Thursday, November 26, 2009


If it's mentors we're nominating, I think I'd be about the last picked. Not the last probably, because I certainly never want to hurt anyone. It's not as if I don't have anything to share. Mentors are supposed to be trusted counselors to the inexperienced, and for what it's worth I've been experienced. Oh wait, maybe that's a disqualification for being a mentor? Anyhow,the main reason I'd be so far down on the list is I lack a certain wisdom. Wisdom, it seems is not only knowing what is right and and true, but also being able to put an action to it. That's the part, the wisdom, I lack.

Among the blogs I read are several that pursue the subject of peak oil from one direction or another. Most observers concerned about the ramifications of being on the downside of Hubbert's peak also seem to be quite hep to the consequences of global climate change too. For my part I'm convinced of both, but sometimes reading what I do gives me a big headache, and other times heartache. What I really want to hear is that everything is going to be alright, but I think otherwise.

Dave Pollard has a post up What Happens Nest: A Timeline for Civilizational Collapse. Here's a snippet:
A number of readers have asked me for an "elevator speech" that describes how I think our civilization will collapse by the end of this century. Being more of a "picture" person I decided to try to answer that question graphically. The result is shown above.
Go there if you think you can stomach it. It's a compact post which lays out the predicament we find ourselves. My usual response to articles like Pollard's, although I substantially agree with them, is paralysis. What am I to do?

When I start writing blog posts, I have a general idea for the direction they'll take, but the post almost never seem to go that way, or at least travel a straight path in that direction. The inspiration for this post was the delight I felt reading an email from a young Ugandan lad with whom I'm supposed to be in a mentoring relationship. So far, mostly it seems we talk past each other. But in this email he told me not to forget to include a poem for him. I don't write poems, but I had been including poems written by real poets in previous emails. To get feedback that he thought this a tradition worth keeping up pleased me. I enjoy searching for poems online and selecting something I like and think he might too. In short I felt sense of gratitude for how, even though it's hard to point to any real practical gain in the relationship, his presence enriches my life.

I started out saying I'd be among the last chosen to be a mentor, but in reality I was invited to take part. I participate in a social network called Ned and I think that the page about the Butterfly Project can be read by anyone. The point is that it's not only the relationship with the student I'm paired with that's gratifying, but also the online relationship with other students and people interested in the project.

So, this post began with the idea of convincing others to consider mentoring a young person. And I certainly wanted to link to a very dynamic set of Web pages at Tutor/Mentor Connection.

Well, then my mind started to wander. Oh and the tendency for my mind to wander is yet another reason I'd rank myself low on the list of possible mentors. A certain degree of concentration is necessary and negative examples really are never as effective as positive ones. I hit upon the notion of experience in defining what a mentor is supposed to be. From there I went to Youtube and watched multiple renditions of Are You Experienced. In the background for trying to write a convincing post is this gnawing feeling of paralysis in the face of apocalyptic dread. The sense of purpose the young students in the project have is quite the antithesis of this feeling. They want advice about how to proceed with tangible projects, and the gratitude I feel for their optimism and determination makes me want to be sure the advice is good.

One thing even a little exposure to teens quickly assures is they can smell a phony in a heartbeat. That's why "Do as I say not as I do" never succeeds as a strategy. Of course there is something quite real about apprentice relationships. The Cynefin Framework is a simple model to describe situations. It's really quite simple, there are: simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic situations. Apprentice relationships are especially good for complicated situations where there are best practices to apply. Most trade involve very evolved sets of skills, the trades are complicated and it takes time and concentration to master them. I think when people think about mentoring relationships we most often think of the transmission of best practices. But so many of the pressing problems of today seem complex or even chaotic. While students might not really be thinking outright about complexity, really it's simpler when someone tells them what to do, in the face of complexity thinking for themselves is going to be more useful in the long run.

I neglect this blog. Part of it is that I can't imagine why anyone would read posts that start out going in one direction but end up meandering all over the place. The simple solution to that problem would be for me to stop doing that. Alas, I wish I would, but I'm not sure I can. It's also a relief not to imagine that I actually can convince anyone of anything, even if I seem to start from that premise. The blog started with the premise of convincing people to consider ways they could be of service to people in Africa, especially online. Over the years of this blog, I've certainly questioned the wisdom of this premise, but never questioned the value of the friendships I've made. I don't write much about my contacts in Uganda because often the conversations are private. It's one thing for me to tell about myself, but quite another to tell about someone else.

I think online collaboration is useful and rewarding. I also believe I've got to be more serious about making more in person collaborations. What my readers think, and hope to do, is for them to discover; although I have a keen interest in hearing about it. My sense about the complex and chaotic situations we all face today is there are no silver bullets, certainly not one big and simple fix. Doing everything we're suppose to is what got us in the fix we're in, so doing more of it even more earnestly isn't going to get us out of it. The best approaches, if they come along at all, won't come from the center.

Apart from the students in the Butterfly project my interlocutors in Uganda aren't so young, but they are younger than I am. Everything we've done together has been to try to create something good with all sorts of attendant concern that maybe it's not so good at all. There's little money, there's ordinary problems on the ground, sickness and health, progress and setback, and constant reminders of how vast the territory of my ignorance really is. I suspect my relationship with the Butterfly project will be more of the same.

I linked to the Tutor/Mentor site because there are so many really thoughtful articles there. Most people when they're thinking about collaborating will think closer to home than Africa. I know of no better site than the Tutor/Mentor Connection to find out more about collaborating with young people regardless of where you are. At the site are hundreds of pages which plainly explain many types of relationships. And you won't go far before discovering that the Tutor/Mentor Connection has a distinctively wise approach. It's much too simple, yet I'm tempted to say that the key ingredient is the importance of relationships. All relationships don't resolve into us and them, indeed the best relationships begin and end as we. Along the way there is good we can create with others, even if at the end there's no real escaping our predicament.

The photo is of a fungus growing under a butternut tree a few weeks ago. It looks like a brain don't you think?