Mentoring

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on April 26, 2019 # Health

If you follow the news with any regularity, you get the clear impression, almost constantly, that we live in a selfish age. Politics right now is all about selfishness and very little about sharing, community, or helping others. Rich parents buy their kids’ way into college. The Trump Foundation is shut down because it was self-serving. In Los Angeles, no one who owns a house wants any kind of homeless shelter in their area. In fact, NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) is pretty much the public reaction in LA to any move to decrease homelessness, increase housing density to make it more affordable, build a rail line near your neighborhood, or any measure that might profit someone less advantaged. First private schools and now charter schools are taking the best students and much-needed funding out of the public-school system. The more the culture fractures, the more many Americans want to hold on to what they got and not allow anyone different than them – the poor, asylum seekers, LGBT people, minorities, even climate scientists – to take what they think is theirs, including what they perceive as their cultural identity. Many people who actually spend their lives in service to others – teachers, social workers, full-time volunteers – are dismissed if not looked down upon because they’re not ever-striving and yearning to make more money, the current gold standard of success.

But, recently, there are signs, small signs, for sure, that this dominant ethos – self-worth measured by financial worth – may be changing. It’s been widely reported that volunteerism has been declining in America since 2005 among all demographic groups, as has the number of Americans giving to charities. Be that as it may, at least the subject of giving has become something of a news trend. A New York Times health piece shouts “Be a Mentor.” The same word and idea were expounded in the Atlantic Monthly piece I recently referred to called, “Why I Hope to Die at 75.” The author wanted his life to end sooner than later, but for other oldsters, he counsels: “Mentorship is hugely important. It lets us transmit our collective memory and draw on the wisdom of elders.”

Now another big piece in the New York Times Sunday Review points readers, young and old, in the same direction. The author, columnist David Brooks, calls for a “moral renewal,” a redirection of one’s life from acquisition to contribution. He says this often happens after people face their greatest adversity. They stop worrying about their possessions or financial status, realizing that accumulating things is a spiritually empty exercise that rarely leads to true joy.

This is not a new idea. For a couple of decades now, the concept of “post traumatic growth syndrome” has been bandied around, even in bestselling books like “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Find Joy” by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Many people with disabilities have experienced this sense of renewal and new direction after they’ve become disabled. To quote the book, they don’t just bounce back, they “bounce forward.” They find themselves more resilient than they ever thought, form deeper relationships, are more compassionate, and often find a new purpose in religion, a new creative direction, or helping others overcome similar adversities. Ever notice how many recovering alcoholics go to work helping other alcoholics recover? It’s a natural impulse.

And some people, lo and behold, hook up with a charitable organization like the Reeve Foundation, join the interactive Reeve site called Reeve Connect, and find themselves mentoring or at least commiserating with others with less experience and knowledge about paralysis. I confess, I am one of those people, and the direct, one-to-one contact with people signing on and asking questions is more rewarding than you can imagine.

David Brooks calls the people who strive for success and glory “the first-mountain people.” “The second-mountain people” are those who turn to service and social commitment and he contends “they are leading us into a new culture.” In my mind, that’s a huge leap in logic – I see no wholesale cultural change toward kindness at work – but it’s a nice idea. Maybe young people are starting to feel more generous and socially-minded, like the high school kids rallying around climate change or those from Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, FL who began to lobby for gun control after the horrendous shooting at their own school. One can only hope.