Mensch (Yiddish: מענטש mentsh; German: Mensch, for “human being”) means “a person of integrity and honor”. The opposite of a mensch is an unmensch (meaning: an utterly cruel or evil person). According to Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, mensch is “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being ‘a real mensch’ is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.”
I bring this up because responses to my post yesterday by the two people who had the most cause to be defensive about it — Azeem Azhar (@Azeem, @peerindex) of PeerIndex and Peter Vander Auwera (@Petervan) of Petervan’s Blog — were quite menschy. In addition to tweets here, here and here, correspondence followed (including this comment here), in which it was clear to me (and them, I’m sure) that we’re all just learning here, and putting those learnings to work on a new world that is still new and ripe with opportunities that we make rather than take. I mean, they could have been defensive. Instead they responded more than graciously: namely, constructively.
Which brings me to my three favorite takes on construction. One is Stuart Brand’s How Buildings Learn, which belongs in civilization’s canon. Its core point is that a useful building is both adaptive and never finished. (Like human nature at its best. And technology too, as Kevin Kelly makes clear in another book for the canon: What Technology Wants.) Another is Dave Winer’s “developers and users, diggin’ together” and “Ask not what the Web can do for you, ask what you can do for the Web.” The third is Craig Burton’s model of the whole Net as a world we are only beginning to terraform.
Azeem and Peter are both constructive guys. They’re also open-minded and ready to dig with users. It’s probably not possible to assign a rank to that, any more than it’s possible to assign a rank to gratitude. But we do need to be conscious of what’s constructive and what’s not.
I remember long ago telling one of my kids, after they did something bad, “We always have two choices in life: we can hurt, or we can help.” Soon as that line came out of my face, the unconscious one that followed was, “He teaches best what he most needs to learn.” In the last 24 hours I got schooled again by Azeem and Peter. And I look forward to diggin’ with them both.
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