the internet meant a democratization of interaction with everyone; some trolls help demonstrate the corollary: while they may have ability to have their message broadcast, people still retain the ability to ignore them. If people want to bleat obscene and derogatory epithets with anonymity, I am happy to aid in preserving the obscurity they desire and so richly deserve.

I have often referred back to a post I wrote nearly a dozen years ago called “4 degrees of impersonal communications.” It continues to baffle me that people generally take more care in communications when the conversation can most easily be private and candid, such as in face-to-face conversations, compared to the anti-social language and tone so commonly found in online fora.

As an exercise, look at the replies to almost every tweet from FCC Chair Ajit Pai (such as his announcement on the proposed Sinclair/Tribune transaction) to see the level of abuse he routinely attracts. Sifting through noise must be exhausting.

I am happy to engage, debate issues, share my experience, provide guidance. But there are limits to what I will tolerate in my 4 degrees.

Summer time has given me an opportunity to spend more time away from the computer screen, unwind and reflect.

Last fall, I wrote advice to my kids to “find a career doing something you love doing; aim to be the best at what you do; find people who share your values to do it with; and, remember that family should always come first.”

Among those values I hope they share with their friends and co-workers is to always be a “mensch.”

I wish I could find more tools to impart that simple rule to others.

For now, this post will have to do.

Comments are closed.