Is the Mentor supposed-to-know?

An unlikely series of proposals this week have me reflecting on the nature of mentorship.

In the first case, a young student who took a class with me began to meet me at the cafe often. She was interested in receiving scholarly advice from me and yet the discussion seldom strayed from her own personal (romantic and mental health) issues. Of course I was happy to oblige until the situation escalated and I was forced to inject some distance between us. I’m not sure to what degree this could be a case of transference.

In the second case, a woman from the other side of Canada asked me to be a mentor to her after she friended me on facebook. She refuses to reveal her identity and she speaks often of her struggle to socialize with others. She is concerned about the fact that she has no ‘spirit’ or ‘passion’. She is concerned about her own inabilities as a student and thinker, and yet she carefully crafts her sentences with expensive words. I have found some ‘spirit’ in her when I deliberately provoke her, when I confront her with her own words and plays on words.

In the third case, an older man, older than myself, who has been a facebook friend for quite some time has approached me for mentoring. He insists on paying me and on my imposing upon him a strict system of milestones. He further insists that he requires somebody to be very harsh on his writing. He wants somebody to impose a reading routine on him so that he can get his work done – he feels he needs lose something (money, time, etc) in order to progress in his work.

Here, I am prone to argue that the task of the mentor is resolutely not to impose knowledge or curricula. Neither is it to necessarily assist a student with their writing, their marketability, their know-how, and their professional development. Certainly, some degree of that is necessary, but far more important is it to regularly confront the student with their own desire.

Of the three students, I can feel, already, some ‘spirit’ coming out of the second student. This is a student I would have least suspected of change – indeed, she least suspects herself capable of change. I believe that the first student needs distance from mentors, for fear of deepening the transference beyond analytic intervention. Unfortunately, I responded to the lures much too soon and this is what accounted for the breaking of the relationship.

All of this is simply to suggest that the first responsibility of a mentor is not to be a subject supposed to know.

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One thought on “Is the Mentor supposed-to-know?

  1. very interesting… After reading 2 or 3 of your posts here, I can attest to the “mentorly” vibe given off in your writing. I think all writings have a particular voice or energy inherent to them, and yours is one of someone genuinely interested in learning and improving upon things, a vibe which leaves you susceptible to people looking for help. (reminiscent of how Zizek speaks of the shark in Jaws functioning like a “blank screen” or “vehicle” onto which people can project their fears, etc). I believe your position (of confronting the mentee with their desire) is the correct one.

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