Mind Matters: To be a mensch

Kudos to Gillette for its new ad that revisits the company’s theme, “The Best A Man Can Be,” in a thought-provoking way.

Unfortunately, while many responded positively to the commercial that challenged bullying and sexism, others were outraged, claiming the ad was “assault to masculinity.”

Many years ago, I remember a colleague often saying to male clients at a mental health clinic, “don’t mistake kindness for weakness.” It is not at all un-masculine or weak to be kind or show care.

In fact, it can take great courage to be kind. What is easy about standing up to a person to let them know their joke was demeaning to women or that their comment was racist? What is weak about teaching your children about respect and decency in lieu of silently standing by allowing child bullies to persist?

At a recent Martin Luther King breakfast, an elected official spoke about how we should not be passive. He was urging us to take responsibility and to be proactive, not to ignore injustices, but to challenge them. The point is, you don’t have to be Marin Luther King or Rosa Parks to be a hero in some small way. Taking action instead of being a passive witness, a bystander, to bullying, racism, intolerance, or any de-humanizing behaviors is profoundly humanizing. That is, such acts are the stuff that makes both men and women heroic.

We are all in psychological trouble if we believe that domination, brute force, and bullying is our way forward. Fear rather than courage is what underpins such behavior.

In “Sacred Pleasure,” author Riane Eisler tells us, “The terms feminine and masculine are constructs of our language that are part and parcel of our dominator society [where] … ‘masculinity is equated with dominance and conquest, and femininity with passiveness and submissiveness.’”

In the dominator model, there is not equality, but an ambivalence between the stereotypes of masculine and feminine. Inclusive humanity is based on a partnership model rather than a dominator model, says Eisler. In such a model, males and females are equal; collaborative and egalitarian values replace authoritarian and hierarchical social structures. Power then is not about control and domination of others, but about a conscious and loving sharing of power in relationships.

Sounds like living out the partnership model is as easy as being a mensch. Derived from the German for a human being, mensch is a Yiddish term connoting a person of honor and integrity. Wouldn’t being a “real man” then mean being a mensch? Why wouldn’t every man (every human being) aspire to be a person of honor and integrity? Isn’t that the “best a man can be”? Isn’t that the best anyone can be?

About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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