Amid the rise of 'toxic' behaviour in politics, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has urged more 'mendschedick' behaviour. During his Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 last Friday, he said "our challenged world needs to internalize what it means to be a mensch."
Ahead of Rosh Hashanah, which he said “is the anniversary of the creation of humanity”, the Rabbi noted that the “Yiddish word for a human being is ‘mensch’. Colloquially, to call someone a mensch is to pay them the ultimate compliment – conveying the highest attributes of decency and dignity.”
As MPs returned to the Commons on Thursday morning, UK House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said: “There was an atmosphere in the chamber worse than any I’ve known in my 22 years in the House. On both sides passions were inflamed, angry words uttered, the culture was toxic.”
On radio, Chief Rabbi Mirvis shared the following thoughts which were put to a touching short video shared on twitter. Text excerpt below.
When it comes to our politics today, civility is often left at the door and people define so much of their identity by what and whom they are standing against, as opposed to what they stand for.
An aversion to complexity and the demise of nuance has made compromise harder than ever to achieve and, most worryingly, when tribalism inspires hate speech, hate crime is only one step away.
For millennia, Jewish tradition has treasured healthy disagreement – it has been the lifeblood of our religious practice. Religious teachers never allowed their disagreements to become debased or personal.
A mensch passionately fights for what they believe is right without ever compromising on courtesy. A mensch debates the substance of an issue without seeking to destroy their opposition. A mensch is slow to anger and quick to learn from others – including those with whom they may profoundly disagree. And a mensch puts humility and responsibility before their own reputation.
It was nearly 55 years ago when Martin Luther King Jr said: “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together.
When will we learn?
For more on how to be the change and transform culture from toxic to life-giving take the journey from BullyVille to Sustainaville. Read Save Your City: How Toxic Culture Kills Community & What To Do About It available in two editions.
(Municipal World, 2019)