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Guide for the perplexed…

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Tuesday was a Dr Bob day, my bi-weekly encounter with self.

These last few sessions have been focused—more than most—on two fairly simple ideas: First, I’ve begun asking several times a day “What’s my goal?” and am surprised by the clarity gained from such a fundamental query. Self-defeating behavior and I have been fellow travelers far too long.

The second idea isn’t so much a ploy as it is a template. Dr Bob and I are each inclined toward a Yiddish cultural frame of reference (him ethnically and me just because it’s my schtick) so his suggestion that I should consult Leo Rosten and find the definition of “mensch” has provided a useful model but one that is also likely to remain ever out of reach. Rosten’s mensch is:

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.

Then I stumbled on Guy Kawasaki’s blog and some very useful tools toward achieving menschdom. I quote (without permission) his suggestions:

  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.

You have to love anyone named Guy Kawasaki who knows some Yiddish.

This semester has been rich with opportunities to observe and grow. My world is increasingly binary, but more than that, it is syzygistic (i.e., riddled with syzygy—look it up), made of yoked pairs that we frequently misconstrue as synonyms. Things like justice and the law, for example. We’re bombarded with news coverage that highlights the discrepancy between these conflated ideas. And so it is with theater and the dramatic. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t find myself a player in some scene of political theater; an encounter between me and someone else which has nothing whatsoever to do with the words we exchange and everything to do with their impact on the people nearby who have no idea they’ve been conscripted as an audience. Ask me out for a drink and I’ll explain.

Bottom line: I shall continue to play the Infinite Game of Life to the very best of my ability in the declining number of days that remain. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

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