Sub-cultural Themes in Mentoring

By Rick Lewis

I’m not a great fan of pigeon-holing people according to a pre-determined stereotype. Humans are endlessly varied and it’s always a good approach to try to clear one’s mind of preconceptions and listen closely to an individual to discover who they are in all their uniqueness.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that from time to time I observe certain commonalities between individuals who share a particular background. I try not to let this be a limiting factor that leads me to jump to conclusions but rather to be a prompt to pay special attention as I listen and seek to assist in the process of discernment.

I’d like to check one of these observations with the ACMN mentor community. It has to do with the fundamental formation issues that arise for people according to their socio-economic sub-culture. In a nutshell, it’s this.

  • When mentoring with people from a lower socio-economic sub-culture I commonly find they wrestle more with issues of ‘soul damage’ that impact their sense of identity and worth.
  • When mentoring with people from a middle socio-economic sub-culture I commonly find they wrestle more with issues of ‘heart damage’ that impact their desires and expectations.

This is not to say that, to some extent, the opposite may not be true. Of course people from a middle sub-culture deal with issues of identity and those from a lower sub-culture deal with matters of desire. The observation I’m making has to do with tendencies and emphasis.

Perhaps it is that life lived in a lower sub-culture tends to pummel a person’s sense of self-esteem because of entrenched social attitudes both within and from outside of that sub-culture. And perhaps the experience of living in a middle sub-culture tends to expose a person to the consumerist expectations of privilege and upward mobility.

If these observations are in any degree accurate then as a mentor I would serve people well if I know when to give special attention to certain questions:

  • Questions of identity. Who am I? What is my place in the world? Is my life meaningful?
  • Questions of desire. What do I really want? What will make me happy? What is the good life?

What do you think? Am I making too much of this or do you see similar patterns in your work? More generally, does your experience of cross-cultural mentoring suggest that mentoring requires different emphases depending on the cultural background of the person you’re dealing with?

One Reply to “Sub-cultural Themes in Mentoring”

  1. Rick,
    I believe that culture and sub-culture has a huge influence on perceptions, responses and expectations, so yes, I think yoir observations are very valid. Having worked with the poor and extremely poor, I have found that they have abandoned ‘heart issues’ due to a lack of hope. However, I also think that in western middle class there is a pre-occupation with dreams and desire that may actually be masking the real issues, which may be of the soul. We have become very good at blaming others (including the culture we are a part of) and denying root cause.

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