Teachers who insist, “I learn more from my students than they learn from me,” are either bad teachers, or smarmy liars.
Similarly, middle-aged executives who insist, as so many do lately on LinkedIn to a reliable chorus of phony “likes” —
—those simpering twerps never quite get around to explaining the precise nature of these “reverse mentorships,” or detailing the “fundamental shifts in thinking” they have received from their Baby Yodas.
The question I would ask them, if I ever encountered one in real life: Why do you even pretend that you’re interested in being schooled by people half your age? Are you afraid you haven’t kept up with things all along? Are you a United Airlines pilot who only flies DC-3s? A Ford engineer still focused on finding a workaround for the crank-starter? A doctor with an office full of leeches? Well then by all means, get yourself a reverse mentor.
Of course it’s good move to hang around with young people and listen to them. As a parent, I do that a lot—to my daughter, and to her friends, when they’ll give me the time of day. I also take every chance to sit around the drinking table or talk on the phone or exchange ideas in classrooms with twenty- and thirty-somethings in and around our business, and I think they’d tell you I show genuine interest in what they have to say. Because I have a genuine interest; and yeah, I learn stuff from those folks. (Not all of it very hopeful, by the way.)
But I see absolutely no need to go to the rhetorical length of calling these childerns my “mentors.” And I question the essential self-worth of anyone who does. (As does a close friend of mine, a middle-aged female IT project manager who would sooner shave her own head with a cheese grater than submit to being “mentored” by one of the uber-cocky young bros who overpopulate her industry.)
Meanwhile? Twenty-somethings worth their salt don’t have time to “mentor” the aging, beyond showing us how to download apps on our phones. They are busy learning the ropes! (And partying and screwing.)
And finally: If the children are doing the mentoring, what will the old people do? There’s an essay in my book titled, “Elder, Respect Thyself,” drawn from a Writing Boots piece, which reminds us that elders should focus on being better elders, and better teachers.
I’m secretly hoping some 90-year-old will read it, and tell me I’m wise beyond my years.