Pick Your Mentors
But Be Careful About Who and Why

I’m into mentors. I like my mentors and use their teachings and suggestions to assist me as I journey down my yellow brick road of life. This is a list of my mentors: Brooks Oakford, Louie Palmer, Teddy Roosevelt, George Bernard Shaw, Norm Vaughan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Bobby Kennedy, T. E. Lawrence, Carl Sagan, Steve Biko, Don Quixote, William Forrester, Anne Perry, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Aung San Suu Kyi, Randy Pausch, and Elizabeth Warren.

Before continuing reading this essay, do yourself a favor. Jot down five or more mentors in your life. Trust me. Do what I ask. Hey, I’m 76 years old. In China, the older generation is venerated. Therefore, let’s pretend that we are living in Shanghai, Beijing, or Chengdu. My request is designed to assist you on the journey down your yellow brick road of life.

Now, this is the backstory for my request that you jot down your mentors. Several months ago, a former colleague of mine reconnected with me after not having any contact with each other for the past four decades. One of the things I like about this gal is that we both think outside the box. I have never known anyone like her. She can complete sentences that I start. Obviously, we are on the same wavelength.

A part of this can be attributed to both of us having danced with death. Additionally, she has gone down the tunnel. She will be visiting me next month, and I will interview her about both her experiences for my web page. What an opportunity for me and my readers.

In more than half of the essays in the last several months, I have mentioned her or used ideas about which she got me to ponder. A couple months ago, I got a gift from her, A Music Lover’s Diary, which is a diary with famous one-liners about music written by famous people. The first one that captured my imagination, about which I wrote an article, was from Friedrich Nietzsche. “Without music, life would be a mistake…I would only believe in a God who knew how to dance.”


That essay got the two of us discussing Nietzsche and me writing more than a handful of articles about him. In one telephone conversation, she mentioned Richard Wagner’s relationship with Nietzsche, which created a controversy. I was not aware of that historical fact. I knew that Arthur Schopenhauer and Nietzsche had connected, but I missed the one with Wagner.

My friend is eager to supply me with material for my webpage, since I didn’t know anything about the Wagner link, a week later, I got the details from her. In preparation for her findings, I googled “Nietzsche and Wagner controversy.” Google informed me that there were nearly a half million sites addressing their problems. I had totally missed it, but my friend hadn’t. What follows is a morphing of her and my research.

Wagner and Nietzsche met in Leipzig in 1868. Wagner was in his mid-fifties and considered one of the greatest classical composers of all time. On the other hand, Nietzsche was in his mid-twenties and a professor at the University of Basel. Nietzsche jumped at the opportunity of meeting the great Wagner. In fact, he wanted to buy a new suit for the dinner party to which he was invited.

At Wagner’s dinner party, Nietzsche was overwhelmed with Wagner. I can approximate his excitement. I’d feel the same way if I were invited to a dinner party hosted by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Barack Obama, Clarence Page, or Rod Stewart. Apparently, I am looking for a dinner with them all.

Interestingly, Wagner was also impressed with Nietzsche. That dinner party was the beginning of a great relationship…for a while. However, Wagner’s teaching his student Nietzsche started to wane over the next decade. The problems that Nietzsche had with Wagner grew into a long list of issues. The great composer liked being great and having his fans dote over him. Nietzsche began his relationship with Wagner as a doting student. Seeing others doing what he did with Wagner surely rattled him. Also, there was Wagner’s “Christianity,” which had antisemitism connected to it. Additionally, Nietzsche thought that Wagner had intellectually betrayed nihilism.

Nietzsche and Wagner

Nietzsche wrote that he was repulsed with “all that is feminism and undisciplined rhapsody in that romanticism, that idealistic lying, that softening of the human consciences” that Wagner demonstrated. If that wasn’t clear enough to all, Nietzsche added that Wagner was a charlatan who possessed “fleshless love, and the fool in Christ.” On the other hand, the teacher, Wagner, did not relish one of his students dissing him and expressed his disfavor with Nietzsche. Thus, ended a short-lived relationship between Wagner and Nietzsche.

Additionally, Wagner’s soon to be second wife, Cosima, met Nietzsche only a couple of years before Cosima and Wagner married. Nietzsche and Cosima were enamored with each other regardless that she was going to marry Wagner. It was clear the both saw value in the other. Cosima was married to Wagner during Nietzsche and Cosima’s period of infatuation with each other.

Cosima Liszt Wagner

In my research, I didn’t find anyone who mentioned that their feelings went any further than mere thoughts about each other. When my friend and former colleague reads this essay, she will due diligence and send me the sources that she will find indicating that they became more involved than just two friends.

So, Nietzsche’s relationship with Wagner, as his mentor, didn’t last long. It seems to me that this can often parallel some of our mentors in our lives. We are less than perfect and so are all our mentors. That is a given; however, in this less than perfect world, we need to be careful about picking our mentors in life. Before picking mentors, look carefully about the road they are on and why they picked that road. Nietzsche realized that his mentor had “feet of clay.” Wagner wasn’t divine. Nietzsche realized that Wagner was not on the road that he wished to be on and deleted him from his list of mentors.

Take an honest look at your list of mentors. Double-check your choices. Your success in life is based upon choosing wisely.