Saturday, October 23, 2010
"Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Musings: This book and Mortenson's continued work have received a lot of attention lately (there were two articles in the New York Times this week about him!), and rightfully so. Mortenson has shown that developing relationships with "hostile" countries is completely possible and that increasing education is one of the best ways to reduce the threat of terrorism from such places.
Three Cups of Tea is a quintessential story of the power of an individual, but the story does not end with the individual. Often I think of such enormous individual endeavors as doomed to failure; people may have a lot of passion, but that passion is too frequently combined with project-destroying naivete. Mortenson may have had some of that naivete going in, but he was able to accomplish was he has because, with the help of Pakistani friends, he was able to see that he was not the giant "savior" come to make life better for rural people. Instead, Mortenson's projects succeeded because he supplied what the Pakistanis themselves could not--money and initial organization--and allowed the local people to do the rest. His projects were dictated by what they needed, and, in the end, were products entirely of the local villages' work. At the heart of his work was a lack of egotism or selfishness and a dogged determinism to achieve what others did not think possible.
The stories told throughout Three Cups of Tea are often heart-wrenching, especially those that tell of the enormous sacrifices individuals and communities made to ensure that their children would have and be able to attend schools.
Such amazing work cannot come without some cost, and while the book's primary focus is on Mortenson's successes, there is some look into the effect on Mortenson personally. From leaving his family (a wife and two children) for months at a time, to lacking personal security or health, to traveling around the U.S. virtually begging for money to continue his work, it's clear that being a one-man machine of change is an enormous sacrifice.
In a time where policy makers are debating the best way to combat terrorism and enormous amounts of money are being directed to our military, Mortenson shows that with compassion and money directed to the right areas, we pave the way toward sustainable peace for generations to come.