Lineage of Learning
The Odyssey of Mentoring
How do we know what we know? How did we make it from, cavemen dwelling in some damp cave to the dizzying hights of skyscrapers and apartment blocks? Or bungalows –depending on your preference. The answer lies in mentoring. Our journey begins in pre-classical Greece sage and storyteller Homer; In his master-piece, the Odyssey, a character named Mentor is entrusted to look after Odysseus’s son Telemachus. Over time, connotations with this mythological character became associated with teaching and stewardship, and from this, the term mentorship was derived.
Of course, the practice of mentorship isn’t exclusive to two-legged mammals like us, as other animals like elephants and monkeys are known to learn from their peers and seniors. As with many different species, elephants learn what’s appropriate to eat and what to avoid from observing the habits of the rest of the herd (and let’s face it, who wouldn’t want a tour of the native cuisine curated by some local experts).
This form of multigenerational learning is what allowed humans to harness fire as a tool not only for warmth and cooking, but to ward off any predators prone to prowling in the dead of the night looking for an easy meal. One had to learn fast or die trying. You could call it an apprenticeship in staying alive. Spare a thought for the poor souls who lost their lives ingesting all manner of poisonous foraged berries and herbs, before farming took hold making the diet more predictable and food supply more stable. It is here that with full bellies, inquisitive minds and too much time on their hands, that people began to think about the really important stuff. In 387 BC, Plato, the most famous of all philosophers, established an institution dedicated to learning, he named it the Academy. However, Plato did not take credit for his achievements, instead, he wrote dialogues that placed his own mentor Socrates at the centre.
This lineage of mentors doesn’t stop at Plato himself; as he mentored another of the most notable of ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle. Intriguingly, Aristotle would then go on to be the personal tutor to Alexander the Great. To cut a very long story extremely short, it was Plato’s notion of the academy and its rediscovery during the renaissance that superpowered the activity of mentorship and helped to create the glorious technological age in which we now live.
From old world know-how to new world high tech, the expertise has been diligently passed on from generation to generation. Yet in today’s computerised society the artisinal skills that set the foundation the modern world was built upon, are slowly but surely fading away. A healthy respect for tradition and craftsmanship is losing ground to high tech and automation, with many a skill earmarked for the scrap-heap. Future generations are likely to miss out on the therapeutic joy of creating something with their very own hands, which inevitably fires the imagination and opens the mind to ever more possibilities. The key is to encourage everyone to pass on their skills without prejudice, least we all end up with the machines doing all the thinking.
This is why we have created the platform Mentor Mi; a one-stop hub for mentors and mentees to exchange skills, crafts and even academic knowledge that used to only be found in the Academy, wherever you may be in the world. As we say at Mentor Mi, share culture to preserve it.