Transforming the Journey:
Mentoring Lives Through Magic and Myth
My purpose this morning is to frame several questions in that regard; there are three I have in mind.
First, just what is this experience we call mentoring? Perhaps like you, I have experienced a number of mentor-like relationships in my life, some by chance and others more intentional. Some of these mentors knew intimately of my gratefulness, while others from afar were aware neither of my admiration for them nor their impact at the time. In any case, each of them has imprinted me along the way with a certain care and sensibility as to how the world works and how I might travel through it. As I reflect with you on such experiences, I ask: What marks the best of them? What can we learn from how they succeeded or even how they may have failed?
I will move then to my second question: What do effective mentors do? From the classic story of Mentor and Telemachus to contemporary tales of Morrie Schwartz and Mitch Albom, who spent their Tuesdays together engaging life's great questions, we have all heard of such individuals to have gained at least some idea about what it entails to serve as a mentor. Are there patterns common to all who take up this challenge of guiding others?
Then I will pose a third question: What might characterize an entire community that takes it upon itself to mentor the lives of its members? It is more usual to think of mentoring as something we do individually, but it is also helpful to consider it something we do as communities--yours in the monastic tradition of Benedict, mine in the policies and practices of American higher education. Perhaps our success as individual mentors depends very much on the environment within which we exercise these roles.
In addressing these three questions, I will draw generously from the work of some voices familiar to us in education: Sharon Daloz Parks,1 Laurent Daloz,2 and Lois Zachary.3 Each has written extensively on mentoring and has a current book available on the topic. I have learned much from these seasoned educators, so I will feature their ideas as touchstones for some of my own reflections.
When exploring the literature on mentoring, I have come to recognize something quite familiar, almost as if it were written long ago in the tacit memory of human experience. In that sense I doubt that you will learn very little that is new this morning. In fact, I make that same claim about most anything I teach, since good theories and concepts are often preempted by the experiences and forms we have embedded already deep within us. I believe the work of these authors on mentoring, though, can help us organize what we know already in a much better way. In doing so, our understanding becomes more explicit, we can access it more readily, and we can use it more intentionally to improve our mentoring of others.