Who is wise? He who sees the outcome of
things. (The Talmud)
Part of the make-up of the mentsch is the power of self-discipline. A
characteristic of our ideal human being is the ability to make decisions based
not only on expected short-term satisfaction but also with a view to the
long-term. Yes, it does take a degree of discipline, patience and strength of character to be able to delay gratification today
in order to make things better for tomorrow.
I am grateful to Dr Jonathan Moch who, some years back, brought to my
attention a fascinating survey conducted over many years. It demonstrated quite
remarkably that delaying gratification, i.e. maintaining a strong sense of
self-discipline is actually the key to long term success in life. Like most
interesting and exotic surveys, this one too, took place in California.
Psychologist Michael Mischel of Stanford University began the study back in the
1960s. It was designed to monitor the EQ, or emotional intelligence, of a
particular group of children. And apparently, it all came about thanks to
He offered a group of hungry 4-year olds a marshmallow. The children were
told that they could, if they chose to, eat their marshmallow immediately, right
then and there. Or, they could wait 20 minutes, whereupon the people
distributing the marshmallows would return to the classroom and all those who
had waited and saved their marshmallows would receive
The results? Well, roughly a third of the children devoured the marshmallow
immediately. Some were able to wait a little longer, and about one-third were
able to wait the 20 minutes for the researchers to return.
The remarkable thing about this survey was that the researchers followed the
academic and social progress of that whole class over a number of years. When
they graduated from high school, the differences between the two groups were
dramatic. Those who resisted the urge for instant gratification turned out to be
more positive, self-motivated, and persistent in the face of difficulties and
better able to achieve their goals. They had either the temperament or training
which resulted in more successful marriages, higher incomes, greater career
satisfaction and better health habits, generally enjoying more fulfilling lives
than most of the population.
Whereas those who couldn't contain themselves and swallowed their
marshmallows on the spot, went through school with consistently poor results and
then onto much less successful social lives, too.
It is a message that permeates life - on every level, at every stage. Getting
a higher education means delaying the pleasure of having money in your pocket
right after high school. The best financial investments require a long-term
strategy. Your money might be tied up for a while but at the end of the day, the
returns will have been well worth waiting for. Hard work at the beginning of a
marriage and resisting the temptation to take the easy way out reaps lasting
benefits in the years to come. Putting in time and effort into raising children
is not easy in the short term, but is extremely satisfying in the long term when
children grow up and become a credit to their parents rather than a
The secret of success in life is the secret of being a mentsch - of having
the wisdom, patience and self-control to exercise discipline today in order to
achieve happiness and gratification tomorrow.
In the Jewish tradition there are so many examples of how we are conditioned
to develop this important character trait. Children who grow up in kosher homes
are instructed to be careful that even the sweets they may be offered outside
the home meet the criteria of the Jewish dietary laws. Often, these children
display a remarkable resilience and strong commitment to the values they were
taught at home.
There are numerous instances when a child is sorely tempted to join in the
fun of their friends or classmates but will rise to the challenge and decline
something sweet and delicious because it isnt kosher, or even if they are
merely unsure if it is or isnt. These children dont feel deprived. It is part
of the way they are growing up. They take it in their stride and they are
certainly maturing from the experience. They are developing strong characters,
becoming part of the one third of society who will succeed in life precisely
because they know how to delay immediate gratification. By the way, I am sure
their parents make sure to compensate them with a special treat for their
The same could be said for Shabbat or the Jewish system of marital intimacy
known as Mikvah. The disciplines involved in these lifestyles build not only
more spiritual personalities but men and women of calibre, of a nobler, more
moral stature, people who are being nurtured in the art of being a true mentsch.