I have a theory 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 economy class. Or you can sit in a slightly wider seat that reclines a little 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 internet access and noise-cancelling headphones. There are also chefs, not microwave ovens.
You can’t buy your way into Heaven’s first class, nor can you use your frequent flier miles to get a spot there. The only way to earn yourself an upgrade is to be a mensch. Leo Rosten, author of The Joys of Yiddish, defines a 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, and a sense of what is right, responsible and decorous.
Here is my humble attempt to help you achieve menschdom.
1. Help those who cannot help you
A mensch helps people who can never return the favour. 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 only help rich, famous or 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 lots of people, so you don’t hide your generosity under a bushel. (Of course, not even a mensch can help everyone. Trying to do so would mean failing to help anyone.)
4. Do the right thing the right way
A mensch would never cop an attitude like, “We aren’t as bad as Enron.” There’s a clear line between right and wrong, and a mensch never crosses that line.
5. Pay back society
A mensch understands that she is blessed. For example, an entrepreneur is blessed with vision and passion, as well as the ability to recruit people, raise money and help change the world. These blessings come with the obligation to pay society back. The base line is that we owe something to society – we’re not doing a favour by paying society back.