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Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Friday, October 10, 2014
Mentor Musings-A Coming of Age story as one mentor comes to terms with her role in "world changing" or not...
Guest Blogger, Erin Aquino
After meeting with Erin for an hour at Yat’s for her mentor interview, I asked her to kindly share her story by being a guest blogger for the month of October. I think you’ll enjoy hearing about her life, her adventures, and her “lessons learned” from being in AmeriCorps, the PeaceCorps, and now a Trusted Mentor. Welcome Erin to Trusted Mentors!
I am about to become an official Trusted Mentor, and I want to be honest and straightforward right off the bat-- I am not here to change the world. And neither should you be.
If you looked at my resume’, you might think I was lying to you: AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, ESL Tutor, Refugee Youth Mentor, and the list goes on in an almost embarrassing volunteer, superbly hippy-like manner. It may seem like I’m trying to change the world- and make it a better place, a more peaceful place. I am not.
Again, I am not here to change this world. And if I were to really think I could, I never would. Here are some examples of how I came to this seemingly despairing point of view.
1. My parents taught me so.
I was born and raised on an organic vegetable farm. My parents were the only organic vegetable farmers in probably all of Indiana, and nearly the Midwest. They farmed organically long before farming organically was cool. I guess you could call them the “hipsters” of the agriculture scene. So, like anybody that does something against the grain, they fought hard to prove that “being green” is beneficial to our bodies and our environment. Some people even believed organic foods were more likely to kill people! The core belief behind their growing dictated they could not change the world-in this case, the world representing nature. They could not manipulate and make Mother Nature better. Rather, they wanted to work with it.
A quick example is the potato beetle. For years, this beetle ravaged our crops. They could have used a quick-acting pesticide, but instead they picked and killed those beetles by hand. But they made sure to leave all natural predators such as the soldier beetle. Several years later, the population of potato beetles balanced out. Good bugs AND bad bugs. They built a relationship with nature, and made themselves stronger farmers with stronger soil and plants in order to withstand her furies, and always be able to enjoy her pleasantries. My parents did not try to manipulate nature but work with it to create a balance. This philosophy played a large role in my outlook on the world. I can’t change it, but I can work with it.
2. Idealism failed.
First, I thought college represented intellectualism and activism- putting our cerebral capacities to work and solve the world’s most horrendous human rights abuses. However, many students found their peace in red cups and football games. Theatre, Anthropology, and Peace Studies rolled up into one stressed-out, fed-up Butler University Student. (That would be me.) Human rights classes, social activist theatre pieces, and studies abroad in India, South Africa, and Russia helped to develop my keen eye for injustice and a stronger desire to change the world. However, change kept coming up short.
I decided to dedicate a year of service to underprivileged youth on the south side of Chicago. Again, idealistically, I believed only the selfless would work for AmeriCorps and our presence, obviously the sum greater that its parts, would create drastic change in these young lives. Well, my objective Anthropology courses and continual idealistic failures finally started to kick in-I cannot change the world, and neither can anybody else.
Inspired by my co-team leader and her simple brilliancy, I truly understood my White Savior Complex. Co-Team Leader being an African-American woman, she called out my pity feelings and sad thoughts for our students and the societal abuses they endured. The responsibility lay in my hands. And those young students had their own responsibilities. My AmeriCorps team held their responsibility, too. I could not make them better workers or more understanding white people. Similarly, I could not make my students avoid a life of violence. I could, however, control my behavior and reactions to the people and life around me. I could be a friend. An equal. I could not feel sorry for others, believing- innately, implicitly, secretly- I was better somehow.
So, I tried it out some more in other volunteering venues. I mentored refugee youth sisters and tutored adult ESL students. These one-on-one meetings created a world of equality between teacher/student and mentor/mentee not previously understood. I got rid of end goals, better worlds, and concrete successes. I exchanged it for giggly moments, shared meals, and honest conversation. I exchanged changing the world for making friends.
3. One stubborn woman.
Peace Corps! Funny thing about the Peace Corps- most people believe it the essence of world changing. How wrong they are! Any volunteer who believed such madness hated their service.
