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The power of the great teacher

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I ran a six-day creative last week Reading and writing about “Identity and (Dis) Belonging” women’s seminar, I have been teaching every summer for four years. Usually, we meet for a week on the grounds of St. John’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastic community on the shore of a lake in central Minnesota. This year, all this happened in a virtual way. Course participants carefully read and analyze the personal essays of cross-cultural writers, and dig deeper into their own personal, family, and public narrative history to produce a short creative writing.

Every year, it turns out that this is a tiring week. When we closed on Saturday, someone commented that part of what made the seminar so meaningful was the unexpected guiding element: how I, through my words and deeds, showed them how to put all their energy into work , Each other and challenge yourself. I did not consciously realize this, but it did make me think about what a good mentor is in the next few days.

In Homer’s epic Odyssey, Mentor is the old man Odysseus asked his son Telemachus to take care of when he went to war. But in the story, it was the work of the Greek goddess Athena that gave us how to understand the meaning of the term “mentor” today. She disguised herself as an old man, went to Telemachos, and advised him to do something for her family.

Nowadays, coaching takes many forms-from formal corporate projects established in the United States in the 1970s to coaching and mentor certification by global training institutions. But no matter how you guide a person, it seems to be a much-needed, ancient interpersonal relationship, expressed in literature, religious texts, and popular culture.

Life does not always allow me to directly contact the exact mentor I need at any given time. But as early as 13 years old, when my mother’s favorite friend pulled me aside and gave me a little book about the transition from childhood to teenage girl, I could tell who the way I saw the world It had a significant impact, taught me the rules of life, cultivated my potential, and believed in me more than I could believe in myself. These are the names and faces that I will never forget. Every mentoring relationship is different, but I think mentoring, when respected and valued, is always a mutually beneficial and enlightening experience.


One of my favorite paintings The subject is “Christ’s childhood(C1620) Created by the 17th-century Dutch painter Gerrit van Honthorst. This is a scene of the boy Jesus and his father Joseph. Joseph was the carpenter who taught him how to do business. It was late at night, and Jesus was wearing a bright red robe, leaning against On the table, holding a lighted candle in his hand, so that old Joseph can work. Two whispering angels like children stand in the background, pointing at father and son, apprentice and master. This painting is rich in religion. Symbolic meaning and meaning. But it also sheds light on some often underestimated aspects of the relationship between the instructor and the student.

Candle created a Chiaroscuro The effect is that there is a brilliant light on the faces of Joseph and Jesus. It revealed several things: the little boy focused on the old man’s face instead of his work, and he looked at him with admiration and admiration. Mentoring is more than just the transfer of skills or ideas. There is also a certain degree of gaze at the face of the tutor, which symbolizes their character. The mentors who have had the most profound impact on my own life are those whom I respect and want to emulate their character traits, beyond any advice they give.

Joseph used the light of Jesus to continue to focus on his handicraft. I think part of the common gift in the relationship between the tutor and the student is that the student’s presence in our lives lights up our work and our own existence, inviting us to observe more intently what we are doing and how we are doing it. Do-may even exceed what we imagine is the limit of our own growth and development. In this sense, guidance is a mutual call. After understanding a more complete narrative in the Christian tradition, I realized that the two roles in the painting include the roles of teacher and learner. But these roles are manifested in different periods of life.

The angel in the background reminds me of the role of the goddess Athena in the classic mentor role. The work of advising, guiding, and teaching someone in any part of the journey of life really has a sacred element. Being entrusted and invited into someone’s life is an act of intimacy that we often take for granted, sometimes focusing more on the position that makes us a mentor rather than directing the transformative force of another life.


I look at oil in the late 19th century “Women’s Life Lesson” by American illustrator (c1879) Alice Barber StephensThis is the first time she has published a photo, and it is the result of her petition with other female artists to allow women to participate in life painting courses, which was considered unsuitable for respected women at the time. In this picture, a group of female artists are sitting or standing, gathering around female models on stage. The women huddled in the room, but got along well with each other, focusing on painting or gazing at another person’s canvas from behind. They have been fighting for a space to develop their skills. With their existence alone, they will encourage each other.

© Alamy Stock Photo

This makes me think again about the female category I encountered last week. They range in age from their twenties to their sixties, and cross culture, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. I think about how they can quickly establish contact in just six days, how they listen to each other’s stories patiently and intently and learn each other’s writing, challenge each other to admit their fears, be brave at work, and at the same time, their lives .

I was reminded that coaching can be carried out in all directions, whether horizontally or vertically, across age gaps, culture and socioeconomic status, because no matter how much we “reach”, we will never exceed our ability to learn from each other. I have been reminded that you never know who can travel with you and provide you with what you know you need and what you have not seen you need. After all, in this life, aren’t we all invited travelers to help each other on the road?

Enuma Daro
Columnist for FT Life & Arts

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