Integrity and Honor: Living as a mensch

Are you a mensch?

A mensch is a person of integrity and honor. A good person. Honorable. Trustworthy. Reliable. Someone who does the right thing the vast majority of the time. Someone whose word you can hang your hat on. Kind. Compassionate. Gentlemanly or gentlewomanly. Someone who treats people right.

So, are you a mensch?

If you cannot truthfully answer “yes” to that question, or your answer is a guarded “much of the time,” there are several things you can do if you would like to live your life with more honor.

The first thing is to look at when and where your integrity is challenged or compromised. When is it that you find being honorable difficult? With whom? Under which circumstances?

Then, ask yourself what you would like to be doing instead, and explore what’s stopping you from behaving in ways that would be more in line with your values?

To understand why lapses of integrity are detrimental to yourself, consider what a lapse of integrity entails. If I act against what I believe is right, then I act against my judgment, and I betray myself. Then I undermine myself and contaminate my self-image and self-worth.

If I give sermons on honesty to my children yet cheat on my wife; if I ask for honest feedback and then penalize the person who disagrees with me; if I value open heartedness yet act closed off and emotionally shut down, I launch an assault on my own

self-respect. If I am uniquely situated to raise my self-esteem, I am also uniquely situated to lower it, insists Nathaniel Branden in “The Six Pilars of Self-Esteem” (Bantam).

One of the great self-deceptions is to tell yourself “only I will know.” Only I will know I am a liar; only I will know I deal unethically with people who trust me; only I will know I have no intention of honoring my promise; only I will know I am being manipulative in order to get my way. The implication is that my judgment is unimportant and only the judgment of others counts. But when it comes to matters of self-esteem, I have more to fear from my own judgment than from anyone else’s. In the inner courtroom of my mind, mine is the only judgment that counts.

Most of the issues of integrity we face are small ones, yet the accumulated weight of our choices has an impact on our sense of self. People imagine that at worst all that is involved is some discomfort. But it is our spirit itself that gets contaminated-and then we become mistrusting, jaded and cynical.

You might try exploring the following questions: Integrity to me means … Honor to me means. If I think about the areas where I find it difficult to practice full integrity. If I bring a higher level of consciousness to the areas where I find integrity difficult. If I were to remain loyal to the values I truly believe are right. If I refuse to live by values I do not respect. If I were bring more honorableness and integrity to my life, my work and my relationships …

It might strike you, reflecting on the idea of being a mensch, that it sounds very much like a code of ethics or part of one. It is.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Boulder and Denver. His syndicated column appears in various newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. Call him at (303) 758-8777 or e-mail him at

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