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.

By | 2016-10-24T14:28:42+00:00 February 11th, 2006|Categories: Entrepreneurship, Management|56 Comments

About the Author:

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

56 Comments

  1. Dan February 11, 2006 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    Guy
    You are right on. Beyond all the expediency of giving and receiving is the world of just offering, and holding a space of gratitude. What you give here is a gift, and you are encouraging others to give as well. What a boon you are to the fragile name of entreprenureship…and humanity.

  2. Graham English February 11, 2006 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    A great way to illustrate the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they want done unto them.

  3. Shawn Callahan February 11, 2006 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    I think I know a Mensch. His name is Walt and in addition to the traits you’ve mentioned he has the uncanny ability to never speak badly about anyone.

  4. Harry Chong February 11, 2006 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    Great stuff. Especially the “Help without the expectation of return.” Many people help others with ulterior motives.

  5. Martin Oetting February 12, 2006 at 12:03 am - Reply

    At first, this struck me as a very odd title for a post – Mensch is the ordinary German term for “human”, or “a human being”, as opposed to an animal. But then – nothing so strange about that – what you write is exactly that: how to differentiate us from the animals. 😉

    • Jim Macafee July 17, 2016 at 8:06 pm - Reply

      I see no value in arrogating my species over another — and am in fact repelled by the thought.

  6. CEO February 12, 2006 at 1:39 am - Reply

    Japanese recipe how to become Yewish?
    haha

  7. Lee Harvey Osmond February 12, 2006 at 4:07 am - Reply

    How to be a mensch? Compare and contrast with Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code, and even with Qui-Gon Jinn’s remarks about Anakin Skywalker
    in Episode I.

  8. oomph February 12, 2006 at 4:35 am - Reply

    How to Be a Mensch

    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

  9. Another Day in the Antz Farm February 12, 2006 at 5:28 am - Reply

    How to Be a Mensch

    Guy Kawasaki wrote a interesting entry today about “How to Be a Mensch”. In this article, he reckon Heaven…

  10. jim Forbes February 12, 2006 at 6:09 am - Reply

    Mitzvahs and helping others without an expectation of pay back is it’s own reward, Guy.
    To Life,
    Jim Forbes

  11. Francisco Fernández February 12, 2006 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    I would suggest a six point: Help people who would not help you.

  12. Erik February 12, 2006 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    Reminds me of poster my mom hung in the bathroom. Great reading material. Random acts of kindness and building your character. I suggest for the real ambitious getting one of the Random Acts pocket books and instead of putting it on a shelf to show people you care, put it in your pocket and check one off each day.
    Aloha,
    E

  13. The Hairy Reasoner February 12, 2006 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    TOT31

    Be Nice Good
    Let the Good Times Rollby Guy Kawasaki: How to Be a Mensch
    Help people who cannot help you.
    Help without the expectation of return.
    Help many people.
    Do the right thing the right way.
    Pay back society.

  14. Sarah Lipman February 12, 2006 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    I’m so glad to find your e-mail feed option. Why? Because your posts are consistently worth reading, re-reading, and forwarding to others. Your blog consists of real CONTENT, not hype, and today’s entry proves the point (again).
    I’m delighted that you are willing to voice a reasoned, thoughtful, articulate, ethical viewpoint. So much of the blog “conversation” people rave about is just teenage yapping, gossip, and back-patting.
    Thanks for making a difference.

  15. badxmaru February 12, 2006 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    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.

  16. John February 12, 2006 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    I agree completely about the menschness. But am I the only one who doesn’t find it motivating to think about my death? It’s not that I don’t care what people will think about me when I’m dead – just that it doesn’t affect how I live now.
    The reason to do the right thing has to do with how much better it makes your life now. Not what it does to your legacy.

  17. Douglas H February 12, 2006 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    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.

  18. mikey February 12, 2006 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    guy,
    thank you.
    mikey

  19. Andreas F. Bobak February 13, 2006 at 12:12 am - Reply

    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’.

  20. Christopher Salazar February 13, 2006 at 1:27 am - Reply

    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

  21. Brendon February 13, 2006 at 3:21 am - Reply

    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!).

  22. Stacy February 13, 2006 at 8:07 am - Reply

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

  23. Got wisdom? February 13, 2006 at 9:34 am - Reply

    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?

  24. Torchbearer February 13, 2006 at 11:48 am - Reply

    Bringing Balance To The Blog

    On a more positive note than my last post, Guy Kawasaki takes a page from the Yiddishkeit about how to live a good life and how we can be ale brider.

  25. Zack Perry February 13, 2006 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    Living a great life

    I follow Guy K’s blog which focus’ on venture capital, social trends, and business tips. Today he has a great entry on living. Worth the read

  26. Jonas Antonsson February 13, 2006 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    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.