Luckily, my previous mistakes equipped me with the power to not care about changing the world. For a good six to eight months, in my small, non-electric rural community, I hung out. Chilled. Learned a new language, participated in many dance parties, and met new people-mainly by eating their food, drinking their tea, and taking naps at their houses. Turns out, not changing the world made that stressed-out Butler student float right away.
Through this process, I made a habit of building very strong relationships; one of the strongest was with my host mother, Jeynaba Lo. She took care of me like I was one of her own. In fact, she continues to tell me I am one of her children, and always will be. This woman is tough. I am talking cement, steel, and platinum all combined together tough. She barely reaches five feet, over fifty years old (life expectancy at fifty-nine), and she could grab my fifty-pound pack and haul it on her head through an entire flood plain. She don’t play. Tough.
But, let me be clear: this woman, and this village, suffered daily. Every month I went to a funeral. Babies died from hunger. Jeynaba suffered immense loss as her brothers and friends passed away too young for many U.S. citizens to fathom. Jeynaba struggled every day to make sure rice filled the lunch AND dinner bowls. Jeynaba ran a household of men, one of whom, her son, would beat his wife if Jeynaba left the house. I’m ranting. But I am talking about real-life problems. Things that should make you feel sorry for people, and then want to change the world.
But I never felt sorry for her. Nope. Not for a second. I worked with her on most projects I executed in the community. We worked in the fields together every week. She taught me how to plant sweet potato, how to harvest hibiscus, and the best way to eat a fresh watermelon-by shoving your face in it, obviously. After eight months or so, I began to teach her some things-improved spacing, composting, and soil amendments. These teachings were simple conversations, an honest exchange of ideas. Months later, I discovered Jeynaba conducted her own test plot of techniques we discussed. She witnessed their success first-hand. She was thrilled-due to her relief that she was not wasting her time on some crazy white girl. That I might have a thing or two in my stringy-haired head.
Life continued. We ate more rice. Worked more fields. Exchanged more ideas. One moment stands out in particular. We were working in her field, and I believe we were arguing over spacing of trees. I had my reasoning, she had hers. She got crazy frustrated, and called me stubborn. I paused, in shock and awe, and called her stubborn right back. She said, “Well, I guess that’s finished.” We laughed so hard as we took the long walk back to our huts. Just two stubborn women trying to make some crops grow and fill those rice bowls.
Jeynaba’s stubbornness paid off. She convinced the entire women’s garden to discontinue the use of chemical fertilizer. She got nasty about it too, doing the “I told you so’s” every time a woman experienced bad crop production. A year and half into my service, I had farmers from other villages coming to ask me questions about their crops, seeking advice. I would give my five to ten minute lecture. Then, Jeynaba would step in and hold an hour-long conversation with the newcomer. I was no longer useful. Doubtful if I ever really was.
Jeynaba owned her knowledge. She owned her change and her community’s change. I owned none of that. I owned Jeynaba’s friendship and deep love and she certainly owns mine. We worked together. I did not solve the rampant hunger in that community. But I know my world, and Jeynaba’s worlds were drastically altered due to our relationship and our mutual stubbornness.
Being a Trusted Mentor
I am back in the United States. I finally have a job that pays me some money to do the work I have been doing for years. Alas, social work in the United States is no Peace Corps. We must meet numbers, and work with too many people with a sincere lack of resources. I do my best to build relationships and to create grounds of equality with my clients and myself. I sought Trusted Mentors to help build that strong connection I uncovered in Senegal, here on my own turf.
An individual cannot teach another without mutual learning, respect, and partnership. We work to build each other up, not to lower our hands and lift others up. I cannot change the world. But I can be a friend, a loved one who loves others. True mentorship, for me, is mutual. Only then, can we start to mitigate the wrongs we so often see in our world.
