Derek Jeter is a Mensch
And why that is big news.
The papers are full of odes to Derek Jeter. I’m not a baseball fan and I confess to knowing absolutely nothing about him but he seems to stand out not only for his on-field behavior but for his off-field behavior as well. Unfortunately, based on today’s societal standards and expectations, this seems to make him unique.
He is not known for spousal abuse, child abuse, performance enhancing drugs or guns in nightclubs, to name a few well-known sports-related incidents. He hasn’t been accused of rape (the bar is very low here) or taking advantage of others. He is considered a gentleman.
And that is to his credit. However low the new norm, when others around us behave badly, it affects us. It makes it easier for us to behave badly as well. And if, in addition, many idolize us and treat us with the adulation of true fans, it’s hard not to be susceptible to a changed image of oneself, to up our sense of entitlement.
Having not fallen victim to the excesses of many of his colleagues, Mr. Jeter deserves praise. And it’s an opportunity for the rest of us non –athletes as well. We too can recognize how our surroundings affect us, and we too can choose to be different.
Many years ago I lived in an apartment building populated by many young families with lots of even younger children. Well into the evening it was possible to hear parents screaming at their children from all corners of the building. Even though I recognized that yelling is not the most effective parenting technique (!) it was hard not to succumb. I was tired. I was stressed – and everyone else was doing it. It wasn’t a conscious thought; I just joined the crowd!
And therein lies the problem – when it’s no longer a conscious thought. When everyone around us is engaging in certain behaviors, we sometimes stop thinking. We stop evaluating. We are no longer trying to determine whether it is a healthy activity, a moral activity, an appropriate activity, an activity we would be proud to participate in; we are just going along with the crowd. And we don’t even realize it…
We are the same people who look at adolescents who mimic their peers and shake our heads in knowing dismay. We are the same parents who ask our children “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump also?” We are proud of ourselves for knowing the price of unthinking conformity and for railing against it. And yet we too fall prey.
It’s the easier way. It’s the less troublesome way. It’s the more social way. It just may not be the right way. I don’t know Derek Jeter’s secret but I do know what most of us have to do. We have to be conscious. We have to stop ourselves before we speak or act and take a moment to evaluate if this is behavior we really want to engage in, if these are words we really want to say.
It’s hard to do – especially when we’re tired. Especially when we’re overwhelmed. Especially when everyone else is just going along. Especially when we risk social ostracization. But it’s the only way to ensure that we live a life we are proud of.
No one may notice. The Times may not applaud our self-restraint the way they did his. But we’ll notice. And the Almighty will too.