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How The Goby Fish & Pistol Shrimp Teach Us About Mentoring
January 17, 2022

How The Goby Fish & Pistol Shrimp Teach Us About Mentoring

“‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” –Mark 12:31

By Trey Hill, Senior Program Officer, The Rees-Jones Foundation

I was flipping channels the other night and saw The Blue Planet was on so I stopped to watch. I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for a good nature show and a British accent. Like all Blue Planet episodes this one was beautifully shot and full of fascinating sea creatures and fantastical facts about nature. This particular episode highlighted “symbiotic relationships”. Having four children who were all young when Finding Nemo came out I was already quite familiar with the symbiotic relationship between the clown fish and the sea anemone.  I was not familiar with the mutually-beneficial relationship between the goby and the pistol shrimp, however.

Turns out the pistol shrimp has unusually large claws for a shrimp that are excellent for digging, but the little bugger can barely see. The goby, on the other hand, has excellent eyesight, but can’t dig to save its life. Literally. So they team up. The goby keeps watch for predators as the shrimp searches for food. But when danger is spotted, the pistol shrimp quickly digs a burrow for itself and the goby to hide in. Win-win.

Why all this nature talk? This month is National Mentoring Month and it got me thinking about the nature of mentoring relationships and what I learned in my time running a mentoring program for 17 years. My biggest takeaway from my time running Mercy Street was the very best mentoring relationships look a lot like the goby and the pistol shrimp—ones that are mutually beneficial and life-giving.

SEARCH Institute, a youth development research and advocacy group, calls this type of relationship a “developmental relationship”.

“Developmental relationships are the roots of young people’s success,” according to a recent SEARCH Institute publication. It goes on to say, “They are essential for all young people, in every community. When young people experience these relationships in their families, schools, programs, and communities, they are more likely to be resilient in the face of challenges and grow up thriving.”

Developmental relationships, according to SEARH’s framework, have a dynamic mix of 5 key elements:

  1. Expresses care
  2. Challenges growth
  3. Provides support
  4. Shares power
  5. Expands possibilities

Many of us had parents, teachers, coaches, youth pastors, or other folks who provided a developmental relationship for us while growing up.

Unfortunately, according to The Mentoring Effect, a report published by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, “Two-thirds of kids, from the lowest income and education levels, do not have mentors of any kind while growing up.

The report goes on to say, “Mentoring helps young people, especially at-risk youth, succeed in school, work, and life. A strong research base supports the efficacy of quality mentoring, including a recent meta-analysis of more than 73 independent mentoring programs that found positive outcomes across social, emotional, behavioral, and academic areas of youth development.

One of the reasons we, at The Rees-Jones Foundation, partner with organizations that form developmental relationships with youth is that the research says it works.

We also do it because it is Biblical.

God’s intention from the very beginning was that humanity would be engaged in positive, life-affirming, relationships, and parents would be around to impart wisdom and knowledge to their children, teaching them about God, their family and cultural history, and the needed skills to make it in life, etc. But ole’ Adam and Eve had to go mess things up and listen to that sneaky serpent. Just one bite of disobedience was all it took and the intended order was corrupted.

We see the resulting corruption all around us today, including the breakdown of the family that leaves some children without two parents to help them learn the important life lessons and model a life of faith. This problem presents an opportunity.

Jesus was asked on several occasions what was the greatest commandment. (Most of the time the question was asked by a religious expert trying to trip Jesus up.) He answered the same way every time, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37–40).

Did you catch that? Jesus said you could sum up all of scripture with this: Love God and love your neighbor.

Seems to me as Christians we know we are called to love God and love our neighbor. We often just don’t know exactly how to love our neighbor and exactly who our neighbor is. The Bible can help us there too.

There is a great little encounter where an upstart lawyer tried to do a little theological sparring with Jesus over the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus turned the question back to the lawyer, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (Luke 10:26).

After answering just like Jesus did above—Love God and love your neighbor–the lawyer found himself trapped, as you are likely to find yourself when sparring with God over scriptural matters. Struck by the enormity and sheer impossibility of the requirement, the lawyer tried to wiggle his way out of the uncomfortable position and he asks Jesus another question.

“Who, exactly, is my neighbor?”

I’ve asked that question more than once myself. In response, Jesus tells the lawyer a story. The story is about a man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road. A couple of good religious folk saw the man, but they walked right on by. They had better, more important things to do. Then, as the story goes, a Samaritan, a low-life, half-breed (according the Jewish people of the day), saw the man too. But the Samaritan didn’t walk on by. He stopped to help. I mean HELPED. Like get your-hands-dirty, pay-outta-your-own-pocket, I’ll-come-back-and-check-on-you-later kinda help.

Jesus then asked the lawyer a final question, “Who was the neighbor in the story?”

The lawyer responded, “The one who demonstrated kindness and mercy.”

Jesus then said, “Go and do the same.”

Turns out the hated Samaritan was the hero of the story. He was the neighbor to the person in need. The implications are clear. We are called to be a neighbor to the people in need around us.

And we have a city full of them.

According to the Child Poverty Action Lab, Dallas has the third highest rate of child poverty in the nation. One in three children live in poverty, according to CPAL. If the mentoring research is right and two-thirds of at-risk kids do not have a mentor of any kind, then there are lots of children in need of healthy, positive, life-affirming relationships.

Mentoring, when done well, provides a unique opportunity for both the adults and the kids who are being served to gain something, to mutually benefit.

The adult gets the benefit of learning new perspectives, of helping a young person reach their potential, of contributing to the common good of the city, and of fulfilling the command to love a neighbor in the ways Jesus described in the story of the Good Samaritan, i.e., get-your-hands-dirty, pay-outta-your-own-pocket, I’ll-come-back-and-check-on-you-later kinda love.

The mentored kids get the positive adult relationships they need to thrive and fulfil their God-given potential.

Like the goby and the pistol shrimp, win-win.



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