Mind Matters — What Makes A Mensch?

Kudos to Gillette for its new ad that revisits the company’s theme, “The Best A Man Can Be,” in a thought-provoking way.

Unfortunately, while many responded positively to the commercial that challenged bullying and sexism, others were outraged, claiming the ad was “assault to masculinity.”

Many years ago, I remember a colleague often saying to male clients at a mental health clinic, “don’t mistake kindness for weakness.” It is not at all un-masculine or weak to be kind or show care.

In fact, it can take great courage to be kind. What is easy about standing up to a person to let them know their joke was demeaning to women or that their comment was racist? What is weak about teaching your children about respect and decency in lieu of silently standing by allowing child bullies to persist?

Recently, at a Martin Luther King breakfast, an elected official spoke about how we should not be passive. He was urging us to take responsibility and to be proactive, not to ignore injustices, but to challenge them. The point is, you don’t have to be Marin Luther King or Rosa Parks to be a hero in some small way. Taking action instead of being a passive witness, a bystander, to bullying, racism, intolerance, or any de-humanizing behaviors is profoundly humanizing. That is, such acts are the stuff that makes both men and women heroic.

We are all in psychological trouble if we believe that domination, brute force, and bullying is our way forward. Fear rather than courage is what underpins such behavior.

In my book, Quiet Wisdom in Loud Times: The Rise of the Wounded Feminine, I quote Riane Eisler, author of Sacred Pleasure. It is there that she reminds us, “The terms feminine and masculine are constructs of our language that are part and parcel of our dominator society [where] … ‘masculinity is equated with dominance and conquest, and femininity with passiveness and submissiveness.’” In the dominator model, there is not equality, but an ambivalence between the stereotypes of masculine and feminine. Inclusive humanity is based on a partnership model rather than a dominator model, says Eisler. In such a model, males and females are equal; collaborative and egalitarian values replace authoritarian and hierarchical social structures. Power then is not about control and domination of others, but about a conscious and loving sharing of power in relationships.

Sounds like living out the partnership model is as easy as being a “mensch”! Derived from the German for human being, mensch is a Yiddish term connoting a person of honor and integrity. Wouldn’t being a “real man” then mean being a “mensch”? Why wouldn’t every man (every human being!) aspire to be a person of honor and integrity? Isn’t that the “best a man can be”? Isn’t that the best anyone can be?