When people say that “no man is an island,” they don’t only mean that no man or woman should live alone. That much-used phrase also refers to the fact that men and women are perpetually learning creatures: they need the help of someone to guide them through life, and to help them make wise decisions. Moreover, as these same men and women grow older, they also have the chance to be a guide for someone who is younger and less experienced than they. This need for people to feel connected, loved, and taught by someone better than they are has given rise to different concepts such as mentoring.
Mentoring, or the process of mentorship, is really a growing, strengthening bond that occurs between a mentor, who is more experienced, not necessarily older, but who is certainly wiser; and his or her protégé, a mentee or someone who is less experienced and wise, and who therefore needs to be guided by the mentor. The concept of mentorship has long been known and tracked in history. In fact, it was Homer’s Odyssey that first gave rise to the term “mentor” through its character called Mentor, who, despite the fact that he is presented as a somewhat debilitated old man, is actually used by Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, to guide Odysseus’ son Telemachus through a difficult time in the young man’s life.
The concept of mentorship also takes various forms in different cultures and periods of history. The Ancient Greeks had the concept of pederasty, in which teachers could hone young men to greatness. The Hindu and Buddhist religions have the concept of the guru, where a wise, religious man serves as the spiritual guide of someone who is misguided or who needs to know the Truth. In Judaism and Christianity, the concept of discipleship forms both history and current practice, as clergy or deeply spiritual people guide their respective flocks or followers. Lastly, in the medieval guilds, an economic system was built in order for apprentices to learn from guild masters and thus ensure the longevity of their respective crafts.
There are many famous mentor-protégé relationships in history. Take, for instance, the triplet of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, three great minds in philosophy who actually preceded each other. That is, Socrates was the mentor of Plato, and Plato was the mentor of Aristotle. Aristotle was even the mentor of Alexander the Great. The Christian faiths owe a good deal of their spread to the letters and preaching of St. Paul. In the music industry, the rapper Dr Dre is the mentor to younger rappers Eminem and Snoop Dogg. In the movie industry, the famous and late British actor Sir Laurence Olivier served as the mentor for multi-awarded actor Sir Anthony Hopkins.
Even fiction has its own share of mentors and protégés. There are the Jedi knights of the famous Star Wars epics, where Qui-Gon Jinn mentors Obi-Wan Kenobi; when Qui-Gon Jinn dies, Obi-Wan Kenobi takes on Anakin Skywalker; Luke Skywalker, Anakin’s son, is mentored by Yoda. The master-padawan relationship in the Star Wars series is actually akin to that of a mentor and protégé, not so much fighting or sparring partners.
In the employment arena, there are also mentoring programs to help employees do better. For instance, in new-hire mentorship, new employees are taken on by experienced persons in the company in order for them to work better and be accustomed to the company culture and climate. In high-potential mentorship, on the other hand, existing employees that show promise are taken on by experienced persons who may be interested in seeing them progress higher through the company hierarchy.
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