Guardian of our Spirit through Mentorship

By Barbara Dewar

I understand that learning about mentorship is a lifelong process. I believe that mentorship is a kind of personal responsibility that we take to help and support others, and to let others help us. The roles of mentor and ‘mentee’ are interchangeable in that, at one moment the learner is the teacher and at another moment, the teacher is the learner. In other words, our roles within interdependency are constantly changing and evolving.

I believe that any form of communication is part of our mentorship to others. Ultimately, I believe that our guidance must be in support of the human spirit, including all of life processes, and that nothing should be revered above or below the natural flow of life. Unfortunately, I can see that many of the mentorship teachings that have been put in place in the modern world have overlooked the human spirit. What I do observe is a small ground swell of leadership models that are based on mentorship: these models focus on the value of life and, for now, are on the margins of our culture, waiting to swoop in and make a larger claim.

There have been long periods in my life where the constancy of receiving and giving loving exchanges and working out conflicts – with parents, teachers, therapists, friends, family, and in work relationships – have provided a backdrop to help me visualise what I think is the nature of mentorship. My grandmother, Pearl Duff, deserves special mention. Her attentive care for me as a child, and the example of her life are an unwavering force in my heart. She provided me with the support I needed to begin unfolding my discoveries for building on a model of leadership and mentorship.

When we are in a leadership or teacher role, both of which I would define as mentorship, our exchanges are essentially about understanding others and communicating to them what it is to live in the process of life with all of its joys and uncertainties. I call these uncertainties in life, our frailties and vulnerabilities, and believe that we must be taught to use these human feelings as guideposts. By reflecting on them, and then applying our insights, we can learn to make better decisions that will lead to creating healthier ways to live together. For example, I asked my grandmother, as a vulnerable child, questions about why I had prickly fear feelings in my body and she answered unequivocally that it was because I was healthy. I then knew that my bodily sensations were valuable and that I could continue to question her.

When we are vulnerable, frail and conflicted, longings for change emerge in our hearts. If these longings are honoured and if conflicts are worked out with the help of a mentor, these longings can be explored to jump-start the right questions and imaginings. This process subsequently creates a driving force for movement and change. The next natural steps have to do with the practical application of projects that enhance our humanness. There are many wonderful educators out there, who offer us knowledge about how to make changes that are more suitable for our lives. Sandra Campbell offers us hopeful literary leadership when she suggests that we allow ourselves to imagine “redemptive imagery” (p. 139) that supports human life. ” To do this, we must begin by removing the limitations on our imaginations imposed by our outmoded assumptions about what is possible and what is human” (p.142). We must help each other to ask our own questions.

My experience is that support and encouragement for the expression of these spirited longings is best provided through an overall loving, empathic environment through which we can continually work out our inner (subjective) and our outer (intersubjective) feelings and conflicts with each other and the world. We then can agree upon the values that will help to develop our understanding of what it means to be human, within the context in which we live. Pearl, as a young woman in the twenties, against multiple societal odds, and her own internal conflicts, with the support of her family, followed her longings to pursue a math career, a man’s domain, at a university in Boston. Graduating with a master’s degree in mathematics, she went on to become the first woman to work as a prominent financier, for the Boston National Bank and was seconded, by the FBI to uncover many embezzlement schemes. She provided mentorship to many others by encouraging them to follow their heart, rather than the dictates of a culture that elevated detached objectivity and dismissed connections to personal meanings.

My personal lessons are not unique or original rather they are part of larger global awakenings. Upon reading some post-modern mentors, who are writers from many disciplines, I understand that they are now synthesising these marginal leadership awakenings. They are communicating to us that the process of life or the spirit of life in our minds, bodies and souls (our subjective personal experience of life) and within our ecosystem (our interdependence), cannot be controlled for the security and certainty of old values that don’t have any personal meaning. Authors such as, Kilty, Kurtines, Asmitia, Gewirtz, Stolorow, Atwood, Schaef, Griffen, Campbell, and Nowak, and the writers of Esprit Publications, challenge or add new dimensions to old assumptions that need to be changed in order to support the spirit of life.

The modern teachings of science, hierarchy, matriarchy, patriarchy, racism and ideologies have revered the values of technology, expertise, gender superiority, territory, and consumerism of the land or material goods over and above the human spirit. Each one of these modern domains sustains a pathological independence from one another while claiming superiority or expertise over the others. In my experience, we are not free from the violent conflict that ensues from this black and white, right and wrong split from our human nature, a nature that struggles for wholeness by a combination of both individuality and interdependence. In my experience, the struggle for wholeness cannot happen without creating dynamic contextual understandings that link us to life’s diversities.

We only have to look around us to see the damage and the danger we are in when we look to leaders who advise us to control the flow of natural life in our bodies and our world. As we have very few normative mentorship values for human life and how we participate in our environment, it becomes easier to endanger the life on this planet. I think that more often than not, values that are separate and apart from ordinary human life are meaningless. They condone extremes of violence because they lack a rounded conscience on the spirit of life. Here is a startling quote from the writers in the essay, The Role of Values in Psychology and Human Development: “We now have within our power the technical capability of destroying the world (piece by piece or all at once) and no ‘rational’ way for resolving not to” (p. 11). I believe that if we reach out to and dialogue with those who we intrinsically feel understand the context of our lives, we would feel encouraged to create actions that would undo some the problems we have created by being out of touch with our human nature.

I envision that in the twenty-first century, more and more of our mentorship leaders will be given the right kind of assistance to continue their valuable work. In stepping forward to help others, and be helped in return, they will support and offer values that are in concert with what it is to be human and they will help us to work with and not against our environment. A paradigm shift will take place where we will understand that the human being, with all of its complexities, is a participant in the natural world and that our goals and responsibilities include mentoring each other to learn more about our world. Participation in life is open-ended and not to be controlled by anyone who dismisses diversity. It honours teachings that support the personal, the interpersonal and agree upon values that sustain life.