We may not always recognize it, and we might not be ready to admit it, but mentors have great power. The title alone extends special authority to the person filling the role, and age, life experience, occupation, and other variables solidify the hierarchy in place. Throw in the socioeconomic disparity – not to mention cases where majority culture (i.e., white) mentors engage with mentees of minority cultures – and the balance of power heavily favors the mentor. Try as we might to diminish this gap and make things equal, either psychologically or some other way, we cannot deny the significant role of the mentor in the life (and eyes) of the mentee.
Author Andy Crouch provides important insight into the function and purpose of power, even from the very beginning of time. Borrowing from other writers, he concludes that power is the ability to make something of the world, both in a physical sense and in the practice of applying meaning to our world. From our origin here on earth, true power made room for more power, as God, in His omnipotence, created both the conditions to sustain life and then the creatures to inhabit His world. Could this perhaps be a model for mentors today, and, if so, how might it look in such a context?
At Save Our Youth, we ascribe to a developmental mentoring model, which is primarily driven by and focused on the mentee. This approach coheres well with the research on “Developmental Relationships,” led by the child development research firm Search Institute. This Minneapolis-based organization has dedicated years of research to discovering what kids need to thrive. Among the five characteristics of a relationship that is truly developmental is its tendency to share power. According to Search Institute, sharing power entails the following:
· Respect – Take me seriously and treat me fairly.
· Give Voice – Ask for and listen to my opinions and consider them when you make decisions.
· Respond – Understand and adjust to my needs, interests, and abilities.
· Collaborate – Work with me to accomplish goals and solve problems.
Our conclusion, then, is that mentors bear the necessary and invaluable responsibility of offering their knowledge, skill, and influence – that is, their power – to empower their mentees. As Crouch observes, this pure employment of power always creates more power, rather than merely detracting from one to give to another. Specifically, mentors enhance the capacity of mentees to think, speak, and act more competently on their own – ultimately, to be more fully human. The pursuit is really quite simple, but the impact on the mentee’s life can be profound.