Each of us has a child within. My recollection of my time as a child was that I was relatively happy. If you were to see a photo of me as a child you might say my life was going okay as I was clothed well, my hair was usually combed and I had all my teeth, but being a boy without good male role models isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong, I felt loved to an extent and I had family, a large one, to hang out with on the holidays, but there was a void in my life for which I would pay continually for the next 50 plus years. The issue wasn’t how I was raised, but why I didn’t learn as much as I could have with some additional encouragement from an interested and mature male energy.
My story here is not unique to me as I have learned how many men there are on this planet who have traveled a similar path. Some have been more successful and some, frankly, aren’t even here anymore. The quality of life among the diverse numbers of us who have survived is relative so, comparison would be futile. There is a thread, though, that I believe runs through each man’s story and to the extent to which this thread is true, the quality of life is impacted, positively or negatively based on a simple question: Was there a man in your life who connected with you energetically and was willing to listen to you without judgment and encourage you to discover the gift(s) you possessed?
Abraham Lincoln High School 1970 Year Book
One might think that any man would do, especially if those already in one’s life were busy growing up too! Hey, who needs an extra kid hanging around? Right? My view of myself was always predicated on my relationships with women, even from the earliest of times. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, girlfriends, teachers, all mostly women. Where the hell were the men? Or, did I just have my eyes closed? Time was ticking and the male influence that was present in my life were either peers, or men filled with anger, passive aggressiveness, alcoholism, arrogance and/or self defensiveness. Maybe being neglected wasn’t so bad after all!
Looking back, I really didn’t have it so bad…I had a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food in my belly. I am alive and I have a lot to be grateful for, but that is not what this article is about. At its root, it’s about potential and how to develop it’s achievement.
If it weren’t for the athletic coaches in my life I would have had little to no objective guidance about what it would take to be a man. Most of the messages I received were filled with the conditioning of the patriarchy of the late 1960’s and early 1970's! My conditioning wasn’t perfect and it was, at least, some kind of bridge to help me cope with growing up essentially…neglected.
The next forty years were filled with circumstances which I resisted and of course, they persisted. It would not be until I was almost 60 that I would begin to figure out that I needed to take full responsibility for who I was and where I was. (I know, quick study huh?) Had I been conditioned by my environment? Yes! Had I resisted stepping away from that environment and stepping into my own power? Maybe! Was I able to make the necessary changes in my life without the influence of conscious men who knew that the child within was still calling the shots? No! And I would contend there are still many men out there who are being shaped by the same dysfunctional patriarchal influences that I was, because it still exists today!
But it is getting better! There are all kinds of organizations sprouting up that help people see themselves differently. Men and women are sitting in circles that foster a different way of approaching life. Mentoring in the 21st Century has come a long way from where it was 40 or 50 years ago. Technology has enhanced the connection in many ways and that technology hasn’t only been electronic. The technology of communication and psychology is changing as well and there similar improvements in cultural diversity. We still have a long way to go, but it is changing.
For example, check out this trailer for the “The Mask You Live In.” (Warning: There is language that may be unsuitable for all audiences.)
Connected by Friendship
One of the most significant fields of change, in my opinion, is the incredible nature of our younger generations. The two folks in the photo above happen to be friends of mine. What is unique about them to me is the unabashed way they have pursued life! Together, they represent for me a kind of “reverse mentoring” in that I have watched them grow in so many ways and in those very same ways I have been taught by them.
For example, Bryan and I used to work together performing essentially the same tasks. I am almost 40 years his senior. He and I would have a number of mentoring sessions with each other about what he really wanted to do in life. After surrendering to the idea that perhaps he needed to follow a path of his own, Bryan moved away and began to rebuild a life that mattered…to him!
Over the last couple of years, as Bryan began to embark on what he envisioned for himself I noticed a confidence that wasn’t present before AND…he is achieving peace within. Not too shabby a place to be for anyone, eh?
And for Annie, my other friend in this photo? Well, growth is a funny animal sometimes. She never knew she was mentoring me, yet that is what happened. I watched how she handled tragedy in her family. I watched as she unknowingly reshaped her belief system with intestinal fortitude and the grit that only comes from a deep seeded love of herself and humanity. Emerging today is the incredibly talented musician, songwriter and agile liver of life that was always present, but hidden from her full view of herself. Annie taught me that I am not in control, but I am enough, just as I am.
So, what’s the connection with 21st Century mentoring and building bridges? It’s the fact that some things about mentoring never change. Meaningful mentoring is a two way street in any century, at any age. It is a form of sharing our experiences in such a way that builds and demonstrates a symmetric relationship of inspiration and confidence. My friends are in their early to mid 20’s. Both of them, along with many others I have had the immense good fortune to know, have inspired me in ways my 65 year old form can only describe as miraculous, because I could have seen the life giving perspectives they offered me in no other fashion!
21st Century mentoring is a symbiotic relationship that works best when the investment made in another human being is accompanied with care, respect, responsibility, and an insatiable desire to experience the knowledge and growth of the other participant.
Who wouldn’t want that experience in their lives? It’s attractive, mutually beneficial, productive, fun in its spontaneity and joyfully rewarding in its outcome. It’s life at it’s zenith…it is a shared experience…and it provides a reproducible model time and time again.
Originally published at hubpages.com.