It’s unclear what the word “mentor” means in this context, beyond hero worship, reckless infidelity, and the purloining of classified material. Washington’s political culture is a thicket of euphemism, and it seems that being “mentored” has become synonymous with aggressive social climbing. And here I was, assuming that the average mentor is an idealistic, bearded Oberlin graduate intervening on behalf of a disadvantaged teenager. Apparently, everyone has a mentor these days.
One National Public Radio host declared herself “annoyed” that the Petraeus scandal might cast a pall over all male-female mentor relationships. But allow me to suggest a potential upside: there is a vanishingly small chance that the Broadwell-Petraeus affair might do irreparable damage to the mentor industry, which is about as useful as the holistic medicine industry.
I hadn’t previously noticed, but bookstore shelves heave with guides to mentoring both the wayward and ambitious: Mentoring Leaders: Wisdom for Developing Character, Calling, and Competency; A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring; Monday Morning Leadership: 8 Mentoring Sessions You Can’t Afford to Miss. The American Psychological Association (APA) website offers a number of self-evident “tips for mentors” (though it’s not entirely clear why). “You may want to reflect back on your school experience,” says the APA sagely, “and identify information that would have proven useful to you back then.” A writer at Forbes provides three tips towards being a great mentor, including this bombshell revelation: “Go into your conversation with some ideas you’d like to discuss, but don’t be afraid to stray off course.” Inc. magazine has its own three tips, including the admonitions “listen well” and “focus on action.”