While the role models in my day (say 1957 – 1964, 9 to 15) were simplistic, a bit violent and quite idealised, they at least provided an age-appropriate foundation to a pre-teen/early teenager for an ethical approach to being a man. Today’s media “heroes” seem to be cut from a uniformly cynical, anti-hero mould which leaves young men with no ground on which to stand. No internalised hero whose standards provide a navigation marker to being a good man.
For me, effective mentoring will do more than show young men an ethical path. We are learning more and more clearly that the caring relationship itself is the medium of transformation between two people and particularly between the relatively young and the relatively … experienced. Our dependence on each other for support, validation and, often, survival are central to our humanity. The simple fact that there is someone who cares what I do, who cares how I am in the world, helps me take myself more seriously; helps to take me out of the “whatever…!” frame of mind and begins to focus my ability to choose. Helps me to care, if at first only about the mentor.
Mentoring seems to me to fill a loosely bounded space overlapping parenting, teaching and therapy. Parents’ major task is to help the child become a self, a person, who is engaged with the world of his parents and confident enough of his worth as a person to take his and others’ value seriously. Teachers’ major task is to build the young man’s competence in technical, social and cultural aspects of their wider world. Therapy’s major task is to help the young man transcend and repair painful and unhelpful distortions of his mental growth in relationship. All have a responsibility to encourage and foster ethical and, in some form, spiritual awareness.
It has always seemed to me, through my own experience and through hearing the experiences of friends and therapy clients, that the essential struggle of manhood lies in the fluctuating balance between cooperating with mates and colleagues on one hand and “getting”, understanding, and then living up to my own values on the other. This always involves the choice between opting for the familiar or expected and the new. Staying with the familiar will usually get the approval of mates and colleagues, striking out on one’s own will often result in their disapproval. But how to make that principled stand when there are few exemplars, even in make-believe, showing how it can be done and perhaps fewer in the young man’s real world who will approve and support the choice?
So: Enter the Mentor: an effective mentor can provide a real-life, warts-and-all model of ethical and integrated manhood; can articulate a set of enacted values which stretch the young man’s vision of himself and his possible choices; and, through his behaviour with and towards the young man, shows that he cares about the young man and the choices he makes: the young man is important, in all his sometimes difficult individuality, to the mentor. That caring can include shared joy in the triumphs, shared disappointment in the failures, anger at poor behaviour but always comes from a standpoint that recognises and supports the young person’s perception of themself, as Peter Fitzsimons says in his video interview, as basically a good person.
Simon Mundy (Executive Coach, Psychotherapist)