A Dozen Ways to Reverse Mentoring

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“You actually take make-up tips from your teenager?” Asked one of my fellow travelers, we were chilling in Ayun, one starry night in Chitral, in 2004.

“Yes.” I said.

“What do they know?” I was asked.

“Well, they do know a lot – considering the fact that they use present day products, a lot better than us.”  I could see they were surprised. Of course, it is not just about make-up but in other matters too.

Later, when I was studying for my EMBA in 2006, there was a small paragraph in one of the books about ‘reverse mentoring’. “Oh, so that’s what it is called?” I thought. Being in the educational field, I’ve learnt a lot from my students. Sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly when that innocent question in class led me to more findings!

I’ve worked in organizations where the official photographer there knew less than my daughter at home. So, the one who spends more time on updating his or her information on a subject, will naturally know more. The ones who go on and on doing the same things get outdated soon.

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Now, it really doesn’t matter whether the person is older than you or not, you just learn from that goldmine of information, or get outdated.

1140-Boomers-Millennials-Reverse-Roles.imgcache.revc7b93c29aec200f028377b889d96a7cc I’ve got friends who don’t know much about computers or mobile phones simply because they hate to ask their children. Your children can be your best friends too you know. Learning from them  is one beautiful way to bond with them.  (I guess it also gives them a kick!) Children and students are brilliant with their laptops, smart phones and gadgets. Instead of taunting them for their skills, why not learn from them?

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When we learn, new connections occur in the brain. This is why the act of learning, keeps the brain functioning better. Dr. Farhat Hashmi once told me that her oldest student was eighty years old. Learning new languages or anything is an excellent to keep the brain functioning at its best. Naturally, with age a time comes when you can only learn from the young. Here, you see my mother learning from my daughter how to get Careem  in case of an emergency.

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While working, you can have people younger than you as bosses. So, one needs to have a positive approach to learning new things in order to survive in today’s world.

Even with my website my daughter Nadiya Najib helps me a lot.

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Then when we have new ideas we like to share these with each other. Last week when I was in Lahore, we went and had a proper session, where Nadiya taught me more ways to work on my website.

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When I was in Seattle, Nataliya taught me the way of scheduling my blog posts and how to put the pictures individually.  We are now getting excited about podcasts which I loved, too.

During the 1990s, people often wondered how I can use the computer so well. Of course I’d answer “I am married to a computer!” Yes, my husband was a Guru in the field. He happily shared his knowledge. Perhaps that is why I got my job as a computer teacher too in Karachi. After my husband left my world, I’ve been learning from my children and students and class mates. – Especially my son-in-law Bilal, who was in Microsoft for over fifteen years. Within seconds he can get me out of a problem. Well, it is not just about computers but also about learning new ways to cook.  IMG-20161106-WA0014

Ask for help and you’ll get it. As the saying goes: “the only wrong question is the one not asked!” So, don’t be shy of being laughed at, or getting embarrassed  …. Are you afraid they will say: “What??? You don’t even know this????”

Respond by: “So what? Can’t you tell me this much?”

You will also find them very ‘short’ with you.  “I don’t have the time, I’m busy,” Be calm and reasonable. Try to find a time and place suitable for both. But don’t take that nonsense about “I’m busy” too seriously. We know, how much time they spend on the mobile phone, friends and Facebook. We don’t have to go into that, ‘where there is a will, there is a way’.

You know, reverse mentoring has been going on for ages – even in a larger sense. Take knowledge and information, for instance. The Romans were great at one time, then the Muslims became great and more progressive, so they translated the information and then there were books and libraries in Arabic languages all over South Europe and Mid East. Later, their books were translated by the Europeans to gain information about Algebra, Architecture, Astrology, Mathematics and Physiology. In fact, it is believed that it was the Muslim engineers and sailors who came with Columbus and discovered America with him, as they were the leading sailors and navigators at the time. (So, it was their navigational failure and error which led Columbus to discover America?) Well, so after the Muslims were over taken by the Christians the books were then translated into Latin and then to English… Now, we are learning from the English books. So, each ‘mentor’ added his or her own bits of knowledge which was gained, and then took it forward and passed it on to the next one who loved to learn.

Muslim conquerors would free a prisoner if he was willing to teach what he knew. The art of paper making was learnt from the Chinese, like this. The universities and libraries of Baghdad, Cairo and Cordoba became the centers of learning for all people of the times.

I got carried away. So, you see this is how the world progresses.

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During my years of writing as a freelancer for Dawn and other dailies, I sought information from whichever source I could, – depending on the subject.  So, if that source is your own child, or your friends’ child, or even the maid working in your home – great! Recently, when I joined the Renton Writer’s Salon near Seattle, it felt great. I learnt so many things first hand from professional writers in the US of A.

You know, this process of learning  is a great opportunity for bonding also. A teacher and student can have a great relationship. The excitement of learning something new cannot be matched.

In 2005 I gave up my job in Islamabad to attend a Master Teacher’s Course in Karachi, by Abbas Husain. We are probably the same age. But he is far ahead of me in knowledge. It was a joy to spend one whole month, living alone in an ‘all male’ AWC Officer’s Mess in Karachi to attend the classes near Karachi’s Tariq Road . I wanted to be a better teacher for my students and was keen to learn the ways to instruct and manage educational institutions in a better way. Then I’d be like a sponge reading the books in the library and learning from my teacher and class fellows. Some of them were younger, but had far more experience in our field.

Ashfaque Ahmed the great Urdu writer, often went into the rural and far off areas of Pakistan and abroad, specially Italy. He would meet people from different socio-economic levels and even ‘illiterate’ persons who had great wisdom, and he was willing to learn and share that wisdom with his readers. His ‘baba’ was well-known to his readers. Moeen Akhtar the great comedian made a point of learning new skills and worked on different topics to enhance his skills. This is why these were so popular right till the end of their lives.

So, you see we can easily learn from younger people by taking these steps:

  1. My mentor, Mahjabeen says: “it’s only when the seed buries itself in the earth when its roots and stem grow!” So, crush your ego.
  2. Get excited about learning something new. There is a distinct ‘ping!’ and a eureka when it happens – nothing to beat that feeling.
  3. Think outside the box, by getting out of your comfort zone.
  4. When someone says a word you don’t understand, ask about it, pester the person or find out for yourself..
  5. Make a time and place for learning something new in your regular routine.
  6. Get back to your kid/mentor and check it out, later. One session is usually not enough.
  7. Use emotional black mail, pamper, do favors for them, as you do for any teacher from whom you are learning. Take them out for special dinner to a restaurant of their choice.
  8. You will find out he or she can teach you so many more things: about dress, music, hair styles, current trends and happenings. I mean within limits of course.
  9. Listen to them and pay attention. You can make notes, or record the session.
  10. Learn to take criticism from them, even their short temper ….. (remember when you did it with them, when they were young????)
  11. Please enjoy the whole process with humor. Learn to laugh at yourself and your mistakes.
  12. Ok, so you missed the bus. Your children have grown up and flown away. Why not get tuition or join workshops or have someone come and help you once or twice a week. You can pay them for it. By now you have plenty of money. Be determined and tenacious.

Stay blessed and be well-informed. 🙂

Note: All pictures taken by author, except for three from Google images

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