Friday, October 3, 2014
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
After attending a recent mentor coffee and listening to the other mentors discuss their challenges with mentoring, I had a brainstorm that I immediately shared with Shelley. She asked me to delve a little deeper in order to share my thoughts in this months’ blog. Enjoy!In both my personal and professional life, I’ve worked with personality and strengths-finder testing instruments. I’ve come to understand that our personalities as mentors and mentees can shape what we expect or want out of the mentoring relationship. For example, I suspect that those who want to focus on setting and reaching goals have a highly “conscientious and scheduling” personality (i.e. goal-oriented), whereas a person who has “low conscientiousness”, but has a highly “agreeable and intellectually or artistically inclined personality” style (i.e relational) will be more interested in understanding, connecting, and learning about the other person in the relationship. What a mentor defines as a healthy mentor-mentee relationship may be different from how the mentee defines it based on their different personality types. Mentors and mentees may want to learn about each other’s personalities to reach a deeper level of understanding. Some of the following ideas illustrate this point.
· “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” –John Maxwell. As mentors, we know it’s important to build trust in the relationship. For some people, trust comes from getting to know the other person as a friend, and for other people trust comes from staying true to your commitments: we don’t know how the other person views trust or the mentor-mentee relationship until the relationship unfolds.
· Mentorship doesn’t always come in a formal goal setting environment. When I transitioned from growing up in a poor neighborhood to going to college working as a research assistant at a university, I learned a lot of things about life, culture, and society just by hanging out and talking with co-workers. Simply spending time with these individuals helped me to grow and transition.
· Research shows that having a good and positive relationship with someone can dramatically boost our mood and self-esteem (personalityresearch.org). It has also become apparent that when a person gets lifted out of generational poverty, they almost always have a key person in their life who encouraged them (Devol, Payne, & Dressui Smith, 2006).
· When mentors and mentees understand each other and communicate, they will discover what the other person thinks the relationship should look like. But, it is important for people who have a "goal-setting" personality to realize that even when a session doesn’t involve the exact discussion of goals, as a mentor you may be helping the mentee more than you realize by just being a listening friend. You are learning valuable mentoring lessons from each other just by observing and learning by example from the behaviors, language and world-view of the other person during casual friendship conversations.
Patrick Monahan is an Associate Professor at Indiana University and is a Trusted Mentor.http://www.personalityresearch.org/papers/clark.html
Devol, P., Payne, R. and Dreussi Smith, T. (2006) Bridges out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities. USA: aha! Process, Inc.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Like many others, I entered Trusted Mentors eager to make a change, build relationships, and be a positive support system in someone else’s life. The time between my initial training and match was about the span of six months. During this time I pondered how I would be making a difference once I connected with my mentee, and how all would flow from there. I had anticipated some difficulty, but had not deeply considered the roadblocks and challenges that I would soon face.
I remember it like it was yesterday; it was, in fact, the night before Thanksgiving of 2013 when I was introduced to my mentee. We met at a quaint coffee shop with our Mentor Match Manager present, and immediately hit it off after a few minutes. She said I was not what she expected and I smiled, hoping this was a good thing. We talked briefly about our similarities and sparked up a strong connection about a common passion we shared. She was, to me, a bright soul bursting with potential and from the very first day I was excited about building our relationship. We exchanged phone numbers and made arrangements to meet the following week.
At our first meeting together we sat in a quiet space and as we began to continue the journey of getting to know each other, she revealed more about herself to me. She also asked that I do the same, and I obliged. As I am usually a private person, I felt happy to reveal myself to her in order to start building a connection and hopefully earn her trust. I was in awe of her ability to be open, inquisitive, and optimistic. I thought that, for a young woman, she had such wisdom. We smiled and laughed as we sat sharing with each other our thoughts, our lives, and our struggles. I encouraged her and also gave her my full support, letting her know that I was there to help her through this journey and would be happy to do whatever I could. She acquiesced and we had made a plan to meet again the next week.
The next week came and I was excited about our meeting, I could hardly wait. We had bonded almost instantly, and got off to a rocket start. I had in mind things I would do to enrich our meetings, books I could give her, movies I would recommend, and places we could go for a shared learning experience. I was disappointed when I was unable to meet with her that week, but we had confirmed that we would speak again soon.
