I’m struggling over an issue that has kept me thinking a lot about the responsibility of a mentor/role model. How do you reconcile respecting someone’s wisdom and expertise in one area when that “expert” fails to meet your expectations in other areas? Perhaps even violates your personal belief or value system. Does following that person’s instruction in the area where he/she excels give tacit approval of overall lifestyle? I’d love to hear what others feel about this. It comes up often enough and has been a thread running through my life for decades.
Dan (www.48Days.com) has gotten raving reviews from followers of his blogs and podcasts and but once in awhile he will hear from a fan who heard him refer to a quotation by someone they dislike and Dan gets this kind of message, “I thought you were a Christian but you quoted so-and-so, which clearly shows you are not! So take me off your mailing list!” I’m serious. Like Dan’s whole value and belief system is in question because of a quotation he used that he felt was valuable to his audience and tied into his message.
When I was a young and very inexperienced wife and mother, I remember feeling this consternation because I so needed good mentors and role models from which to learn. I kept trying to find that perfect person who was living the perfect life. It just never happened. But what did happen was I stopped searching for a mini-God and began to understand that everyone has failings, is human and doesn’t always make wise choices. That’s life. That’s being human. It was then that I could begin to separate the chaff from the grain and accept that even the imperfect teacher has areas of expertise from which I could learn and grow. I didn’t have to have someone complete a thesis on the purity of their life to qualify as a mentor if they had knowledge/experience in an area they excelled in and I needed to learn. It made finding a mentor or teacher or even a friend much more palatable.
It’s interesting how we get so enamored by an athlete or celebrity and follow their games or movies like it’s our life’s mission because he or she is an incredible player or actor, yet totally ignore their very public record of infidelity or violence and abuse. Truth is, we pick and choose what we want to believe and filter through our own lens.
Several years ago Dan read a biography of Napoleon Hill and became more than a bit disenchanted with the way Hill lived his life. So much so that for a time he had difficulty recommending Hill’s famous book, Think and Grow Rich. Yet, that book had played a very important part in Dan’s life and he had referred it to others hundreds of times. It’s a great book. The wisdom in those pages didn’t become rubbish just because Dan found out Hill abandoned his family in his continual pursuit of success. In fact, his Mastermind group gifted him with a first edition copy he considers one of his most valuable possessions.
I’ve recently had to revisit this conundrum in reading and recommending Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. Gilbert imparts incredible wisdom valuable to any artist, writer, musician or Creative. I have highlighted and tabbed so many pages in this great book. It is incredible. However, I have to admit I struggled with picking up and finishing the book when I read all the hullabaloo about her leaving her second husband for love of her girlfriend. Her actions totally violate all I stand for in my belief/value system. Then I got a letter from my penpal who said she was struggling with the same issue with Gilbert. Then I had lunch with a dear friend who told me she was also struggling with the Gilbert situation. I think it has shocked and rocked a lot of people. So for a couple weeks, Big Magic has been on the table by my favorite reading chair untouched. I simply couldn’t decide what to do. Till this morning. I picked it up and began reading where I had left off and that book still has magic in it. It is not only very well written but has so much wisdom in it I couldn’t help but become engaged again. And when I did, it came to me that after all these years I needed to remind myself I still won’t find perfect people out there to mentor me. I won’t find perfect teachers and I will never be perfect myself. That’s reality. I’m not happy with Gilbert and I don’t like how she leads her personal life. But I am not her judge and jury. What decisions she makes in trying to “find herself” are her business and the fact that her personal life is smeared all over the Internet is a shame. But regardless of who Elizabeth Gilbert is in the eyes of the public, she is still a darned good writer with a lot of brilliant insight into the heart and soul of the artist. I will continue to regale her book because I believe what she says is expert advice.
“So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.” Rebecca Solnit as quoted in Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert