Mentoring

a growth Medium for the whole mind

Philosophers like to say that all the other subjects teach you what to think, whereas philosophy teaches you how to think. That’s unfair to the best teachers in those other subjects, but it contains an element of truth.

Too much education is organized as a group of buckets to be filled, and we are encouraged to worry that some of the buckets are not full enough. But high levels of intellectual confidence and excellence are not achieved by filling buckets.

Suppose you’re a high school student aiming at a top college or university - or a recent graduate navigating the early stages of a career. Most people assessing you - college professors, placement directors - might take a few minutes to decide whether you’re a poor prospect or a good one. But excellence tends to show itself almost immediately.

What makes the excellent candidate so obvious? More knowledge? Luck? A higher IQ? 

Mainly, no, it’s something else, which emerges from the written and spoken voice. Confidence without arrogance. Precision without unnecessary detail. An engaging enthusiasm that has left performance anxiety behind. A sense of the larger intellectual landscape. 

And what that requires is what Socrates famously recommended: an "examined life." A willingness to put aside the daily questions for long enough to let the deep ones shed light on them. A willingness to dare to create the meaning of your own self and identity.

When King Odysseus leaves Ithaca for the Trojan War, putting his son Telemachus in charge of the island, he asks his trusted friend Mentor to be there as Telemachus’s guide. Mentor’s task is not to teach new information, or offer advice about particular decisions. It's to mold the younger man’s ethika - the way of looking at the world and his place in it that informs his thinking, and decision-making, by informing who he is.

 

This is not about learning more stuff. It’s about using whatever you think, like, or are working on as raw material to grow and strengthen your whole mind. 

“We don't yet know what we don't yet know.”

British physicist David Deutsch

Questions, Questions

 

Richard will talk with you about (and tease out your opinions on) a vast range of questions you won't find on any syllabus. Thinking about these things isn't just a worthwhile end in itself - it forms a vital context for deeper responses to all our everyday thinking and decision-making:

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What is it to know? To believe? To have an opinion? 

 

What's the relationship between a fact and a theory?

How do you decide which authorities to trust?

 

​What is science and why (is it?) special?

 

The moderately poor today are materially richer than Renaissance kings - but even the rich are often unhappy. Why? 

What would an ideal society look like?

Is asking what an ideal society would look like a good idea?

"Art is the lie that helps us see the truth" (Picasso). Does it? 

It's my opinion that whales are not fish, and that torturing people is wrong. Do you think I have reasons for believing these things, or are they “just opinions”?  

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What gives my days, and my life, meaning?

If it doesn't bother you that a hundred years ago you were not alive, why should it bother you that a hundred years from now you won't be?

What is freedom? What is (or isn't ) good about it?


Think of your mind as a house. A tutor arrives with new furniture. Richard will show you how to rebuild the house. 

“It may be that I am in the universe the way my cat is in my library.”

American philosopher William James

Is this therapy? Is it counseling?
Is it coaching?

In a word, no - but there's a connection with all three.

Psychotherapists and mental health counselors work with patients who are unable to function within a “normal” range of behavior because of issues such as anxiety, depression, or OCD. The therapist’s job is to identify the dysfunction and use a variety of methods to mitigate it.

Life coaches and executive mentors help people with self diagnosed practical issues such as  procrastination, poor planning, or lack of career direction. Key aims include goal-setting, efficiency, and effectiveness in the pursuit of their professional potential.

Some philosophers call themselves counselors because they are using often-ancient philosophical traditions to help people manage a broad range of practical life difficulties, ranging from boredom to grief.


Caring about your mental flourishing is central to Richard’s style of mentoring too - but Richard’s model of mens sana (healthy mind) is centrally concerned with enriching your life by enriching the intellectual tools you have for examining your ideas. 

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That's why it's so hard.”

American historian David McCullough

Words, Words

Often - depending on the needs of the client, but this is especially true of students - Richard's technique centers on intensive, rigorous, ultra-detailed attention to clear language.

This approach comes in part from the ideas that animate the "Philosophy in the Schools" movement, which has a track record of dramatically improving students' academic abilities across the board. 

In the UK, a randomized trial involving 3,000 children investigated the academic value of teaching philosophy to children. The teachers, often with no previous experience in philosophy, were given just two days of training. Yet students showed dramatic gains in confidence and self-esteem. Average reading, math, and writing skills improved by several months relative to peers outside the program.

At Duke University, a 5-year study of 10,000 children tried a beautifully simple experiment: teach children who do not test as "gifted" as if they are gifted. The result? Many children subsequently did so much better academically that they then did test as gifted.

Why are very smart students so drawn to philosophy? Because it's where the hardest problems are! But all young people - and adults - can benefit from being invited to wrestle with big-picture questions about their own thinking and living. 

“It is no ordinary thing we are discussing, but how to live our lives.”

Socrates

PRACTICALITIES

 

Mentoring works best as a long-term engagement but even a few hours can make a big difference. 

The best session length depends on each individual's interests, age, and goals. One-hour sessions are a good place to start. Sometimes 90-minute or 2-hour sessions are useful. 

Richard charges $75 / hour online, but the first meeting is free: it is your opportunity to get a sense of whether this is a good fit. If you think it is, save 10% by committing to five sessions ahead of time.

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Copyright © Richard Farr 2020