I’ve spoken of thick vs thin culture. And my earlier muse was mostly for boss-types, and I promised to do the same for non-bosstypes. But I need to pause here, and do something different. I need to talk about mentoring/coaching to create proper context.
(I should pre-announce, i’m semi-lit. I doubt I could pull this off if I were entirely sober, but I doubt I could pull it off if I were entirely drunk, and there it is. I get busted for this crazy non-structural faintly eastern-reeking shit anyway, sober or drunk.)
What is this "mentoring" I speak of?
What, when I say "coaching", am I talking about? Apparently there are a significant number of people who think that it involves giving orders and making rules and leading meetings. I don’t want any of those people quoting me.
But I can’t define mentoring and coaching in some axiomatic look-it-up way, because I am opposed to axiomatic look-it-up dictionary-definition behavior, cuz I feel that behavior is anti-whatever-it-is-i’m-speaking-of.
So in lieu of definition, I will just describe how I came to it. U will have to make of that an idea. I do have a more formal definition, but to be perfectly frank, it is too far a reach for most of my listeners. Better we take it step by step.
This is the first rule of what I call the mentoring stance: be a person.
Persons have good days and bad, they have good insights and useless. They are fundamentally by definition imperfect. Mentors know this about others because they know this about themselves. They know everything they know about others because they know it about themselves.
So, back to story.
I have been called "Geepaw" for about 25 years. Depending on your counting algorithm, I have between 0 and maybe 25 grandchildren.
( 0 -> no dna = no grandchild. 8 -> no wife-dna = no grandchild. 13 -> no-wife-dna or sibling-of-wife-dna. 25 = what i’m talking about. )
Because the world is astonishing, the girl I love is about 10 years older than me. She had kids young, and her kids had kids young, and I was presented with my first grandson — literally presented grotesquely slimy freak-a-guy-out-ishly — when I was just 31.
My friends and family thought that was hilarious. They loved calling my young childless goofiness "grandfather", and it quickly morphed into "geepaw". All of my wife’s grandkids grew up calling me that. The name precedes the brand, by some 20 years.
Their special delight was to put these babies on me — babies are gross and i’m against it — and watch me squirm and try to deal.
But eventually, babies become toddlers. To a toddler, geepaw was "trusted furniture". U could climb on geepaw. U could climb around geepaw. And geepaw would make those possible to do.
I love language, I love it so much, so much, and eventually the little bastards got language. They became incredibly annoying but also rather charming to me. They called me geepaw. I was still furniture, but I was furniture one could talk to.
And then, oh my god, they got to be 10 or 12 or so, and all of a sudden, they could stand up on their hind legs and curse the world. My tolerance — extraordinary, I might say — became relaxed confident adoration. How cool is that? They just say shit, just like a person.
Around that time, there was a controversy. As u know, I am profane of language. Son-in-law, also profane of language, my best male friend, was angry because at his house there was no swearing allowed, but at my house, whatever.
(Actual rule at my house: there are no dirty words, only mean ones. "fuck this fucking heat" is totally okay. "shut up" gets timeout.)
And I got this idea, and now we approach mentoring. This idea was "geepaws aren’t parents. The purpose of the geepaw is to provide a safe place to experiment with breaking the parent’s rules".
(Berto, the son-in-law, was outraged, but he later told me I was right and said that between him and me, they turned out okay.)
So. Then it got worse (for the parents) and better (for me). The little shits became adolescent. Crushes. Substances. Horniness. Justice. Rage. The whole kit and caboodle.
And me? Well. I was still furniture. Not physical furniture, mental furniture. I was a chair. Not to crawl upon, but to express upon. I was safe, not to force rules but to make sure that rule-breaking wasn’t significantly threatening.
I was, the very idea astonishes me, trusted to deal.
U don’t have to be a geepaw to be a mentor. That’s just how I came to it. But this, in its essence, is what it is to be a mentor: furniture trusted to deal.
I was not spoken to for a couple of years, cuz I refused to tell a parent whether I knew her son was smoking dope. (he wasn’t, or not much, but that’s neither here nor there.)
I explained: I am not a parent. If I become a parent over minor shit, they won’t expose major shit to me. If they don’t expose major shit to me, we can’t help them. I promise I will call you if they’re in trouble, I promise. But I won’t call u just cuz they break the rules.
When I say "coach" I mean "mentor". When I say "mentor" I mean "create, maintain, and monitor, a space where people can take risks to become who they wish they could be".
I’ve defined "coaching" 97 times, and I’m sullen and resentful that it’s gotten approximately zero airplay. I will say it again now:
I am a coach. What I do is create or exploit tiny openings through which individuals — including myself — can step, to become closer to who/how they wish they were.
As I say, u don’t have to be a geepaw to be a coach. But that’s how I came to it. I realized that the whole job was just to be there, to create or exploit those openings, to protect from harm, to enclose in kindly arms the ones who are coming up in the world.
I care fuck-all for "agile", fuck-all for rules, fuck-all for anything except the safe growth of my victims.
Now we come to an urgent closing phrase. URGENT URGENT URGENT.
URGENT URGENT URGENT:
This is not about me or u being an angel of goodness & light. Among other things the gee-kids have learned from me, they’ve learned "how to tell when someone is likely to slit their throats, burn their bodies, chop them up, and give their bones to neighborhood dogs to take away." They know me, both in my glory as a kind and forgiving and listening and psuedo-wise geepaw, and as a crabby tired sick no-room-for-you-just-now geepaw. They know perfectly well my considerable flaws.
U know what? They don’t care. They know that I will always lean towards them, that sometimes I’m amazing, just like they are, and sometimes a walking shart, just like they are. What I feel I really am teaching them is just what it is to be flawed and still care.
This is the mentoring job. Be a person. Be a listener. Be not a casual narc. Be not an enforcer. Let people be mistaken as long as it’s safe to be.