Is Raising a Mensch Possible?

I was set to write a post about how Baby Boy is turning 2 in just a couple months, and how that meant Hubby and I needed to revisit the discussion of a possible conversion for him. But something happened at work this week that has taken over my thoughts. I won’t go into details out of professional courtesy, but suffice it to say that at the root of the situation is intolerance. Intolerance, possibly bigotry thinly veiled as religious sensibilities. And of course, there’s the sting of this all happening with people I’ve known and worked with for nearly 11 years. Now, to be clear, this situation wasn’t aimed at me or my interfaith family. This situation actually doesn’t have anything to do with Judaism. So why blog about it here?

Because I’m so disheartened. Selfishly, I wonder how the people in question would react if they realized that I am raising a Jewish son. On a larger scale, I wonder how I’m supposed to raise caring, tolerant, inclusive boys when it feels like intolerance surrounds us.

I want my boys to have their own convictions and identities – religious and non-religious – but I don’t want them to feel the need to force those convictions onto anyone they deem as less than them. Scratch that – I don’t want them to see anyone as “less than” them. I want them to have a voice, and to use it when they need to, but I don’t want them to use it to silence other voices.

But how do you teach those values when it feels like home is one of the few places that behavior is modeled? How do you teach those values when we’re daily bombarded with stories of the loud, radical or extremely intolerant voices drowning out the reasonable, more tolerant voices? How do you teach the right balance of taking the high road whenever possible, but not just always “taking it”? Is it possible?

I want to raise Mensches. I do. And right now I think we’re on the right track with that. But the influences on the boys are increasingly wider than just what Dad and I (and other family) show them at home. And right now, I feel so beaten down by those influences that I’m not sure it’s possible to overcome them. Please, if you’ve struggled with this, I’d love suggestions on ways to do it right. It’s about so much more than just me or my family; doesn’t this really affect us all, as humans?

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3 thoughts on “Is Raising a Mensch Possible?

  1. Julie,

    I think about similar things all the time – how to raise a Mensch.  I haven’t, thank G-d, dealt with intolerance, but i know that the influences are out there.  War games, selfishness…i think about how i can shield my son or at least prepare him so that he makes (what i think) are right and ethical choices. 

    I read, and like you said, model behaviour.  That actually goes a looong way.  And i pray.  Every candelighting, i pray to G-d for the wisdom to teach our son, to raise him to be a good person. 

    The only other thing i can think of is to eliminate those toxic elements (if you can).  actually i can think of one bit of intolerance (or i think) from one of our friends.  It appears she isn’t too fond of the way i plan to raise our son (ie Jewishly) but she hasn’t come out and said it.  I am aware of her, and at the first sign, i know my husband will stand up and say, no more (its his best friends wife). 

    I hope you can find a positive environment for our little one. 

  2. Julie, I think you have expressed what we all strive for- grounded, caring kids in this sometimes (okay, often) crazy world. I have two thoughts. First, you are already on the right track by teaching by example. The best way to raise a mensch is to be a mensch. Your boys will be loving and caring because you model that for them every day. My second thought is, get this book, The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel. It is fabulous! Please know that I have no relationship to Dr. Mogel or the publication of the book in any way. It is one of my favorites and I think addresses some of what you are talking about in this post. It is a great resource to think about your values and how to pass them on to your children. Good luck!

  3. Honestly, I think moral character is one of those areas where the home environment really makes the difference.  We have less control than we hope/think we do over a whole range of issues, but I think we absolutely get our moral grounding from our home life.

    That said, if you look around, you will see lots of examples of good moral examples.  This is a matter of the lens through which we look at the world.  If we look with an eye toward intolerance and bigotry, you’ll find it.  But if we look with an eye toward acceptance and generosity, we will find that too.  Look for good examples, and point it out. “Oh look, that woman helped the man pick up the papers he dropped.  Wasn’t that nice of him?”

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