Posted with the author's permission
Originally posted on The Dominant's View ezine at http://www.thedomsview.com/
May be reproduced in whole with credit to the author.
One of the words we hear a lot these days is "mentor." People talk about the need for mentors in our community. Novices are looking for mentors. More experienced people call themselves mentors. There seems to be a general consensus that everyone needs them and everyone who can be one should be a mentor.
Personally, I never really had any mentors in the Leather community. There were people I looked up to, certainly, but I met them all well after I was on my way to being whatever I am now. There are people within my own community whom I respect, but I don't see them as mentors. For me, I don't think the lack of mentorship was a negative experience. Not having a mentor forced me to reflect on what was important to me, to find my own code of behavior. While it might have been easier to have someone who was willing and able to guide me and help me find my path, there are advantages, too, to finding one's own way. I have had mentors in my life, however, people who guided me and to whom I owe a great deal.
I get emails sometimes from novices looking for someone who will mentor them. Those emails are encouraging, in that they tell me that the novice has recognized a need for education, but I don't think having a mentor is a substitute for doing your own research, either. While it might have been nice to have someone give me the basics of using a cane, I still would have had to start slow and practice it until I felt comfortable, learn the implement through a careful process of trial and error. I would still have had to learn the craft of what I wanted to do. There is no substitute for that, mentor or no.
One of the other things that those emails tell me is that we don't see mentorship in the same way. Usually, the emails come from people I don't know and who don't know me. They don't know how they feel about me personally, they don't know what my style is as a person or a dominant, they don't know what my particular skills or interests are. We are strangers to each other, and I don't believe a stranger can be your mentor. The nature of the relationship requires a kind of intimacy, a level of comfort with each other.
Mentorship is less like applying for a job and more like finding a spouse. There has to be chemistry between the parties, a genuine respect, an acknowledgement that this is someone whom you would like to emulate. Too often we confuse mentors with teachers when there are important differences. A teacher can show you how to knot a rope harness or braid a whip. They impart a skill or a craft. A mentor tends to affect all areas of our lives because they affect the way we see the world and ourselves. They show us by example, by being the kind of person we aspire to be. We look at them and think, this is what I want to be when I grow up. All mentors are teachers. Not all teachers, though, are mentors. Neither is more or less than the other, they are simply different. Teachers are able to offer their knowledge to more students because the intensity of their involvement is less, while mentors must limit their focus. We have many teachers and few mentors in our life, but they fill equally important roles.
Mentorship is not something you choose at the beginning of your association. It is a relationship that we grow into. We begin to know the future mentor well enough to understand and respect them. We notice how they behave, how they manage their lives. We ask them for advice occasionally, then more often. We find ourselves mentally saying, "What would so-an-so do in this situation?" After a while, we realize that they have become our mentors, the people we looked up to, asked for advice, strove to emulate.
Mentoring another person is a serious commitment. Mentoring takes time and energy. It is a decision similar to taking on a submissive. It's also something that shouldn't be a one-way street. While I don't expect the same things from someone I mentor as I would from a submissive, I don't expect them to take the knowledge I give them and saunter off, never looking back. I expect them to work to become more than they are and, when they are ready for the role, to give back what they have been given by being examples to others.
We as a community need to understand that while not everyone is able to be a mentor, more of us need to be teachers. All of us have knowledge that can be shared, specific and general skills that are both lifestyle and non-lifestyle related. We know how to behave at events, what to wear, how to fit in. Too often we hang back from involving ourselves with people new to our community. Too often we see the only option as an all-out mentorship when, in fact, the willingness to be a teacher may be just what the novice needs.
Related Article: See also A Rant on Mentorship by Ambrosio