Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Bessereh Mentchen"

Like English, Yiddish also has idioms and the idea of connotation. One such idiom is "Bessereh Mentchen." Translated word by word it would mean "better people." But idioms do not get their meaning this way; an idiom is not just the sum of the meanings of its individual words. An idiom has a separate meaning. Connotation tells us whether or not a word or idiom has a positive or negative usage. Thanks to its negative connotation, "Bessereh mentchen" is no compliment to whomever is being so designated.

Bessereh mentchen believe they are better than other people without having any basis for this belief, at least no rational belief. Bessereh mentchen believe that the world owes them something just because they are in it. Bessereh mentchen believe that something they own, have or do places them above the rest of us. Bessereh mentchen have a sense of entitlement with no basis in fact. Bessereh mentchen don't believe they have to follow the rules that the rest of us do. Bessereh mentchen suffer from the Prince and Princess Syndrome; they are royalty and the rest of us were put on the earth to cater to their every whim, to smooth the pathways of life for them. In short the idiom "Bessereh Mentchen" means the opposite of what its individual words mean: bessereh mentchen, far from being better than others, only believe they are better, with little basis in fact.

Bessereh mentchen don't like to get their hands dirty with "real" labor; that's what the rest of us are for. Bessereh mentchen delegate to others as if by natural right. Bessereh mentchen complain a lot and point out where things need improving, but they rarely if ever pitch in and help.

Klal Yisroel is just chock full of bessereh mentchen. For the last few years we have seen this syndrome playing out in the "my hashkafah is better than your hashkafah and why are you still living?" arena. "Oh we don't eat hechsher X but only hechsher Y" said with a smug look aimed at the hearer is bessereh mentchen in action. Bessereh mentchen approach you and tell you oh so earnestly: "Oh ProfK, you haven't heard? You don't know? "We" no longer do/say/wear/believe X." Sometimes bessereh mentchen come in disguise: they wear the mantle of real caring and consideration for other people, but their message is still "I'm right, you're wrong, and you need to follow my lead because I said so." Other times bessereh mentchen simply sniff in disdain and refuse to have anything to do with anyone not just like them. Kiruv work and supporting kiruv programs? "Why bother?" is the answer of bessereh mentchen. Bessereh mentchen suffer from the "perfect people syndrome" with no idea of just how infected they are.

I try to avoid having to deal with bessereh mentchen in general, but it is getting harder and harder to do so as more and more people start to enter the bessereh mentchen realm. I'm no longer as active in shidduchim as I once was, because bessereh mentchen and their unrealistic expectations have taken much of the joy out of redding a shidduch. I never bought into the mentality of "I have more money then you do so I'm better, nah nah nah kish kish," but it's getting to be impossible to avoid those who believe in it. And I'm really floored by the "I know more Gemorah then you do, so there" bessereh mentchen.

It's Elul now, and if we want to improve ourselves and become better than we are right now, then we need to stop being bessereh mentchen, and need to stop letting bessereh mentchen affect us in so many ways. Bessereh mentchen is playing the game of one-up-manship to the n-th degree. The only One who should matter is way up there. It's way past time to be more concerned about what God thinks then what bessereh mentchen think.


Anonymous said...

You see this playing out in the keeping up with the Joneses mentality. Just why are we keeping up with the Joneses? Because they say or think we have to? A while back a few of these besereh mentchen in Brooklyn remodeled their kitchens to an all white look. And they said that all white was what was in and you were out of style unless you had it. And all the lemmings ran to get white kitchens. They've changed the style since then and everyone ran again to get what they got. There are always going to be these type of people as long as other people pay attention to them. The answer is turn around and leave, don't listen to them, do your own thing.

G said...

I love it!
The irony in this post is awesome!

Anonymous said...

This couldn't be more timely. I was approached in shul this morning by someone asking for tzedaka for an organization he is involved in. I don't know anything about this tzedaka fund so I said I'd think about it. He then informed me that he knows about the tzedaka organization and if I knew anything about how we should give tzedaka I would know that his tzedaka organization should get before other organizations get. No use arguing with this type of person. I just turned around and walked away. Unfortunately this type of person will try again tomorrow and keep going because he thinks he is right and the rest of us don't know what is what.

Anonymous said...

This is also tied in to the idea of yichus. Because their great something or another was a rich man or a tzaddik or very learned or well known for something, they claim for themselves this yichus and believe that they are a better somebody then the rest of us are. They also believe that going to certain schools that are yichusdik confers that yichus on the students as well. My father has an answer to all the yichus business: yichus atzmoh. He's not interested in who your father was or how much money you inherited or what school you went to--who are you, all by yourself, now?

Lion of Zion said...

"have taken much of the joy out of redding a shidduch"

was there really any joy in this? my wife and her friends dabble in shidduchim. i keep far out of it and just look from sidelines as she works the phones in agony. it certainly doesn't look like she's enjoying it.

Ezzie said...

Solid post.

ProfK said...

Back when I started redding shidduchim I can honestly say that it was fun. I got to meet hundreds of really nice young men and women. I wasn't asked to be a private investigator. I was not required to be the main contestant in a game of trivial pursuit, with thousands of inane and insane pieces of information that I had to access at a second's notice. I didn't have to spend endless weeks trying to get all the interested parties to agree, only to have everything fall apart anyway before a date even took place. I introduced one male to one female and they took it from there. No one blamed me if the date turned out to be less than stellar. Parents and singles were polite and friendly when I spoke to them. So yes, it was fun to be involved in shidduch making. It so is not fun today.

Lion of Zion said...

"No one blamed me"

i have a friend who is active in his community in a rabbinic capacity. he tries to stay away from these activities because, as he says, people only remember your role when it doesn't work out.

Anonymous said...

You can at least avoid these types of people, but what are you supposed to do when they become your relatives? My husband and I were introduced when we were both living in the same city, one where our parents did not live. He asked I said yes and then I met the in laws. They are these type of people times a billion. My husband moved away from home to get away from the attitude but much as I would like to I can't say we will never see them again. When we had to go home to his parents for his brother's aufruf and wedding we were miserable, me in particular. Before I ever arrived my mother in law called to tell me specifically what types of clothes to bring and when I would wear them because as she put it "you aren't aware of what people do in these circumstances not being a New Yorker." And that was just the smallest thing she did to us. And of course my in laws blame the fact that they never see us enough all on me. Everything is always everybody elses fault and never theirs. If they ever open up travel to Mars we're going to buy them one way tickets, stuff them into suitcases and send them off.