By BERNARDO M. VILLEGAS
With the present environment that has earned the description VUCA — for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous — not only in economic but especially moral terms, children and the youth are in greater need of mentoring or coaching more than ever. Everyone over 30 years old has a responsibility to society of forming future leaders through appropriate mentoring or coaching of the younger generation. To meet this important social responsibility, those from Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) and from the Baby Boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1965) must try their best to acquire the qualities of a good “accompanier” (another terminology for mentor).
In the recently issued Final Document of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment, the qualities of a good mentor were specified by the young themselves. The young who were part of the Synod made it clear that apostolic availability is a must for mentors: “Like the deacon Philip, the accompanier is called to obey the call of the Spirit, going outwards and leaving behind the safe area enclosed by the walls of Jerusalem, a figure of the Christian community, so as to set out towards an inhospitable desert place, perhaps a dangerous one, in which he makes the effort to pursue a chariot.” The reference here is to an event narrated in Acts 8:26-40 in which the apostle Philip ran after a chariot of an Ethiopian, a eunuch, who was grappling to understand a passage from Isaias which referred to a sheep being led to slaughter. What Philip did was to place himself at the disposal of the Spirit of the Lord and of the one accompanied, with all his or her qualities and capacities, and then having the courage to step aside with humility.
A good mentor (synonym for “accompanier”) is a person who is balanced, a listener, person of faith and prayer, who has the measure of his own weaknesses and frailties. Hence he knows how to be accepting of the young people he accompanies, without moralizing and without false indulgence. When necessary, he also knows how to offer a word of fraternal correction. It is important that the mentor respects the freedom of the mentee. He is not there to impose his will or opinion on the youth. He will respect the outcome of their journey, supporting them with prayer and rejoicing in the fruits that the Spirit produces in those who open their hearts to him, without seeking to impose his own will and his own preferences. He will avoid making the mentee dependent on him, placing himself at the service of the person he is guiding. The mentor cannot take center stage or adopt possessive and manipulative attitudes that create dependence rather than freedom in others. This profound respect for the freedom of the mentee will also be the best guarantee against any risk of domination or abuse of any kind.
“Nemo dat quod non habet” as they say in Latin. No one can give what he does not have. In order to be effective as a mentor, one has to cultivate his own spiritual life, nourishing the relationship that links him to the One who assigned this mission to him. At the same time he needs to feel the support of the ecclesial community to which he belongs. He must receive a specific formation for this particular ministry and must benefit in his turn from accompaniment and supervision. That is why every institution or movement must have, whether formally or informally, a school for leaders. In fact, in the business world today, formal courses in coaching are increasingly being taken by retired executives who commit themselves to business mentoring as a post-retirement career.
The formation for coaches must not stop at theoretical and/or doctrinal guidelines. They must also include the cultivation of the skill required for working collaboratively which necessarily involves specific relational virtues: the discipline of listening and the capacity to give the other person space, readiness to forgive and willingness to ‘put oneself on the line,’ according to a genuine spirituality of communion.
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