Mentoring: From Darkness to Light
Updated: Oct 26
"There is no darkness but ignorance."—Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
Over 400 years ago, Shakespeare challenged his readers to embrace knowledge, calling ignorance the darkness that is the weapon used to oppress, abuse and stifle. The longevity of his words alone speaks volumes and the lessons they have taught today.
As National Mentoring Month nears its end, I am reminded of the countless mentors I am grateful to have had throughout my life, those vehicles of knowledge both big and small—from the Sunday school teacher who empowered me to belt out “Jesus Loves Me” when I could barely say hello to a passerby to my dogs who inspire me to live in the moment and relish it to the colleagues and academics who challenged me to strive for more and dare to step outside the box to the friends who believed in me even when I didn’t.
Each one has played a part in shaping me into who I am, and I’m grateful for all of them.
Mentors come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They are a crucial part of our development and learning. They instill confidence, impart wisdom and sometimes are the listening ears we need to keep moving forward. Sometimes they are intentionally in our lives like a teacher or an older colleague, but those indirect mentors like an older person who shares a memory or a mother of three children who returns to attain a college degree in spite of obstacles can sometimes be just as important.
One of the most important lessons we learn from mentoring is that it’s okay for us to ask for help, particularly for women and girls who may sometimes be afraid to appear helpless or vulnerable or feel as though they are opening themselves up for failure.
As I said, I am grateful for all the mentors I have had in my life, but I’m also grateful to have the opportunity to impart some of my experiences into the lives of our youth through WAGE’s mentoring programs. Every time I am reminded of how mentoring is always a mutual experience.
I remember this past summer how each week we visited a school in Asbury Park to share a little bit about global and local heroes like Cesar Chavez or Penelope Lattimer, take part in an art project and share a snack.
But perhaps the most rewarding part of the day was the conversation, those times when the children afraid to open their mouths for fear of rejection would share a word or two, or the young woman who passionately shared that she aspired to be a fashion designer. She had it all planned out how she would eventually be known as a fashionista as she worked on building her own business! In the face of all the abject poverty, violence and lost dreams around her, the confidence she exuded along with enormous compassion was quite inspiring to me! But equally as important was the young man whose voice had been stifled by domestic violence who opened up to share one element of his life in private.
We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of National Mentoring Month this January, but it is believed that the concept of mentoring originated with the character of Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey. In this saga that dates back about three thousand years ago when stories were spoken, not written, Odysseus entrusts his young son, Telemachus to be taken care by the Mentor, his trusted companion, when he goes to fight in the Trojan War.
Fast forward to the 1970s when businesses more openly recognized the benefits of “mentoring.” Since then, it has burgeoned into a crucial part of an employee’s development and a way to strengthen relationships and opportunities for our youth. It has the power to make them feel empowered, encouraged and understood.
Mentors don’t have to be rocket scientists or Plato prodigies. Mentors can be a helping hand or a lending ear to someone in need, someone that a young person who has been dealt an unfair share of rejection and mistrust a healthy dose of hope and trust.
In those darkest moments in our lives, it may seem as though there is no way out or it may seem just too scary to travel down that dark path, but those glimmers of hope tucked in the caverns of that dark path can sometimes be enough to guide us into the light and a brighter future.
Through WAGE, we are trying to be the best mentors we can be. Let us know if you’d like to get involved!