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Reply To: Merlin . . . & the Lost Art of Mentorship, with Dr. John Bucher


I appreciate the kind words, John.

Something else that stands out for me from your post (and those of others) is how much  the process of mentoring revolves around sharing stories (one of our mutual mentors, Bob Walter, has a gift for knowing, considering his wealth of life experience, the appropriate anecdote applicable in any given circumstance).

Authority figures provide directions and rules that must be followed; mentoring, on the other hand, seems most often fostered through the intimacy of story. Though we certainly borrow stories from a number of sources (from myth and folklore to movies and TV and everything in between), with each passing year the fund of stories accumulated from my own life experience expands at an exponential rate. Sharing one of those with a “mentee,” rather than just telling him or her what to do, carries so much more weight (especially accounts of failure or falling short).

But seems mentors also contrive to set up circumstances that allow the mentee to rise to the challenge. I think of Athena, in her guise as Mentor, urging Telemachus, son of long-absent Odysseus, to embark on a journey in search of his father – but then Athena heads downtown, so to speak, disguised as Telemachus, where she arranges a ship and hires a crew in his name, clearing away obstacles to the journey; similarly, as you note in your essay,

. . . Merlin constructs and crafts realities meant to attain a certain end. He arranges Arthur’s conception and birth and builds the framework on which the entire sword and the stone episode, as well as the Grail quest, hangs.”

My mentors have often done the same for me, pulling strings behind the scenes to create opportunities, which I did not fully realize until well after the fact.

One other observation re Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey: when acting in the way of a mentor, Mentor isn’t himself, but the goddess Athena wearing his form (which sets up a scenario where “Mentor” appears in two places at once). This reinforces the role inspiration plays in mentoring, at least in my experience.

Thank you for inspiring this whole conversation, John!