| Mentoring and Individuality
By Lance Christie
Lance's reply: The idea that every individual has to "tread a unique path without guidance" in order to attain "true" actualization of an independent self is a cultural delusion. We are a social species. Our genotypes are realized into phenotypes - what is actually expressed in terms of behavior and characteristics - through experience realized by interaction with other people or the cultural materials and symbols they have created. All social experience is interactive and essential to our continued biological existence. Baby monkeys or humans who are not held, cuddled, don't experience "terry cloth mothers," waste away and die. Most adults confined in social isolation disintegrate psychologically and then physically.
If a mentor wants to promote individual attainment - the student's realization and development of his/her own set of "hardwired" potentials which represent a different mix from that of others - the techniques that do this are more Socratic than dictatorial: "Have you considered doing this?" "'I think you would find the ideas of Hesse in this book very interesting; he seems to have been talking about what you have been thinking about."; 'You seem to be having trouble doing X. Here are some exercises for you to do which I think will help you overcome the problem.'" I think of this mentoring style as "coaching," in the sense that the student arrives with the agenda they wish to pursue and the mentor turns the student onto sources of information and techniques which are instrumental to the student in fulfilling this agenda. There is also the ministerial or "spiritual counseling" form of mentorship, which to me involves helping the student work through philosophical and moral issues so the student can arrive at a state of orientation as to his/her relationship with the Web of Wyrd. The mentor will certainly have an influence on the manner in which the student walks his or her path. However, the underlying idea of the relationship is that the mentor is a resource offering a smorgasboard of ideas, information, techniques, and the mentor's own viewpoint honestly expressed; the student is expected to "take what he needs and leave the rest." If something offered you doesn't fit you and you don't like it, you can't have any.
I have taught ballroom and country-western dancing. In a beginning class, I teach some basic skills very rigidly - the base step of a dance which is essential to keeping the student in time with the music and synchrony with the partner, and issues about stance, balance, and weight shift which have to be mastered for it to be physically possible for the couple to stay in time with the music and for the man to lead steps and the woman to follow those leads. With this mastered, I then teach the leads for an increasingly complex series of dance steps - this is teaching the partners how to communicate so they stay in synch during increasingly complex dance movements. I switch dance partners during the lessons so the students become able to communicate with all the class members - they all understand the same body language. Beyond basic training, I do not "correct" personal style of dance; that is an individual expression which comes from how the person is put together physically and how they interpret the music they are dancing to. But, they cannot get to the point of realizing and expressing this individual style if I have not taught them the physical and communication basics so that the dancers are able to move in time with the music, in synchrony with each other, without thinking about it. There's a moral about mentoring in there somewhere...
A good mentor who observes a student becoming too uncritically doting or dependent on the mentor's guidance and personal choices will "set up" the student in scenarios where the mentor is deliberately full of bullshit or unreasonable, pushing the student to call the mentor on it and thus exercise independent critical thought and self-assertion skills. A well-calibrated bullshit detector is an essential social survival tool.
In contrast, the kind of authoritarian mentor role we all seem to denigrate essentially involves the mentor imprinting the student with a schematic system - a doctrine, a worldview, a creed. If you ever pay close attention to the operation of professional schools of allopathic medicine or English law in the U.S., you can clearly see the socialization agenda which is overtly a goal of the school: to teach someone to "think like a lawyer" or "think like a doctor." And, folks, the former has precious little to do with cultivating the law student's sense of justice and fairness, and the latter has little to do with cultivating the ability of the medical student to help patients invoke their own powers of healing in themselves. Both educational systems teach deferral to authority - the body of precedent case law and the body of accepted medical procedure, but provide for that authority to evolve through additional legislation and court decisions in the case of the law, and through research and clinical findings in the case of medicine. In the middle eastern and western revealed patrist religions, there is a fixed body of scripture which is taken to represent divine authority, and the only change that can occur is fads in how the words of this scripture are interpreted. Instruction in these religions involves completely ignoring pre-existing religious intuitions of the postulant: who is instructed to learn and BELIEVE the teachings of the religion, to commit to walking the pre-ordained "straight and narrow" path. If they take another path which may be calling to their soul and thus question the teachings of the religious institution as to the one true and right way, they are cast out as apostate and said to have fallen victim to the lures of Satan....
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