Developmental Community Part IV: The Mentor Relationship

The mentor relationship is often experienced a relationship of grace and miracle. I encourage the reader to list the names of the people who were these ‘gift relationships’ of mentoring and use the inventory to stay tuned to the good things that have happened in their lives. In hard dark times this list is what else is true about your life. This Posting concludes the treatment of Developmental Community. Hopefully some part of it was helpful to readers.

The movement toward the balanced life for the individual is made possible by this third form of developmental relationship which is a composition of both the nurturance and vocational communities and yet uniquely different from both.  This is a relationship that serves as a catalyst for changes within the individual’s belief system that must occur in order to succeed personally within the fluid world of vocation.  A change in careers, jobs, or lifestyles can necessitate the assistance of the mentor relationship.  Because, in the experience of life, there is not clean line of demarcation that separates vocation from nurturance, the transitional zone is actually bridged by teachers, trainers, and mentors.  A characteristic of successful individuals seems to be their innate ability to attract mentors.  Conversely, people who exhibit the various forms of personality disorder or who have experienced devastating traumas which have distorted their path of development, often find themselves estranged and incapable of attracting this kind of relationship.  In the world of disability, often times a difficult situation is made vastly more difficult for the lack of available mentors in the immediate environment of the person with a disability.  Successful cultures and communities facilitate and encourage the crucial transitional mentor relationship.  This is the catalyst relationship that maintains the balance of the stabilizing center of nurturance and the creative vitality of vocation.  Stories in the media and studies in human services literature show a resurgent interest in the mentor relationship.   While it is obvious we are interested in the power and effectiveness of this relationship, we are not as certain as to its definition and scope.  Because this relationship is really a blended form of nurturance and vocational relationships, it tends to defy clear objective definition or become confused with one of the other developmental rings.  What follows is a narrative which attempts to focus the mentor relationship by describing both what it appears to be and also what is not.

The mentor relationship is:

1.  Bonded but conditional

2.  Time limited

3.  Choice based within system 


The mentor is a change agent.  For a human to change, changes must occur subjectively within the person’s belief system about reality.  The belief system is the non-conscious collection of assumptions about what in the experience of the world is fundamentally safe and valuable and conversely, what isn’t.  The mentor works with the mentored at the developmental level which was set in place through primarily nurturance experience, but which now must interact effectively with vocational energy and conditions.  Anytime two people relate at these deep levels of assumption, the very intimacy required establishes a bond.  So for this reason the mentorship is bonded, and still the venue of the mentor’s connection to the person’s life is the conditional vocational realm.  Therefore, unlike the nurturance relationship, these bonded relationships occur to assist a defined purposeful transition in the lives of both the mentor and mentored.  There is a mysterious sense of “synchronicity” experienced by both parties because this relationship occurs beyond the scope of conscious consideration.  However once the conditional demands of the transition are met, the relationship can end naturally with the same kind mystery as accompanied its appearance.  Another benefit of the mentoring relationship is that when concluded, it is not accompanied by a deep grief cycle as will always be the case with the termination of deep nurturance relationships.  Another way of describing this phenomenon is if the grief process is the painful route to re-identification, the mentor provides a relationship route to the same outcome of re-identification.  Once re-identification occurs, both parties move on into the next phases of their lives.   


Because vocational community is where we act out our expressions of change, it is here we encounter our potential mentors.  The church, the service club, the job site are all arenas of vocational expression where people go to express the authority of their life’s experience and encounter people who respond to them.  As said earlier, the change relationship must reach across the boundaries of the vocational realm into the nurturance realm or subjective aspect of the mentored.  The mentor, in order to interact with the nurturance level of the mentored, must invest his or her own nurturance content into the relationship.  This involves considerably more energy and risk which is why the professional human services person may mentor only a small percentage of a caseload at a given time.  This crossover experience emulates the nurturance relationship except when the time constraints of vocational community impose themselves on the relationship, unlike the nurturance relationship, the mentor relationship ends.    Like the chemical catalyst, once the change has occurred, the agent disappears.


The mentor relationship is a true paradox.  When the term “both and” is contrasted with the “either or” polarity, the mentor relationship presents itself as a good example.  Mentoring is a matter of the heart (subjective, affectionate and bonded) and yet at the same time pragmatic (purposeful in relationship to an objective external system).  The true mentor relationship is nearly impossible to engineer.  For instance for those people whose personalities or appearance repel potential mentors, efforts have been made to pay the “mentor” to compensate for the lack of natural connection.  These relationships are often successful, but in the same way that vocational relationships can be useful in training a person.  The job coach is a good example of the paid trainer who can effectively train one-on-one.  The strength of the professional vocational service providers is they can “hold” a person in the vocational system until the community overcomes the natural fears of the person with differences.  Once the “stranger anxiety” is overcome very often the community generates a true mentor who will take over the bulk of the professional’s responsibility out of a sense of bonded service and affection.  Anytime a person receives compensation for being in relationship, this becomes a vocational relationship.  This distinction should not be taken as a demeaning of the professional relationship, but rather a recognition of the limits of effectiveness.  The professional relationship is truly the prosthetic applied until “nature” re-establishes a more enduring pattern.  At the same time there is probably very few teachers, counselors, or administrators who don’t recall certain students, clients, or subordinates with whom they formed the mentor connection while concurrently serving the balance of their responsibilities.  The possibility and occurrence of the mentoring relationship is often the experience that inspires the professional and creates the energy to carry out the balance of the job.  A healthy culture will recognize and support this unique relationship as the highest order relationship of the community.

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