What is the measure of a good life?

Calvin Trillin: Well my father had very good advice about that. It’s the only advice I can ever remember his giving me. He was not a heart-to-heart sort of father. He was a good father, but not a “Come in my study and we’re gonna have a heart-to-heart.” I actually never met a father like that, so maybe they . . . only in the movies. But my father used to say, “You might as well be a mensch.” A mensch is a German word and also Yiddish word. In German it means “human being”, and in Yiddish it means “upright person” in big things and small things. So he not only . . . A mensch would not only come to the aid of a friend even if at his peril; but also if he borrowed your apartment would leave it slightly nicer than he found it. And I was always impressed about the way my father put it. My father grew up in St. John, Missouri and spoke very much like Harry Truman even though he was born in the Ukraine and he came as an infant. And he used phrases like, “I haven’t had so much fun since the hogs ate little sister” and stuff like that. But he said . . . He always said, “You might as well be a mensch.” I mean it was never, you know, “Our family is . . . Our honor depends on it” or anything like that. It was . . . He sort of considered the alternatives, and at the end decided you might as well be a mensch. It’s a sort of a Midwestern way to phrase it.

 

Recorded on: 9/5/07

You might as well be a mensch.

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