"Wise advisor" from the Greek Mentor, friend of Odysseus
Today is National Mentoring Day. The word is taken from the wise counsel of Greek mythology. He advised Odysseus during the latter’s ten-year journey home after the fall of Troy, and when the Goddess Athena took human form it was his face she chose.
Those of us who’ve struggled with long-term projects can identify with Odysseus’s decade at sea. And if we suspend our disbelief just a little, it’s easy to appreciate that a good mentor may have more than one face.
The trusted friend who reminds us of our good qualities and true worth
The wise elder who steers us away from pitfalls we may not have spotted
The truth-teller who gives us what we need, even when it’s the last thing we want
Sometimes it’s difficult to categorise behaviour at all. When working in Russia some years ago I spent most of one winter in the small towns on the banks of the Vatyegan River. Deep in the heart of Siberia, the cold was biting and the resilience of the locals was remarkable. One man I got to know well was father to a teenaged girl who pursued her academic studies with relentless enthusiasm. The electricity supply was limited and the girl’s bedroom had only an oil lamp. To replenish the oil, her father made a weekly journey to the nearest supplier, carrying the only container he had or could afford to fill.
The walk was three and a half miles each way, and in sub-zero conditions it seemed longer. After seeing him make the journey twice I joined him for the third. He found this amusing. I carried no oil and added no value. For the first mile or so we walked in silence apart from the occasional snort of laughter as he glanced at the frost gathering on my eyebrows.
Then we gradually slipped into conversation in the little English he had. Our pace quickened, and the miles were not so hard. On the way back he let me carry the full container for half the distance and by the end he was laughing with me, not at me. I stayed in his town for nine weeks and we made the journey six more times. Each walk seemed quicker, regardless of the weather.
There are times when you need a second pair of eyes or ears to confirm what you know to be the right decision.
There are times when you need blunt truth to steer you away from the wrong track
And there are times when you just need to know there’s someone walking beside you.
Happy National Mentoring Day.