Mentoring Real Life Stories: Big Brother Greg Explains Why NOT to be a Hero
Big Brother Greg Lopez struggled at first to connect with his Little Brother Luis. He wanted to teach him worthwhile life lessons but wasn’t getting through to him. After deciding to just relax and let their relationship work itself out, Greg had an “aha moment” on how to be the best mentor possible for Luis. He shares his “aha moment” and why Adding a Little doesn’t require being a hero to make a difference.
“A lot of people who have volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters tend to have an “aha” moment with their Little. A Big who has emphasized generosity feels great when their Little decides to save some French fries to bring home to his younger brother. Seeing your Little go out of their way to hold the door open for someone will warm the heart of a Big who has shown why helping others, even in small ways, is so important. These moments are truly special, and makes it easy to illustrate how great being a Big can be.
Something that often gets lost in sharing those memories is the amount of time that goes into creating those special moments. They highlight a particularly enjoyable or rewarding day over the course of a friendship, but it’s so important to recognize that these moments are only able to arise over the course of a friendship. They become so much more valuable when you’re able to see them not as one great moment, but as a culmination of great moments and tough moments and regular moments, all of which were devoted to building a strong friendship over time.
As Bigs, we talk about how easy it is to grab a burger and play catch with a kid every couple of weeks. And we know first-hand the sense of fulfillment that those elusive, powerful aha moments provide. These are both accurate depictions of what being a Big is all about, and yet when you try and connect the two, they seem more like polar opposites rather than different steps leading to the same progression. It can be easy to convince yourself that as a role model you need to go above and beyond in the time that you spend with your Little. Early on in our friendship, I remember talking to my Little Brother, Luis, about his school. After all the requisite questions about his teachers and his favorite subjects, I started talking about why school was so important. His facial expression made it clear that the only reason he didn’t say anything was because he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to tell me to shut up. I decided to drop it and put the focus back on eating lunch, especially since he had just listed it among his favorite classes.
It’s not a huge revelation that a kid is more interested in eating pizza than hearing about why school is cool. As I thought more about my attempted speech, I realized I was so concerned with saying the right things and teaching Luis lessons about life, but the only thing he wanted from me was somebody to hang out with. Not exactly my first aha moment, but as I was trying to figure out how to be a hero to this kid, it was the lesson I needed to learn: don’t be a hero.
It might seem odd to emphasize the obvious point that a relationship will not flourish overnight, but given the unique nature of the friendship between a Little and a Big, it definitely bears repeating. Big Brothers Big Sisters does a tremendously thorough job of creating the best matches they can based on the personalities and interests of the Big and Little. As a Big, if you know that your one job is to be friends with a kid that was handpicked for you, and you’ve been told how big of a difference you can make in your Little’s life, it can be tough if you don’t hit it off as quickly as you had hoped. I fell into that trap, and I let myself get discouraged over the fact that an eight-year-old kid didn’t feel immediately comfortable talking to a stranger.
So I abandoned my biweekly lecture series and decided to focus on letting boys be boys. We went everywhere from the Museum of Science for the dinosaurs to GameStop for the demos. If it was educational, great, but I figured it was a successful outing if we were laughing and if we ate some good food along the way. Everything got so much simpler and so much more fun, and even if we weren’t having in-depth conversations, we were definitely getting closer and more comfortable with each other.
The summer after Luis and I were matched, I started preparing for the MCAT. My study schedule wasn’t going to interfere too drastically with our routine, so I knew I wasn’t going to make a big deal about it with Luis. I figured I wouldn’t bore the kid with talk about learning during the middle of his summer vacation. I didn’t really think about it until the following month when my lovely Match Support Specialist, Chelsea, called to check in with me. She mentioned to me that Luis told her that I was studying really hard for a big test and that he thought it was cool. I was surprised to hear her say that because I couldn’t even remember mentioning the exam to Luis in the first place. I racked my brain to try to conjure up the memory, and the only exchange I could come up with went something like this:
Me: “Luis, how’s your summer break going? I’m jealous you get to have so much fun because I’m busy studying for a really big test.”
Luis: “Oh. I’m excited to eat teriyaki chicken today.”
We had talked about the MCAT about as much as we had debated the notion that The LEGO Movie could represent a critique of American capitalism, but somehow it had stuck with him enough that he made a point of mentioning it to Chelsea. I knew that Luis and I had come a long way, but I still couldn’t believe that, from one casual sentence, he had gleaned the lesson that I had initially tried to formally preach to him. My first aha moment. All of a sudden, I realized that the months of movies and museums and pizza that felt so carefree had taken on a greater significance than I could have imagined.
When I first talked to him about school, I was basically hoping that something from my speech would stick so that I could say, “Wow, he listened to me.” After abandoning that plan and just letting Luis feel comfortable and confident around me, I wound up saying, “Wow, he listens to me.” It’s a moment that still serves as a reminder that my friendship with Luis is both a huge blessing and a huge responsibility. What makes the responsibility so much easier to handle is knowing that, no matter how much our relationship changes, all Luis really wants is somebody to hang out with.”
-Big Brother Greg Lopez