A World Without Mentors

Muhammad Ali talking with a group of people

by Eli. A. Wolff, Partners for Youth with Disabilities & Mary A. Hums, University of Louisville

Eli and Mary have both worked in the area of mentoring for social change and have been part of the organizing team for the International Mentoring Day on January 17 of each year on Muhammad Ali’s birthday and during National Mentoring Month. This post originally appeared on the Mentor blog here.

“A world without mentors leaves so much untapped potential of millions of youth.” – National Mentoring Partnership

Have you ever had the power go out at your home? Especially if it happened at night, you likely stumbled around in the dark, searching for candles or a flashlight to help guide you. You may have even felt somewhat disconnected there in the dark. Finding your way in the dark creates challenges we do not have to overcome when there is light present. Light opens up our world, allows us to see and move freely. There is more to being able to see, however, than just needing physical light. We need the light of others to help us navigate the world. Some of the most powerful lights emanate from a most powerful source – mentors.

Now try to imagine a world without mentors. Mentors are interwoven into the fabric of our communities, our institutions and our world. So much that happens in our world directly connects to the role mentors play in facilitating and inspiring growth, development and change. They guide us along the way, which at times can be very dark. So what would happen to individuals, communities and our world without mentors?

First, without mentors a significant gap in potential not just for individuals, but for organizations and the world at large, would emerge. Mentors are the connective tissue, the dream-makers and the people who help motivate, inspire and facilitate opportunities for us to reach our potential. Their absence creates an immense gap in individual and societal growth and development. Without mentors, this lost potential would impact our future leaders, our local and global businesses and economies, and eventually all sectors of society including employment, education, health care, social services, entertainment and sports. It’s tough to measure the loss of something that was never allowed to happen.

Additionally, a world without mentors would exacerbate inequality and disenfranchisement. Mentors are critical for facilitating access and promoting the values of equality and inclusion. Mentors help us bridge the gaps among diverse communities and shine a light toward equality and justice. Without mentors, there would be much greater inequality and segregation in our local and global communities. Without mentors, there would be fewer opportunities for diverse populations to access pathways to resources for education and employment. Without mentors the distance and disconnect between the marginalized and those in positions of influence and power will only become greater and seemingly more insurmountable to those on the fringes of society.

Third, a world without mentors would be a world consumed by isolation and disconnect. Mentors are the interlockers, the resource brokers, the connectors and bridge-makers. Without mentors too many communities would exist in isolation and loneliness. Mentors help to bring positivity and joy through connection, growth and goal attainment. It would be hard to imagine a society lacking in these nurturing attributes.  Mentors hold such an important, often overlooked place in our communities, so it is a healthy exercise to think about what happens without them. Realizing what society would lose if mentors were absent can ensure that we work as hard as possible to bring mentors to all corners of the world.

Reflecting on a world without mentors helps us to appreciate the power of mentoring and the need for mentors for individuals and communities around the world. It is important that people everywhere celebrate the power of mentoring on January 17 – International Mentoring Day. This particular day is celebrated on Muhammad Ali’s birthday, which fittingly falls during National Mentoring Month. Muhammad Ali was an iconic worldwide mentor whose legacy reinforces and highlights the power of mentoring.  He was truly a light to the world. As we celebrate International Mentoring Day and honor the legacy of Muhammad Ali, let us tirelessly work together to ensure an environment where mentoring can shine forth and we never have to navigate or experience a world without the light of mentors.

Engage on social media for International Mentoring Day by using hashtags #InternationalMentoringDay, #MentorIRL & #MentoringMonth and tag the handles @MentoringDay, @MENTORnational & @AliCenter