What is Mentoring?
Mentoring is well established in the business world – particularly in the USA. But not at all in dialogue, conflict transformation and peace-building – areas I am learning something about during thirteen years in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia. Books are written, and training courses set up to develop skills in facilitating mediation. For example; there are workshops, seminars and round tables. But these are not mentoring.
Mentoring is different. A mentor is not a teacher, counsellor or trainer. A mentor is not an omniscient advisor. EM Forster, the British novelist, said: ‘Spoon feeding, in the long run, teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon’. A mentor does not give advice, but is part of a trusted relationship, where there is give and take, a flow between the mentor and individual or group.
The mentor has been ‘there’. He or she has done it and bears the scars to prove it. But the mentor does not rest on his or her experience. The mentor is also a life long learner, but the action is always the responsibility of the person or persons the mentor is working with – often referred to as the mentee. In this relationship, listening is as important as speaking. A good listener provides a sounding board, and sometimes emotional support. The power of the question should not be underestimated: ‘What is it you want to do? What are you doing well? What help do you need? What are you not doing? What is preventing you from a particular course of action? As a result of our conversations, what will you do differently tomorrow? How can I help, and where do you need help? This is reflective learning; the question invites close attention to what is going on in a persons’ life or work. Advice is cheap. Mentoring is worth its weight in gold.
But there is more to becoming a mentor.
One of the advantages in growing older is that it is a time of growth – provided the body and mind are healthy. An older person does not have to prove anything, or justify his or her existence, It is a period as Rowan Williams, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, describes as ‘time to make your soul’, in other words, to discover who you are. In the West, this understanding of the elderly is rare, where the elderly are regarded as disposable. The reasons given are that they no longer contribute to a society, in which the price of everything is known, but not how much everything and everybody is worth. An elderly person has potentially an inner freedom, and a generous spirit, which is essential for those who are, or could be mentors.
There is even more to mentoring than this. Much of what I have said so far is, I hope, recognisable and familiar.
Now I need to take a step back, to consider mentoring in a broader landscape.