The Case for Mentoring


‘It’s all Greek to me!”

I often reflect on my endless nights of studying the Ancient Greek and Hebrew languages. The struggle to know what gender the word is, if it is plural or singular, always in a state of confusion as to what the characters mean. It took me two years of studying, to manage translating some of the most basic Greek into English. Today, only 15 years later, anyone can simply pull out a phone, hit Google Translate and there you have it…the translation, the meaning, the character, the everything! No need for anyone to teach me how to fix my swimming pool pump; I can YouTube it! No need to sit in a church to hear a sermon; I have thousands of my favourite sermons stored on my phone. I can download a self-hypnosis app, health app or happy-marriage app and mostly use the internet to diagnose myself when I experience a pain in the shoulder or find a strange rash on my leg. Surely, the idea that a wiser more experienced person (a mentor) that has to meet me once a week to share his wisdom with me is obsolete in this fast pace, hi-tech, information overloaded era we live in? We just do not need people as much as we used to 300 years ago.

Interesting though to see that with all the information, all the technology and the ability to develop ourselves, the world we live in does not seem to be a better place than that of 300 years ago…maybe an easier place, but not better! In fact, if we want to be scientific, the trend we do pick up is that things get worse. Climate Change, wars in Middle East, very high suicide rates in Australia, kids killing kids in America, pollution, highest divorce rates ever and  more troubled youth than ever! What did the people of a 300 years ago have that we don’t?

Some researchers (Larson, 2000) suggests that a few centuries ago children grew up in families, not just merely as children, but as part of the family unit that had to contribute to the success of the family. A five year old had to go and collect wood with his elder brother (only 8) for the fire. The 11 year old sister had to roast beans and grind them for coffee. Throughout their childhood life, every phase meant more responsibility, more skills and knowledge that could only be obtained in one way – relationship with others. With the industrial revolution, in order to protect children, they were segregated from adults (thus not allowed to work in factories). This adult/child segregation snowballed and manifested itself first in education, by separating children from adults in schools. The idea grew that one should divide children up in age groups in order to have different grades. Today the child/adult segregation is evident in every sector of society. In churches we have Sunday School for different age groups, Youth Groups and Children’s Church. In Prisons we have juvenile sections and on the road (drivers license) your skill, ability or responsibility is out weighed by your age. We have taken away relationships! Children simply don’t need relationships, but educational systems (i.e. schools, churches, courses, etc). It is not the lack of information, nor skills that is the problem, but the lack of relationship – something that we have lost over the years.

Father and Son Playing as Super Heroes

Spending time with a manager of a rather large company the other day, the above became so evident. They have the most skilled people working for them. The finest technology with the greatest systems, yet people hate working there. Why? Because there are no relationships. One can only discover oneself, build resilience, obtain purpose and understand the world through healthy relationships with others. There is no other way. Great business people (watch this awesome TED Talk) have found that when relationships grow stronger within a company, the profit margins grow exponentially! The myth that it is better to leave your personal life at home when you get to work has no scientific bearing, and, when one truly considers it, is absolutely impossible. But we prefer this, because if we were real with each other, it will require relationship, something that we are not good at. How do we fix this…how do we help people to grow in relationship? Well, through putting them in relationships, and what better relationship exists, than the one where a wiser more experienced person (a mentor), commits to grow you, stretch you and believe in you, all through a long-term real and loving relationship.

Mentoring is not obsolete in 2016; it is now more necessary than ever!

By Cobus Oosthuizen

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