When I read that Trump had abrogated the Iran deal, I felt a familiar pain in the pit of my stomach. These bouts of indigestion and nausea have increased since November of 2016, as have my concerns over the world my grandchildren will inherit, and the role models they will choose to emulate.
Trump’s Presidency has been a consistent perversion of a value structure to which most Americans have long given lip service (if not always fidelity). Even if the country and the world emerge more or less intact from this dangerous, surreal period, how much permanent damage will have been done to our concept of civilized, moral, adult behavior?
When my children were very young, I used to tell them I wanted them each to grow up to be a mensch. Mensch is a yiddish word meaning “a real human being–a person of integrity and honor.”
What are the sorts of behaviors that characterize a mensch?
- There’s civility, of course. Respect for other people. Courteous behavior in even trying situations. An absence of name-calling or other efforts to demean people with whom one disagrees.
- A rejection of bigotries both overt and latent. Refusing to judge one’s fellow human beings on the basis of such things as skin color, religion, gender or sexual orientation. A recognition that other people are entitled to the same rights and respect we claim for ourselves.
- A healthy modesty–by which I mean recognition that none of us has all the answers, that other perspectives deserve consideration, that there is always more to learn, that it is always possible that one may turn out to be wrong. A healthy modesty also implies respect for expertise, for the counsel of those with specialized or superior knowledge. A mensch has sufficient self-worth and self-confidence to give credit where it is due, and will instinctively recoil from bragging or grandstanding.
- Maturity. Adults have a capacity for self-restraint, an ability to defer gratification when necessary to the pursuit of longterm goals. A mensch demonstrates maturity by admitting when he is wrong, and apologizing when something he has said or done makes such an apology appropriate. A mensch doesn’t engage in childish tantrums or schoolyard bullying conduct like publicly berating or humiliating others.
- Respect for authority–as distinct from obsequiousness. A mensch balances his obligations to the rules and to those in charge against his duty to confront injustice, even when such confrontation entails a personal cost.
- Personal Integrity. A mensch keeps his word, honors his commitments, pays his bills. (As my father used to say, he “walks the talk.”) His behaviors are consistent with his pronouncements. Persons of integrity do not knowingly lie or mislead.
- A good heart. A mensch genuinely cares about others in his family, his community and his country. He supports efforts to ameliorate poverty and injustice. He participates in activities intended to make the world a better place.
None of these ideal behaviors require riches or even intelligence, although like most parents I hoped my children would do well financially and would have the self-awareness that is one of the many benefits of an inquiring and lively intellect.
When I compare the behaviors and values that most parents try to instill in their children to Donald Trump’s daily, embarrassing eruptions, I cringe. President Obama was–and remains– a mensch; post-Presidency, even George W. Bush has been one.
Trump is the anti-mensch.
How do parents raise thoughtful, compassionate, responsible children when the media constantly reports the activities of a President who violates and scorns–on a daily basis– every behavioral norm they are trying to inculcate?
I’m keeping Tums in business.