I once knew a funny kid who had Friedrich Nietzsche as his Facebook profile picture. (He told me it was all for the mustache. He was all seriousness.) Once, we were asked who the first person we went to for help and life advice was. For me, it was my mom. For him, it was Google (much to the chagrin of the Sunday school teacher).
Although we all fell over laughing, it honestly wasn’ta bad answer. Google does have all the answers one could ever want, or not. My knee problems from running this summer? I’m hitting up RunnersWorld.com. My right ear piercing feeling tender? About.com will surely tell me if I’m using my antibacterial solution right! Nowadays, I turn to Google if I face a problem I don’t have the immediate answer to.
But despite all of this desperate Googling, I still found myself messaging cross-country friends for advice; I still went back to the mall to have the lady at Claire’s take a look at my ear. There’s something unique about human connection — the humanness of giving and receiving advice — which is difficult, if not impossible, to replace.
In certain transactions or situations, it makes sense to have a robot or computer present for purposes of expediency and efficiency. However, recently, there has also been a push back against technology replacing human connections. In his recent column “The New Romantics in the Computer Age,” New York Times opinion writer David Brooks wrote, “You see a counterreaction setting in. You see, here and there, signs of a new romanticism ... [We] should ask, What are the activities that we humans, driven by our deepest nature or by the realities of daily life, will simply insist be performed by other humans? Those tasks are mostly relational. Being in a position of authority or accountability. Being a caregiver. Being part of a team. Transactional jobs are declining but relational jobs are expanding.” Especially for young people, the importance of human connections is coming back.
But more than the desire to speak with a person at a help desk for say, technical assistance, I want to stress the importance for young people to have human mentors in our lives.
This past summer, during a training session, I was asked to “talk about a teacher who really mentored you.”
This took some thought. I definitely had teachers who taught me. Teachers who talked to me. Teachers who loved me. But mentorship? We’ve started to throw that word around.
Eventually I talked about my visual arts teacher in high school. The man talked a lot, and talked in circles, but I also considered him a true mentor. To pinpoint exactly why, I was thinking about all the hours I spent in his classroom after school, coming out smelling like cheap acrylics and the pungent odor of paintbrush soap. I was thinking about how even after I graduated, I still messaged him for advice. How he was one of the few teachers I still wanted to see on break days, even though I knew I would be detained in room 417 for far too long.
Also this past summer, I would actually be mentored again. During my fellowship at a regional arts nonprofit, I assisted the organization’s Director of External Relations with most of her work. Furthermore, the woman who had linked me to the organization also acted as a mentor. (I didn’t know resumes and lists were not the same thing until I met with her.) I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I have had multiple mentors throughout my life.
Mentorship is teaching. Mentorship is advice. But it also means trust and truth. It is feeling like, and knowing that, someone has your back. Both of the women I worked with this summer taught me. They sat down with me and told me things I didn’t know before. And then they watched. They watched me take their advice and attempt to put it into action. All along the way, I felt their watchful eyes — not scrutinizing, nor contemptuous — and for that, I always strove to do my best. I wanted to impress them; to make them proud. This constant feedback process is what I call mentorship. There’s a return side on the part of the mentee, just as there is giving on the part of the mentor. Mentorship is legitimate care for the work and for the person.
Entering college — a job — any new stage in life, we always need to seek out mentors. These are not just people we want something from — in 2015, in places like our university — “networking” is a beautiful euphemism. Nor should we simply be trying to “connect” — another vague term. But mentorship shouldn’t be one of our vague words. It shouldn’t be used too easily. This new year at this place filled with remarkable people, let’s make it a mission to seek out people who will guide us toward places we want to go, with a reassuring hand on our back. Metaphorically, of course.
Lavinia Liang is a sophomore from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.