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I’ve always disliked the question ‘Who do you think you are?’. It’s too black and white. Too final. Too blunt an instrument. It’s like asking patients to diagnose their own conditions. In mentoring, most people need subtler approaches that help them understand who they are by looking at themselves from many different angles.
The answer is a combination (‘mess’) of characteristics, abilities, behaviours and ideas; we cannot be summarised by a simple word or phrase. We are not what we do, just as we are not (always) what we say.
Here’s a way to explore the idea of ‘Who are you?’ with your mentee. Lead into it by discussing the place where you live. What are its unique characteristics? What is unique about its people? If you were a city in the UK, what would that city be known for? Ask your mentee to start thinking of himself or herself as a city and describe it to you.
- Is it a big, smoky, well-organised city or a small, friendly, more organic village? (Are you a big loud character or a quieter, gentler one?)
- Are there more sports grounds, shopping centres or music venues?
- Is it a happy place or a serious one?
- Is it complex or easy to navigate? (Are you complicated or simple and straightforward?)
- What do the landmark buildings represent? (What are the most noticeable things about you that you are most proud of?)
- Write or draw how this city would look with labels and notes. Then discuss these questions:
- Are there lots of hospitals or charities? (Are you a caring person or are you better at looking after yourself?)
- Are there historic areas? (What are your memories and your sense of where you have come from?)
- Are the foundations strong?
- Does it have tall, thick city walls to protect itself or to keep everything hidden away inside?
- Are there lots of fires and disasters? How well-equipped with fire stations and police stations is it for coping with crises?
- How obvious are the dark, poorer areas? Is there work going on to rebuild broken-down areas? (Are there areas of your life that you are working on? How ashamed of them are you, and how much help do you seek?)
- Does it have a strong military base? (Are you combative or aggressive towards others?)
This exercise can be approached as a working document; something that can be added to and change over time. You can return to it in later sessions.
For children and younger teens, emphasise drawing their ‘city’ and allow it to be mostly fun. For older teens or mentees who particularly want to investigate who they are, ensure that they understand this is a metaphor and really get specific, using it to ask them deep questions about themselves.
Consider reading together about the city of God in Revelation. You could even compare it with the garden of Eden in Genesis.
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