This is our truth, tell us yours
Erwin James has written evocatively here about the impact mentoring can have on the lives of young men who have struggled to fit in.
It’s a strong and sensible response to the question of what’s missing in some young men’s lives, and what’s required to help them be themselves.
The idea that young men need a rite of passage during which they learn how to be is hardly new. It used to be called apprenticeship. Even trades in which there weren’t formal apprenticeships, like coal mining, had hierarchies of skill and experience through which men progressed. In the process they learned from and emulated older men. In many cases th meant they also replicated the sexism and racism of their elders, but the process was not in and of itself sexist or racist, just the men acting it out.
There’s a great novel by Chris Brookmyre in which, amongst the jokes about Tory politicians and the scenes of high farce, there are a series of meditations on the impact of the 80s on young men and their fathers. In essence, it’s also about leadership, about how, in communities with strong bonds and common experiences, communities can recognise and confer leadership upon those they trust.
Mentoring, and the analogous skills of coaching and counselling are logical reactions to when something has gone wrong, to a gap in the life experiences of young men, to help them set goals or to help them understand the traumas they have experienced, but better by far to build a society in which they can experience common bonds and interests that help create the rites of passage they will need if they are to be more fully themselves.