Where Did Mentorship Go?
Before the industrial revolution, Walmart and McDonald’s, one’s career was more of a calling. It was not just a job to pay the bills. One chose a career as a life-learning project. Go back even further in time, and a person’s career was a vehicle for spiritual, as well as mental, growth.
Learning was very different before formal education. It often took the form of mentorship. A young boy or girl with a dream would seek out someone seasoned in the field and ask to be their student or appentice. The mentor gave of their talent; the student sucked it all in. Great artists, craftspeople, chefs, and cobblers were born from mentorship. Inventors received constructive criticism from someone who had walked the walk. But somewhere along the way, mentorship became a lost art. We devalued those who walked the walk, and instead opted for people who talked the talk.
I suspect that the education system had something to do with it. The traditional school system breeds sameness. Everyone takes the same classes, the same tests, and learns the same facts of life. History is nonnegotiable and not even up for discussion. People come to think in a similar fashion; and those who think in a different way are outcasts. We divide ourself into prescribed categories–republican and democrat, Catholic and Protestant, white or blue collar. Anything outside of the prescribed divisions is weird.
Then there was the industrial revolution where getting a job became better than creating a career. People willingly accepted boring assembly line jobs. Slowly we came to want Walmart and McDonald’s over a small town entrepreneur. Money had much to do with that choice.
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Recently, I became addicted to the new singing show, The Voice. Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton are judges transformed into mentors. They picked teams of singers based on the sound of their voice only, so appearance didn’t get in the way. Then they mentored these hopeful stars each week. As the show moved on, you could see how hard it was for the judges to cut members from their teams. They came to see the beauty and unique gift of each person. They couldn’t choose one over the other because they were all good in different ways. They struggled to compare apples to oranges because they loved both so much. All of the contestants were singers, but they each had their own unique style and personality. The mentors took those styles and personalities, added their experience and love, and molded the contestants into works of art.
That got me thinking. Before formal education made everyone pretty much the same, comparison hardly existed. You had a style because you followed a certain mentor. People had much more freedom to make something their own. You couldn’t compare people or their businesses because unique can’t be compared. All hardware stores were not the same. All doctors weren’t the same. All restaurants were not chains. There wasn’t all the certifications and protocols to deal with. Today, every doctor, lawyer, and indian chief comes from pretty much the same mold. We struggle to compare them or assess their ability by depending on testimonials and reviews. A person can look good and perform badly. They can memorize the right words but not be able to follow through on those words.
People’s careers have moved out of the heart and into the mind; and quite frankly, education made sure that one mind is pretty much like any other mind. It is natural to want to stand out and express our uniqueness. But how do you stand out when you are factory produced? And even worse, standing out is often considered a burden for the employer. Uniqueness breeds inefficiency and waste. We expect one burger to be like the last one. We want to find the cereal in the same spot at the grocery store. We have come to value sameness over creativity. And people are bored.
Mentorship creates a heart-to-heart connection. You could really see that on The Voice. It was apparent how much love and respect these judge-mentors had for their students. They made comments like, “I have to cut you, but I know we’ll be friends for life.” These four famous judges have won Grammy’s and had platinum albums and they remarked, “This experience of mentorship has been the highlight of my life.” Not only that, the mentors were supposed to be competing. And yet, they were full of compliments for every singer and their fellow judge-mentors.
The Voice of Competition
Somewhere in history, competition and comparison became the way of life. People started to fear that they would be replaced or become obsolete if they nurtured the gift in another. People were afraid the apprentice would take their place or steal their talent. If we get real and honest, that doesn’t make any sense. If we are an expression of our uniqueness, then no one can possibly do us better than we can. And why not help another to become more of themselves. It is the ultimate win-win.
We created factories and assembly lines. We made education into institutions. Just like the products that we manufactured, we started to cookie cut people out of the dough of conformity. It has become so absurd that fitting in has become more valuable than being ourselves. People are unhappy with their work. They have to pierce or tatoo their bodies to feel unique. They are addicted to television, food, drugs, and alcohol because their emotions are screaming that something is very wrong.
I think that The Voice is sending a huge message that the world needs at this time, hence its unexpected popularity. We need to spend less time judging and more time mentoring. We need to hold out our hands instead of our degrees. One can only mentor another if they honor their own uniqueness. When we love and honor ourselves, we have it to give to another; and maybe even more important, we stop comparing and competing. The judges on The Voice showed us how it is done.
Walmart still has a place but only if they can let the greeter sing a rap song when you come through the door. Micky Dee’s can still make a better burger but only if people can learn and grow mentally and spiritually through the experience of working there. Our educational system will survive, but only if it learns that the heart comes before the head. Times are changing. And the lost art of mentorship is finally being resurrected.
This is my personal favorite moment from the show. Two people who don’t look like their voices in perfect harmony perform a beautiful rendition of Creep by Radiohead.