Many phone calls later I finally reached her. Disheartened by our misses, I asked that she make an attempt to touch base with me once a week, and she consented. When this did not happen I began to feel more disheartened. I could not understand why, if we had such a good connection and had what felt like the perfect match, she was not more eager to sustain our bond and utilize my offering of support.
This was the beginning of challenges as our conversations became infrequent. We had a meeting one chilly evening at a coffee shop where we outlined her goals, and both wrote down what we wanted from our relationship. We then both signed this paper as an agreement that we would honor. It did not take long before she could not keep up her end of the bargain. Frustrated, I crouched in doubt and cynicism, which is a default emotion for me when I cannot figure something out to my liking. I began to slowly close off myself to the possibility that this would be a success story or bloom into anything substantial. I had tried to help and was turned away; my attempts to make a difference felt futile.
I received news the following month that my mentee had been hospitalized. It was then I realized that there were bigger issues and challenges that I had not completely taken into factor. I had always considered myself to be versed in the area of trouble, having gone through some devastating emotional tribulations, but there were other things that I could not know, like what it felt like to be physically homeless, or to grow up watching a parent being abused, or being abandoned by your caretakers.
This sweet girl had gone through so much of that, had seen so much in her life that she had not even the space to process it all. She had been abused and frightened, and had learned how to do what most of us do to survive, and that is to shut down our insides. The people and systems of support she had needed to trust had let her down when she needed them the most. There were all sorts of social, emotional, mental and spiritual challenges that I had not fathomed that she was still working through. Trust was not something that was easily available to her in her vocabulary of being.
And it dawned on me. Who was I then to think that I could come in parading my abilities, my save-the-world ideals, and think that I deserved to be trusted. I had, in fact, not earned her trust and though I had tried, it was not going to be as easy as I thought. What it took for me then was a paradigm shift and a commitment. I had to realize that if I was to earn her trust, I had to demonstrate that her trust was worth earning. I had to be patient, open, and willing.
Change is not easy, and any of us who have challenged an addiction, a habit, or sought to change something at the core of our lives know how difficult this can be, and how between relapse and resolve we have to learn self-compassion and patience. This is an art, which if we master in ourselves will help us to do that for others. But in truth, many of us have not, we are somewhere in the middle, learning how to have compassion with ourselves and with others too. It is a great balancing act. This, however, in true perspective can give us more grace as mentors, as fallible human beings who are reaching out to help another fallible human being because, though we may not comprehend all of their pain, we know what it is like to hurt and to cry and make mistakes. We are all living yet another day in the one-day-at-a-time program of life.
To date, my contact with my mentee is gradually coming along and that is enough for me. I have pillared myself in the process, to be here whenever she needs me, as long as I am able, without having to dictate when that need may be.
I am willing to wait and to be hopeful.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Friday, April 18, 2014
Thanks to Janet (not real name) for sharing her story of mentoring a Second Helpings’ mentee.
When I first began mentoring, I didn’t quite know how to support my mentee. She seemed to have all the help she required. She was doing well in school, and staying busy with her family and friends. I didn’t see or hear from her much because of her busy life. I thought she was on the right track. Did she really need me?? I was lucky to be matched with such a creative, smart, caring woman, but I was having problems reaching out to her. She did want to have a mentor in her life; I just needed to give her enough time to trust me and share her problems and struggles.
When we met during the first few months of our relationship, we had easy conversation about our day-to-day lives. She talked quite a bit about her past, explaining why she was in her current situation. I tried to not question her too much; I genuinely enjoyed listening to her story (she has a great sense of humor too). I was learning about her complex life a little bit at a time, which was fine with me. I wanted to be a part of her support system, yet I still questioned exactly how I was going to do that.
Each time we got together (usually at a coffee shop with baked goods!), she shared something new about herself. I was beginning to see how I may “fit in” with her busy life. I had an “aha” moment when I realized how I could have a positive influence on her life. I’m someone who offers her a different perspective; she listens to my opinions and ideas. I realize she may be sharing some thoughts and concerns mainly with me; I’m a “safe” person for her to bounce ideas off of. I also give her a reason to “get out” and explore. Really, I feel I’m there to listen more than anything.