Who Do You Listen To? Mentors, Types, and Bias

One of the complaints many parents have is that their adolescent child will listen intently to everything their favorite teacher, coach, friend's parent, or celebrity says. But when the parent speaks, the child lets it in one ear and out the other, regardless of what the parent is actually saying. The child will rebel against the parent for saying or doing the exact same thing as what they praise their "wise" idol for.

A child in this stage of development who's father is John Lennon, the Dalai Lama, or Steven Hawking, and who's mother is Mother Theresa, Maya Angelou, or Mary of Bethlehem would STILL go through this stage of seeking someone outside of the family to "follow" and learn from, and temporarily reject and diminish their family members.

Unfortunately, some do not outgrow this stage of development. They become stuck in the land of teenage rebellion, still searching for identity with "wiser people" outside of their family of origin, and reject "wisdom" or knowledge coming from anyone close to them, even people they chose to become close to. (Unless they idolized that person already and did not reject them at some point in their youth.)

They tend to idolize certain "types" of people, generally the same types of people throughout their lives. They also tend to reject certain "types" of people, and categorize them into groups they consider inferior in some way. As a consequence, they will often blindly follow, believe, and support anyone who resembles their favored type, and blindly dismiss, reject, or oppose anything that is said by their unfavored type.

Those who are stuck in this stage can run into serious relationship problems, either platonic or romantic. When they see a New Person outside of their familiar group who they find engaging, wise, or interesting, they may desire to get to know them. If this New Person responds to friendly invitations or romantic overtures, the New Person will quickly become a Familiar Person after a short while. Since people who are seen as Wise are those who are "out in the larger world", and not close to the person, anyone who feels like family no longer qualifies as being "Wise" or "knowledgeable", and they will suddenly be expected to stop acting as if they are. They will no longer be admired, or even heard. They will often even be turned against, so the things they said and did that were "admired" before are now seen as annoying, burdensome, or self-centered. The New Person will be accused of "changing", especially if they object to being treated with unexpected rejection or disrespect. This devaluing happens more quickly when the New Person is seen subconsciously as a "type".

Those who are stuck in this rebellion/identity stage usually identify their favored "type" of person, those whom they will listen to, believe, and follow, during childhood. They  may subconsciously decide what "type" of person they will reject in that same period, or they may develop that in time based on social pressure from peers, or from the way adults around them behave.

Quick and obvious examples that are easy to figure out:

Little Samantha's basketball coach is a tall brunette woman who carries herself with high confidence and a brusque demeanor. The coach likes Samantha, so she treats her well. Samantha's natural rebellion/identity seeking stage leads her to seek a mentor, and this coach happens to be there. The coach is no Philosophy Guru, she's not even that nice, actually, but since she included Samantha in her "favorite players" and initiated a more personal relationship with her, Samantha is glad to follow her around, emulate her, and listen to her words and advice. Samantha has placed her coach as a "Wise Person To Follow".

Another adult in Samantha's life is her Uncle Larry. He does not play sports, he smokes cigars, his hair is thin and grey, and he's not tall. Uncle Larry is a very nice person, very intelligent, actually quite wise, and has had many wonderful and interesting life experiences (including being a high school basketball MVP). Samantha only knows him as Uncle Larry who is always nice but doesn't play basketball, and isn't very tall, and doesn't seem that strong or fit. Uncle Larry does not brag about his life or himself, and Samantha's family treats him with a certain amount of disrespect, "That Larry with the cigar". In reality, Larry has been there to help Samantha's father on several occasions, and is always there for others to lean on.

Compared to her coach, Uncle Larry is actually wiser, more experienced, and more helpful and generous, but because of a few simple factors, Samantha has chosen her coach as a "Mentor", and sees Uncle Larry as just her old silly uncle with the cigar who's just always there, whether she treats him well or not. In addition, Samantha sees her coach being TREATED by lots of other kids with a great deal of respect, so she believes the coach deserves that amount of respect, and she wants to be associated with her. What she sees with her uncle is people (mostly her family) treating him with a subtle lack of respect; certainly no fanfare, no high-fives in the hallway, no stories about his adventures, no articles about him in the daily newspaper. Samantha sees her coach as superior, and her uncle as not so much. Since she is a child in a natural stage of rebellion and identity seeking, she does not have all the facts about either her coach or her uncle, and even if she did, she may not be able to process them intellectually. She is trying to build her own identity in the World, and she is going by what she experiences and what she sees around her.

If there is no one to teach her or show her that there is much more to other people than what she can see on a very superficial level, if no one teaches her not to just believe anyone who resembles her coach, and not to dismiss those who resemble her uncle, she may have some rude and unnecessary wake-up calls later in life, and even suffer real consequences. She may also miss valuable experiences, relationships and connections. 

If Samantha becomes stuck in this rebellion/identity stage, she will probably KEEP her image of her coach as a "Type" of "Who To Automatically Respect and Trust", and her image of her uncle as a "Type" of "Who To Automatically Dismiss".  She may have others as well, but these will remain prominent, unless she matures past this stage.

Also, if Samantha's coach became personally unkind toward Samantha after she had chosen her as a Mentor type, (after she had decided to trust her), Samantha might decide that people who look and act like her coach are Not Trustworthy. This can be another "type" that Samantha files in her subconscious for future reference.

Physical traits, appearance, speech patterns, gender, height, weight, clothing, dialect, even hair color and style can factor into a person's "Type" of who to listen to and who to dismiss.

This can be seen quite often with children who subconsciously choose a mentor who is a coach, a teacher, a musician, a political or religious leader, or a sports star, whether they are in a personal relationship with the person or not. The gender of the mentor is often the first and foremost physical trait that a child can imprint with, even if the child is not the same gender.The opposite sex is often categorically dismissed as less capable and knowledgeable, or less interesting. Another commonly imprinted trait is height, and yet another is race. These are prominent physical traits that are quite unrelated to intelligence or capability, but because children are not yet sophisticated enough to dismiss these traits as irrelevant, they file them as legitimate and real ways to discern things about others like intellect, experience, and potential. It can be compared to using cartoon characters as templates for judging others.

Those who do mature past this stage see others as fully unique individuals, but those who do not may always believe their own assumptions about others, even when their assumptions are proven unreliable over and over again. 

(For example, a surprisingly large number of women, even women who are vocal proponents of equal rights, will listen respectfully and intently to a man speaking about most things, while ignoring, dismissing, or arguing when a woman speaks. Watch who most people listen to when someone asks for directions at a gas station; if there is a woman giving the directions, 9 times out of 10 a random man will either talk right over her, or wait until she's finished and then give his directions, even if they are exactly the same directions as she has just given. Further~ 9 times out of 10, the asker, even if female, will listen to the man, and disregard the woman. This is not about reality, there is no way for the asker to know who has the "correct" directions. It is an example of subconscious following of one TYPE of person, and dismissing another TYPE of person.)

A simple way to begin the process of growth past this stage is to be aware of our own biases.

Does it annoy me when my close friend talks about "personal growth", but when I hear someone on TV or the radio talk about the same subject, I listen and pay attention?

What am I assuming about people I know, or people I've never met?

Who do I listen to when more than one person is talking?

Who do I talk over, argue with, or interrupt?

Who am I excited to talk with, even slightly, and who am I bored with talking to?

Who do I want to like me, and who do I not really care whether they like me or not?

Who do I assume would know the answer to my questions, and who do I assume is less intelligent, or won't know the answer?

When I am annoyed at someone I don't even know, what is the real reason for my annoyance? 
Did they even really do anything severe enough to deserve it, and would I feel the same way if someone I liked said or did the same thing?