Science Corner: “Fear is the path to the dark side.”

Death Star

Fear leads to anger… and building impractically large laser weapons. (© Lucasfilm & Disney)

DJ asks:

Why and when should we start mentoring and investing in those younger or at a less advanced place than we are academically?

Fear and its consequences is a major theme of the Star Wars film saga. Fear of betrayal erodes the Sith until they will only have one master and one apprentice at a time. Fear of death drives Anakin to embrace the Dark Side, believing it holds the secret of immortality for his wife Amidala. The Empire believes that “fear will keep the local systems in line”–specifically fear of the Death Star. But as Yoda points out, fear can lead down a path to hate and suffering. (Underlining this point, a study making the rounds this week shows how the fear tactics of the Death Stars likely led to the financial ruin of the Empire.)

The Jedi avoid fear by becoming dispassionate and disconnected. I prefer the approach recommended in 1 John, dispelling fear with love. Fear makes us turn inward, makes us tighten our grip on whatever we think we possess. Love, as John understands it, is focused outward and emphasizes giving. And actually, while the Jedi discourage emotional connection, I think their teaching tradition demonstrates this giving love. Where the Sith are secretive, the Jedi encourage sharing knowledge and training the next generation.

So, when should we start mentoring? Whenever we know something that someone else doesn’t know, and that knowledge can help them, it’s time to mentor them. As Hannah mentioned in the comments last week, that useful knowledge maybe something as simple as how to get a parking pass. Maybe it’s more domain specific, like how to work a fussy centrifuge or how to make a really slick R chart. Maybe it’s career advice. And why should we do it? As an expression of love.

Now, I don’t think fear is the only reason we don’t share what we know, but sometimes I think it is. Fear of helping a peer who might also be a competitor. Fear of looking foolish if it turns out we’re the one who needs to learn because our way is inefficient or outdated. Fear that time spent helping someone else is time we could have used for our own projects. If you don’t have these fears, great! But if you’re like me and you have felt these fears, don’t let them get in the way of being the mentor someone needs.

What motivates you to mentor others? What gets in the way of your mentoring?

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Andy Walsh

Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichéd notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two elementary school students, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog. His book Faith across the Multiverse is available from Hendrickson.

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