BY LIAM ANTHONY
February 2022, a month has already passed, and I stop to think about the resolutions I made back in January. I realise that I didn’t make any. However, I do have some projects and endeavours that I’d like to pursue this year, nevertheless, I am determined to avoid creating any unnecessary pressure. What I am certain of though, is that for my goals to materialise, I need some help.
We live in a society where help is readily available. Our phones possess a plethora of resources. However, whether your resolution for this year is to lose weight, start a business or even write a novel, nothing can compare to having a person close by to guide you. A person who can share their experiences; the good, the bad and the ugly and a person who you can both admire and feel challenged by. This kind of resource trumps anything that Google can provide.
I go back to the concept of help that has always provided me with a much more meaningful perspective. A type of help that we have seen throughout the history of philosophy is to have a mentor. Socrates mentored Aristotle, Aristotle then mentored Alexander the Great, and without these teacher/student relationships, how would we have evolved?
This kind of resource trumps anything that Google can provide.
I had my first mentor in my last year of high school. A university student called Rabbiah who was studying English Literature. I met her once a week to discuss my options after leaving school, my options were clear, I wanted to follow in her footsteps.
Each week we met in a classroom, we discussed the books I was reading, which were mostly compulsory set texts, nothing outside the parameters of a GCSE curriculum. What inspired me the most was simply having the access to someone who was living the life I subsequently wanted. A kind of life beyond school, where I could embrace my intellectual curiosity regardless of my social class or where I grew up.
She became like a sibling figure, listening to my problems and answering any of my academic questions, but all in all, the mentoring scheme was in place to afford me a perspective that I didn’t get from a teacher at the time. Since Rabbiah, I have cultivated many mentors. Most of them have been teachers who I have known and learnt with. Without these teachers, who didn’t feed me with the relentless notion of meritocracy, I now wouldn’t have the skills to think, to approach life with intellectual rigour and to question everything I see and read.
One of my teachers, Carol, who on the first day of our A Level course, declared that she was a Marxist Feminist. She was faced with a cohort of perplexed sixteen-year-olds. I had no idea what a Marxist Feminist was. I asked her and she replied with an imperious “read about it”.
She was preparing us for the realities of life.
Carol cemented the idea that to gain knowledge, a teacher ought to give you more. More of what they have studied, learnt and analysed. Her antiseptic approach to teaching was often difficult, but without her ambition for us, I wouldn’t have some of the insights I have now. Furthermore, her honesty was something I truly admired. She was maternal, but in a more ambivalent way, meaning that if we had written a bad essay, she would let us know exactly why it was bad. Or, if we had used secondary resources, most of which were available on the internet, she would tell us off that we were all writing and thinking identically. She wasn’t just preparing us to pass an exam, she was preparing us for the realities of life.
Away from the context of teacher and student, I often find mentors in the books that I read. Writers who I have never met yet have informed and shaped the way I see the world. Writers who operate like a talisman, or a reminder to see writing as a vocation. In her latest book Manifesto, the author Bernadine Evaristo talks about her life and the racism and adversity she experienced. A book that filled in the gaps before she won the 2019 Booker Prize. Manifesto was how I inaugurated January, as opposed to making a list of my resolutions, I wanted the first book that I read this year to resonate with me for the entire year.
Nothing compares to having a person to lead you to reach your goals. Someone whose ideas and lessons you can refer back to whenever you need them. Yet, more importantly, someone whose ideas and lessons you can share. Mentors subsequently create mentors. As the Isaac Newton quote says, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”.