Learning to be a Mensch with Author Elisa Udaskin
Learning to be a Mensch with Author Elisa Udaskin
Elisa Udaskin didn’t always know she wanted to be a writer. Her very direct, linear career path as a global marketer in the corporate world for close to 20 years gave her the experiences of working, living, and travelling all over the world.
But, a few years ago, Elisa left that world and had the fortune of time to think about what she wanted to do with “Chapter Two” of her career, as she called it. She knew she wanted to do something to help people.
When her father-in-law passed away, Elisa observed how so many people reached out to comfort her family, while some didn’t know what to do. Their intentions were there — they were just “stuck.” That’s when she came up with the idea to develop her website: www.caringorganizer.com. It’s a site that inspires people to help others with tangible ideas and tools, including meal organizers to set up a schedule of sending in meals for the mourning family or the family of someone who is seriously ill.
Throughout the development of Caring Organizer, Elisa spoke to many, many people. She listened to their stories of when they were the recipient of love and support as well as when they offered that support themselves. Themes began to emerge on why people sometimes hesitate to reach out.
At the same time, she had stories running through her head — stories of times when she saw people do great things for others. As these stories continued to present themselves, Elisa decided to start putting these stories down on “paper” (her laptop, really) and they just poured out.
It was during this time she realized that she loved to tell stories and loved to write! Who knew?
And that’s how her book, Be A Mensch: Unleash Your Power to Be Kind and Help Others, came to be. It’s full of stories, often funny ones that took place in her own family growing up with a mother who always pushed her and her siblings outside of their comfort zones to do good things for others.
Here’s what she shared with us:
In your mind, what truly makes a ‘mensch’?
A mensch is a good person, a good, honourable person. Someone with integrity. I believe that most people are mensches, and most people do mensch-like things. But sometimes we have our ‘putz’ or ‘schmuck’ moments. It’s a choice, really. In the book, I talk a lot about everyday interactions that have happened to me, how I reacted at the time and how I wish I had reacted if I’d had my ‘mensch’ hat on. Road rage is one example. I mean, how many times have you been cut off by another driver and your immediate reaction is to get angry and shout at them? Rationally, we know that we’re still going to get where we’re going. So why does it bother us so much? What if we all just took a deep breath, had a bit of patience and realized that maybe that driver is going through a hard time, or rushing to get somewhere because of an emergency? Being a mensch means making a conscious choice to do that, to take that breath, have more patience, more often than not.
What is the hardest thing for you about living a mensch life?
Trying not to judge others when I think they could have done more for someone else in a particular situation. Putting my empathy hat on and realizing that they most likely were just uncomfortable and knowing that they have so much goodness in their heart. But then trying to figure out how to point out what they could have done differently in that situation. I’m pretty direct with my friends and family, so usually, I tell them like it is.
How can we become a kinder, more ‘mensch’-like society?
I really think it’s through actions and behaviours.
When I was working on my website CaringOrganizer.com, I sent out surveys to people to try to understand the motivation behind reaching out to help — or not reaching out — when someone is going through a difficult time, or when there is a death in the family. I wanted to understand how people saw their own limitations in these situations. So many people who had lost a parent answered that it was only after they went through it themselves, that they realized what they need to do for others.
I also think many people hesitate to reach out because they are afraid of offending or overstepping at a delicate time. What if they do the wrong thing? But the truth is, you can’t do the wrong thing if you are genuine and want to help. What is the worst thing that can happen if you send a meal to an acquaintance or neighbour who is going through a tough time? The best thing is that they’ll feel loved. I personally feel so guilty about all of the times I had good intentions but didn’t follow through on them. I still have it with me that I wish I had done more. We’re all human and I know now that it’s ok to feel that way, as long as next time, I make an effort to do things right.
Due to COVID-19, we had to switch from face-to-face interactions to virtual interactions. These virtual interactions don’t always feel the same as face-to-face does. What are some ways you connect with your friends/family/community to ensure you’re still having authentic interactions regularly?
We are all struggling right now and many of us are feeling much more stressed than we would in normal times. I started writing the book before Covid, but I finished writing it in those first few months after it all began. What I realized in that process is that it is even more important now than ever, to reach out to people who are isolated during this pandemic. We all live in our bubbles at the best of times, well now our bubbles are much smaller.
It is so crucial right now to let people know that you care about them, and it doesn’t have to be in person. My whole message of the book is that we have to get away from thinking that everything needs to be a grand, heroic gesture. Sometimes a phone call or a text can make someone’s day and make them feel less alone. Just, ‘Hi, how are you?’ or ‘I’m thinking about you’ can make all the difference.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
This came from my mom. In some situations, I’d be hurt by a friend or family member; at a later time, there’d be a situation where I would need to step up for the person who hurt me. My mom would always tell me to be true to who I am and do what I would have done if I hadn’t been hurt in the first place. This taught me to pause knee-jerk reactions and overcome any reservations I held because of being hurt by that person’s previous actions.
How many books do you read in a year?
I read a new book probably once a week or two weeks — so I guess around 30 or 40 books a year! I read more than one book at a time — usually, one is non-fiction and the other is fiction.
What’s on your bookshelf?
– Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
– The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
– Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
– Every book by Isabel Allende
– Every book by Julia Alvarez
– Educated by Tara Westover
I could list them all, but will take up this entire interview!
Do you prefer paperback or e-reader?
I do love a paperback. Love to hold the book in my hands and admire it on my bookshelf. But lately, I’ve been reading more and more on my Kindle because I read mostly in bed at night and I love the back panel lighting and the fact that I can increase the font size to be huge to read!
What’s your go-to meal or recipe?
Lately, my go-to meals for my family are baked ziti and chicken enchiladas. I also ALWAYS have chicken soup in my freezer for times when someone in my family isn’t feeling well or a friend or neighbour is sick so I can pop it out and take it over to them to bring them a bit of comfort.
When you’re writing – where do you write? What is the setting?
At my dining room table with lots and lots of coffee! I like open spaces, and in our house, my husband uses the office, so I write at the dining room table. When I started writing Be a Mensch, I would wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning — without an alarm!! The stories were flowing so I’d get up and write.
What exciting projects do you have coming up?
I am starting to do Zoom speaking engagements — with book clubs, community organizations, schools and synagogues and churches. I want to help inspire people to get over their hesitations to reach out to help others — not to let the voice in their head hold them back from any fears and just do it! It’s hard, and we all need a little bit more inspiration, especially in these times when we are feeling so isolated.
What is your dream brunch date? Where and with whom?
I would love to have brunch with Ellen Degeneres at Barney Greengrass in New York City and watch Ellen’s reactions as other customers push and shove all around us while we are trying to eat and talk. That would be so much fun!
What is your ideal comfort food?
Chocolate anything or anything sweet.
Which authors inspire your work the most?
Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle. These are two of my favourite authors because they speak very directly, like me.
Interested in learning more about being a mensch? Join Elisa Udaskin in a discussion and Q&A on December 9th, 2020 starting at 7:30 pm. Grab your tickets here.
Favourite book: Purple, Green & Yellow by Robert Munsch
Favourite brunch item: waffles, fresh berries, maple syrup and, if she’s getting extra fancy, a little bit of coconut whipped cream to top it off