Menschkeit vs Compulsive Megalomania

Menschkeit and Megalomania. These are unusual words, with definitions that are likely to send you sauntering down an introspective vista. Only if by nature you are the type of person whose innate desire is to leverage your willpower to elevate yourself to the summit of humanity, without veering into the delusional self-importance route.

On the flipside, if you are immature, and prone to passing superficial value judgements about other people, these words are likely to send you on a self-glorifying pious spree of identifying friends, family, acquaintances and authorities who have persistently missed the mark of humanity.

The Urban Dictionary defines menschkeit or mensch, words of Yiddish origin, as “a person who is admired, respected and trusted because of a sense of ethics, fairness and nobility.” Rivetted to the principle of menschkeit are desirable attributes such as, honour, fearlessness, fortitude, discipline, sound-judgement, integrity, logic, and self-sacrifice. Contrast that with megalomania, a word defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as, “a condition or mental illness that causes people to think that they have great or unlimited power or importance.” Closely linked to this word are negative qualities such as, oppression, suppression, repression, egomania, and tyranny. It is not uncommon to see megalomania preceded by words like, pigheaded, narcissistic, ruthless, masochistic, and delusional.

No one is born a mensch, for people are inherently self-centred. That is often readily discernible in kids, particularly when they throw tantrums to psychologically blackmail their parents into yielding to their wants or in the brazen hoarding of toys. Prance across to the nearest mirror, and uncompromised by emotions, look yourself in the eye and shout out to yourself what you think you are. Are you a mensch or a megalomaniac? Are you a person of principled resolve or are you a victim of compulsive obsession with power? As you assess yourself in the most objective manner you can, quietly reflect on the words of a 19th century French critic named Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “Almost everyone flatters himself that he and his are exceptional.” Of course, we can slink off and live the lie, but that would not be a smart move.


The way we see ourselves is not synonymous with the way the world perceives us. If you want to know whether you are a mensch or a megalomaniac, your best bet is to ask for the considered opinion of that friend who never flatters you, the one who often offends you by telling you the truth, that direct friend who will never mince his words.

Imagine a world brimming with menschkeits! The truth is the world is not overflowing with schnooks. People can always see beneath the façade of honour, fairness, and integrity. A wolf in a menschkeit’s skin smells like a wolf, walks like a wolf, growls and howls like a wolf. We can shape our tongue to roll out words that portray us as nothing less than seraphic entities, but ultimately, the sum of our conduct and acts of commission and omission may reflect that we are egomaniacal victims of moral imagination, and this might negate our claim to membership of the hallowed mensch’s club.

Leaders must be exemplary in mapping unquestionable and unerasable contours of menschkeitism. Decisions that affect the country’s progress must not be prompted by a self-righteous stir of shallow emotions. Asserting one’s authority should not come with the attendant baggage of ruining important relationships. Considerations that could move the country forward should not be back-burnered in a pageant jam-packed with elements of misplaced vanity and an inflated sense of egocentricity. In this context, any machinery at the disposal of a leader would never be manipulated to serve the interests of a few individuals to the detriment of many.

The question at the forefront of the minds of mensch leaders should never be, who is the leader here, but rather, how can we harness our unity to diligently execute our role as leaders for the benefit of the nation? Any quick wins through a misguided show of force might at best be temporary and at worst divisive and anti-progressive. Leaders endowed with a thoughtful and emotional reserve would sometimes bend for the sake of progress and deliberately make concessions for the greater benefit of many. No one ever questions whether leaders have the fire in the belly to crack the whip. The sublime purpose of this view is, not to rob leaders of their rightfully earned responsibility and should never be confused with advocating for timidity. Rather, the intention is to compel leaders to step outside of the leadership bubble, and to devote their energy and the nation’s resources to vital issues that are central to sustainable development. That is the essence of intellectual morality and legitimate leadership.

Remember, when the hoopla ruckus ebbs, and the constituency served demands leadership to account, they will only be satisfied by tangible evidence of performance. If such performance happens to be profoundly out of step with reasonably expected deliverables, wailing and gnashing of teeth might follow. For this reason, it is important for true leaders to be endowed with the penchant for distilling what truly matters from what doesn’t. One gets the abiding impression that leaders who are only hooked on a fixation with titles, may end up seeing their popularity careening off the cliff.

In a corporate environment, while fully aware of the cognitive demands of his job, a mensch would rarely sap the morale of his staff by deceiving himself into thinking that he monopolises wisdom. He would take advantage of his staff to build a strong team of assertive individuals who would never shy away from sharing advice and constructive criticism that could, when accepted, shore up profits, drive innovation and land the company on a sustainable growth curve. A solipsistic attitude laced with an ivory tower mentality could send the company tumbling down. Motivated by the desire to create a culture of inclusivity, leaders who are comfortable in their own skin are quite good at engaging junior officers and have in some cases, benefited from such interventions after brief dialogues with these hidden engines of creativity.

What about institutions of learning? How can a mensch attitude come to the fore? A mensch would conscientiously prepare for all lessons and thoughtfully impart education to his students. When assessing their work, he would give himself ample time to go through each script in its entirety and award an appropriate mark. In recognition of the fact that discipline is essential for growth, a mensch would come to the party by instilling a sense of self-discipline in his students by purposefully engaging them, and for younger ones, a reasonable use of the rod might be helpful. This should not be confused with the blatant abuse that we often see in social media platforms.

At home a mensch would be driven by the spirit of prioritising the interests of his family. Not that his interests are unimportant, but that, they cannot always be the major consideration in making important decisions. A self-centred rights-tinged spirit will always tear the home apart, but a home that overflows with a loving and compromising spirit will always contribute to the development of a joyful atmosphere. Confident leaders are born in such environments.

Surely an outrageous and obsessive lust for power has never built nations, companies, or homes. The power of all megalomaniacs will always wax and wane with time.

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