We’ve all been lied to.
Whether you were told that the Tooth Fairy was real, or that your pet went to visit a farm after an extended illness, or that someone would always be there for you, you know now that people don’t always tell the truth. So who do you trust?
When you’re growing up, you’ve got to put at least a little trust in someone. You need someone to help you navigate the complexities of life, even when you’re older. If not your parents, then a mentor figure, a therapist, or an older family member.
The trouble is that when we’re young, we tend to trust implicitly. Everything a person says is taken for truth. Only later do we learn that what one says isn’t always what one believes, and we begin to discern when someone is being dishonest.
I’ve been watching various films and TV shows lately that deal with the Wise Mentor and the Young Student, and I’ve come to the realization that we as a society have stopped trusting. We don’t trust the government, religious institutions, family, or mentors. Someone finally told a lie too big and now it’s all we can see.
It used to be that stories were told about young people (a prince, a farmboy, a thief) who were mentored by older individuals who would impart wisdom and help the younger individuals come to terms with life, give them something to grasp when it felt like the world around them was crumbling.
Now, we’re telling stories about mentors who either pretend or are ambivalent to the world’s issues (Haymitch from The Hunger Games), or become evil in an attempt to solve them (Rha’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins), or who simply refuse to acknowledge that the world has changed and that new solutions are needed to solve old problems (Col. Hyram Graff from Ender’s Game).
Even newer films, like Jurassic World, show Claire Dearing’s boss as a would-be mentor who fails to provide Claire with any useful advice. In the Netflix-Marvel show Daredevil, Matt Murdock’s mentor comes back to Hell’s Kitchen, but the conflict between them is too great, and they part ways. Matt’s refusal to take a life separates him from his former guide.
I was watching Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi a few weeks ago, and was struck by Yoda’s insistence that Luke allow Leia and Han to perish (or at least suffer) at the hands of Darth Vader, lest he leave his training incomplete. Choosing between a present need (the safety of his friends) and a future requirement (becoming a Jedi Knight), Luke resolves to complete training only after the rescue of his friends.
As we see later, this choice kept Luke from continuing his training with Master Yoda. But in the end, did it matter? He succeeded in eliminating the threat of total control by Emperor Palpatine. Wasn’t that the end goal all the time?
We no longer see mentors, or authority figures in general, as trustworthy. We’ve weathered political scandals, corruption in the police force, the death of The American Dream (if it ever really existed in the first place), and some of our favorite people have fallen from grace after comments or actions that showed a flawed way of thinking.
At least on NBC’s The Blacklist, Raymond Reddington tells his protege that he isn’t trustworthy. But if we can’t trust anyone to tell us the truth, where do we go when life hands us too many questions that we can’t answer?
While we have been lied to, at times, the truth is a little more complex (isn’t it always?). There are outright lies, white lies, and those beliefs, values, systems, and worldviews people hold that they feel are true. But when it comes to personal beliefs, we can’t ever be sure. So maybe a parent believes God speaks to them, and another parent tells you that you shouldn’t ever ask for help because there won’t be any. Maybe the lessons you learned from your mentor are from their own experience, but don’t match up with yours. Who’s to say what is true?
It all comes down to you. You’ve got to figure life out for yourself. It’s never a bad idea to listen to someone who has lived a little more life than you, but take everything you hear with a grain of salt. Your life is uniquely yours, and what you find to be true won’t be spoken by another’s mouth, but felt with your heart.
That might sound silly, but it’s the same thing as going with your gut, or listening to your instincts. It’s time to sit down with yourself and listen to what you have to say. You are the only one who can live your life, and to live it well requires honesty.
No one else can tell you what’s best for you. They may think they have your best interests at heart, but they don’t walk in your shoes. Others might try to tell you what to do because it’s best for them, or because they don’t want to think about whether you made a choice that they regret not making.
Whatever the reason (and there are good, bad, and indifferent reasons), learn to listen and discard. If something sounds helpful, file it away for future use. It might come in handy. But until you experience your own truth, it won’t ever quite ring true. What resonates with you is your truth, built upon your experiences, and it isn’t always the same for everyone.
The Age of the Wise Mentor is over. We no longer trust our authority figures to be honest with us and share the truth — or at least, truth that resonates with our life experience. We’re going to have to start listening to ourselves. I see this happening in a lot of places — on Tumblr, in books, on TV, in film, and in our day-to-day lives, and I’m curious to see how this develops. Will we, in time, circle back around and be the self-appointed mentors for a new generation, or will we be on equal footing in the future, with no one claiming to have the entire truth of the world in one place?