Transforming the Journey:
Mentoring Lives Through Magic and Myth
Encounters with Otherness
Otherness comes in many forms--gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, religious belief, disability, or community status and role; these are individual differences that can form a rich humus for the mentoring experience, 25 as long as "hospitality to otherness is prized and practiced."26 Encounters with differences are essential to the human vulnerability that promotes "consciousness of another, and thus [vulnerability] to re-imagining self, other, world, and 'God.'"27
In a world characterized by increasing diversity, the importance of encounters with otherness in mentoring communities is perhaps self-evident. Most obvious is the point that those who have little exposure to differences simply will not fare as well in a global, pluralistic society. Less obvious, however, is the point that a capacity for undertaking big questions in life depends on exposure to a diverse mix of backgrounds and experiences. Parks notes: "One of the most significant features of the human adventure is the capacity to take the perspective of another and to be compelled thereby to recompose one's own perspective, one's own faith."28 As shifts occur in the contexts and circumstances that diverse environments engender, members reexamine their own commitments and understandings to discover connections that are broader than those previously considered. The challenge and gift of a diverse mentoring environment is that ". . . an empathic bond is established that transcends us and them, creating a new we. This grounds commitment to the common good, rather than just to me and mine,"29 making possible what Diana Eck30 identifies as an encounter of relationship rather than one of agreement.
At first glance, it might strike some naive observers that monastic communities may be particularly challenged in this regard. After all, do they not all dress alike?! Another take on this, however, might be seen through the eyes of the author Kathleen Norris who once reflected on a question in a published interview as to whether all this attention to monastic life was simply a desire to escape the complexities of the world--including encounters with real world differences. Paraphrasing her words, I found her response very instructive: "When you know by the very sound of the footsteps who it is coming down the hall, you're not escaping anything." In many ways, your commitment of stability to a particular community leaves nothing to chance in the working through of differences, with mercy and forgiveness, like no other setting.
Let me move to the next criterion: habits of mind.