  27. Guy Kawasaki February 13, 2006 at 3:40 pm - Reply

    Brendon,
    Re: recently flying in economy…you’re not dead yet.
    🙂
    Guy

  28. Helen Wang February 13, 2006 at 6:07 pm - Reply

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

  29. olivier blanchard February 13, 2006 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    Cool. Definitely something to aspire to.

  30. Johan De Silva February 14, 2006 at 3:41 am - Reply

    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!

  31. dl February 14, 2006 at 5:23 am - Reply

    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.

  32. Chaz February 14, 2006 at 5:52 am - Reply

    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??

  33. Colin February 14, 2006 at 8:07 am - Reply

    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.

  34. kevin February 14, 2006 at 8:19 am - Reply

    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.

  35. 1000 Flowers Bloom February 14, 2006 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Good Advice from Guy Kawasaki

    I’ve been generally impressed with Guy Kawasaki’s blog. In particular I love this piece that he wrote about How to be a Mensch. As he found out a mensch is:Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key

  36. Seb February 16, 2006 at 12:43 am - Reply

    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)

  37. Trompe L'oeil February 16, 2006 at 7:58 am - Reply

    Menschdom

    From Tomorrow.sg on how to be a Mensch. And because “mensch” sounds like a tiresome and unnecessary addition to a list of difficult words to remember, you could also think of it like a modern (and alternative) guide to living.

  38. Journey To Faith February 18, 2006 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    Christian Business Leaders?

    In sharp contrast, yesterday, I’m reading Guy Kawasaki’s blog where he advocates that we all need to strive to “be a mensch”, that is, someone who unselfishly looks to be of help those around him. When I read this, I thought to myself, “Yes, a business…

  39. NAI SAECHAO March 6, 2006 at 7:51 am - Reply

    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

  40. MedBillAdvisor Blog March 22, 2006 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    Adopting a credo worth adopting Be Mensch-like

    Im not sucking up to Guy K, but he does post some good articles on his blog.  The one below caught my attention and so I wanted to capture it and review it once in a while to make sure that MedBillAdvisor retains its mensch-like credo.
    E…

  41. Going Private March 24, 2006 at 10:15 pm - Reply

    1995 Called. It Wants Its Blog Back

    I’m not usually catty. Well, usually not usually. Still, I couldn’t help myself today. I was inspired. I’m not a venture person, of course, but I can’t help but observe that, for someone who’s only real claim to fame

  42. amir March 25, 2006 at 12:41 pm - Reply

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  43. The Sunjay Times October 29, 2006 at 12:59 am - Reply

    The art of being a Mensch

    The best index to a persons character is
    how he treats people who cant do him any good, and
    how he treats people who cant fight back
    Abigail Van Buren
    I first learned about the meaning of the word mensch f…

  44. Michael December 12, 2006 at 6:59 am - Reply

    This blog posting was of great use in learning new information and also in exchanging our views. Thank you, Guy!
    Michael,
    http://racemotion.org

  45. Steve Garrett May 9, 2007 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    A mensch like post indeed, Guy.
    -a Christian in the emerging reformed and missional tradition.

  46. David Wetzel June 11, 2007 at 11:49 am - Reply

    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

  47. Tarek Demiati July 31, 2007 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    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

  48. Robin Gorman Newman September 18, 2007 at 10:50 am - Reply

    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

  49. Chickenhead September 23, 2007 at 11:39 pm - Reply

    Help without the expectation of return – really cool!

  50. Marketing & Strategy Innovation Blog January 6, 2009 at 12:57 am - Reply

    How to Use Twitter as a Twool

    by: Guy KawasakiI may get more value out of Twitter than anyone else on the planet because I use Twitter as a toolspecifically as a marketing toolfor my website Alltop and my book, Reality Check. If the concept of using…

  51. Jon Burg's Future Visions January 23, 2009 at 3:37 am - Reply

    the ONLY rule in social media marketing

    Be a mensch.Everything else is extra, but if you don’t start there, you will not succeed….

  52. Guy Kawasaki, l'enchanteur - Business Angel France-Investissements et conseils pour PME February 25, 2015 at 2:09 am - Reply

    […] tous mes remerciements au mensch Guy qui nous montre que pour recevoir (de l’argent, de la notoriété…) il faut […]

  53. Michael Laurie, JD May 6, 2015 at 6:31 am - Reply

    thanks for the explanation of a mensch

  54. Guy Razzino July 31, 2015 at 11:09 am - Reply

    It’s always good to be good .

  55. lara November 26, 2015 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    can women be mensches? or womenches?

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