10 Lessons From Jiminy Cricket on Becoming a Real Mensch

In the delightful story of Pinocchio, made into a movie released in 1940 by Walt Disney, the little puppet that the Italian woodcarver Geppetto had so lovingly carved wanted to become a real little boy. Along came Jiminy Cricket, the dapper conscience of Pinocchio, who helped him, along with a good fairy, finally become a real boy, when he proved that he could be a mensch. It was the good deed that Pinnochio did for the fairy that really turned the trick to transform him into a real little boy.

The story written by the Italian author Collodi in the 19th century still has moral meanings today for everyone. The idea is to live life by being a mensch.

Most people don’t have a delightful and charming little bug or a fairy to guide them into becoming a mensch, so they must look inside and be their own Jiminy Cricket.

To quote the Disney song, ”Let your conscience be your guide”.

First of all, what really is a mensch? It’s really not easy to translate the concept. Mensch is actually a German word which means a human being, but in its most philosophical sense it means a total person, the kind who cares about his fellow man, who reaches out to do good things for them, who makes a positive difference in the world. It’s the person who, when he sees his fellow man in difficulty, tries to help him or her. The mensch has leadership qualities; when there’s a problematic situation, he tries to solve it to everyone’s benefit.

People recognize a mensch when they meet one, and each person should try to become one.

My grandson Yehudah is working hard to be one. His school sends him home with a weekly mensch report card. He must check off each menschlich thing he does outside of school. Among these are opening doors for older people, helping his mother and father, being polite, saying thank you and please, and not being impolite.

He is also being taught not to call adults by their first names — unless of course they insist that he do so — but to address them properly as Mr. or Mrs., or by their professional titles. He is rewarded for doing as many of the things as possible to be a mensch. As adults, we too are rewarded, just by knowing that we are being menshen (plural for mensch)!

Here are some ways that you can become a real mensch.

Try volunteering. There are so many good causes and places you can volunteer for that you will never run out of volunteer opportunities. Volunteering is also a great way to meet others who share your values in life. Many people get a real high from being a volunteer.

Many children, and even adults, could use your help in learning how to read properly or in mastering marketable skills. You could become a mentor to children who could use one. Visit nursing homes or hospitals. Too many older or sick people are alone in the world, and spending quality time with them could enrich their lonely lives.

If you can’t visit someone who lives alone or is sick, try calling or sending an e-mail or snail mail card. If someone new moves into your area, bring a welcome gift and offer your knowledge of the area to make it easier for your new neighbor to acclimate to their new neighborhood. Help out in your church or synagogue, at soup kitchens, at charity drives or any way you can.

Try to be affable. Be patient and kind with your fellow man. Open doors and offer your seat to someone who may need it. When my teenage son and I were on a bus in Sweden and a woman was about to board the bus with her stroller, the driver motioned for my son to help, though my son had his hands full with luggage. If no one else on the bus would help, the driver would have to, by custom. Apparently, it is mandatory to be a mensch in Sweden.

Just as my grandson has rules about being a mensch, so should every adult.

Here are ten tenets of being a mensch.

1. Treat everyone — including the young, old, and handicapped — with respect. Don’t talk down to anyone.

2. Use the golden rule: do unto others as you want done to you and conversely don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.

3. Don’t gossip. Irreparable harm can be done to someone this way.

4. Do not ever make ethnic jokes. They are not funny; they are just harmful and hurting.

5. Pull your weight in a group setting. Make a difference.

6. Step outside yourself and be empathetic.

7. Be kind.

8. Be helpful.

9. Be a friend — a good one.

10. Listen to your conscience, as it will always guide you.

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