Mentoring from the Margins


I have had many mentors and coaches in my life so far.  Some formally some more informal relationships.  While I have certainly experienced the challenges of finding mentors in a male dominated field (men are always reluctant to provide mentoring to young women) I have experienced a number of men who have gone out of their way to make room, step aside and provide opportunities for me.

I do, as a community development practitioner, think it is very important that we are all actively seeking to make room for and give permission to people with less inerrant authority than ourselves.

I recently, however, also experienced a very real challenge when it came to how I view mentoring as an experience of upward-mobility.

It happened as a part of a passing conversation with a friend of mine.

For background; my friend is someone I admire incredibly and someone whom, though I see her very rarely, teaches me so much.  She is incredibly intelligent, a very gifted communicator and a pioneer in Aboriginal leadership and activism.  She is certainly an informal mentor to me.

In conversation I was sharing an experience with her in which a male colleague of mine had, on the spur of the moment, asked a very prominent white Australian male and global leader to be his mentor.  I commented about how I could never have had the courage to even ask such a “famous” person to mentor me.

She, in a (semi)throw-away response said, “I wonder why he didn’t ask me?”

It struck me.

We often make mentoring about finding someone who is in a position of greater positional authority and power than us.  And where we aim we will land.

But where does this fit with the teachings of Jesus in the Beatitudes?

What would it look like for us to seek “mentoring” not as upward-mobility but from those who are different from us? 

What might we learn if we actively sought to be “mentored” by people in positions of less structural power and cultural authority than we currently experience? 

 Where THEN might we land?

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