Mentorship? Apprenticeship?

Not being a big fan of “mandatory” anything, I tend to repel any thoughts or ideas that follow the word. Not always to my credit and not always with success. I recognize in myself this character flaw and am sure Saint Pete will keep me in purgatory a few extra days for it. If I am true to form on that day I will, in my defense, throw in the balance what I can to compensate. With pride (another flaw to add to my sentence), I will recount the honor of being called “mentor”.

The word mentor often brings forth images of a more experienced person guiding a less experience person. But too, there is an association that the more experienced person is “older”, or more to the crux “more worldly”, than the less experienced person. When I ask, “What do you call a person, who is younger (less worldly), yet provides valued guidance in a particular area or issue you are facing?” The word “mentor” almost never is mentioned. I hear words like, “advisor” or “confidant”. It seems that there are deeper “qualities” inherent in a person to be vested with the title of “mentor”. As the discussions progress and intelligent people begin to sense the direction of the conversation, the focus on “age” versus “experience” brings to the forefront a discomfort. This occurs with the realization that if the honored title of mentor is predicated on age, then that seems arbitrary and discriminatory. If the criteria are really based upon “experience” and not chronological “age”, then it is possible for a younger person to have more “experience”. Yet hold your horses, rarely if ever do I have a conversation with a person who is comfortable with this title being granted to a younger person even if they are “more experienced”.

So what is it then? If it is not “age” but it has to do with age, and it is not “experience” yet it has to do with experience, what qualities earn the honor of being recognized as a mentor?

One definition of the word mentor states, “a wise and faithful teacher, guide and friend” another states, "to serve as a trusted counselor or teacher to (another person).” In spite of our real life expectations, there is no mention of age or experience in the definition of the word. There are words like, “wise”, “faithful”, and “trusted” in relation with “friend”, “guide”, “counselor” and “teacher”.

The “relationship” between mentor and mentee is a relationship informed by wisdom, faith and trust. These are traits not all people possess. These are traits rarely inborn, and much more commonly learned only through “life lessons”. So this is where the “worldly experience” enters our lexicon. Yet not all people learn the life lessons that install these virtues in the human mind and soul. Is this why mentors seem to be rare?

Some law firms have “mentor programs” where they pair “experience” with “inexperience”. These programs are “bureaucratic creatures” born of a notion of “mentorship” but lacking understanding of the qualities of mentorship. You can’t mandate a mentor into being, nor mandate a mentee to take to heart lessions. You can build an organization that values individuals and is a place of wisdom, faith and trust. Having done this, the mentees will find the mentors. That is the correct focus.

Yet I am never surprised when I walk into a firm and am told “with pride” that there is a mandatory mentorship program that I also find an atmosphere that chokes out wisdom, faith and trust. (Forgive me once again Saint Pete) “mandatory” mentorship programs are moronic.

Now if you mean to have a “mandatory apprenticeship program”, I think you can gain points back for me with the Big Guy upstairs. Words have meaning and force, let's try to get them right.