The media loveLOVES a good “falling from grace” story. The cure for cancer could have been discovered, Communism could crumble, nuclear weapons could be wiped away from the planet for good…none of that would matter if a once-hero from America was caught doing something horrendously human.
I do believe that when in the public eye, especially when touting humanitarian efforts, you have somewhat of a duty to live up to a high ethical standard. I think you have that duty anyway, whether in the public eye or not, actually. Perhaps I just think that those in the public eye are just not so tremendously bright to think that either a) they’re above those silly little rules that we like to call “morals” or “values” or 2) they’re just so incredibly sly and witty, there isn’t a chance they’re going to get caught.
I remember sitting around an enormous walnut table in the dining room of a grandiose house on East Bay a number of years ago. I don’t remember who exactly was there, it was a book group made up of moms from school, and it was one of the last I attended, for whatever reason. We were eating Sweet Potato Chili, which has since turned into a wintertime staple around here. Amazingly delicious, especially for something that is so good for you. And we were discussing “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson.
If you don’t know about the book, Google it. I’m not even going to bother with a link for you. And then start visiting the library more often.
About a year and a half ago, the media was FILLED with allegations that Greg Mortenson had “made up” some of the events in his book in order to boost sales. And then, beyond that, he was accused of mishandling the funds raised for schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the tune of about one million bucks, spending that money on his own personal stuff instead.
The media went wild. “60 Minutes” had an expose, Jon Krakauer published an online article “outing” the guy he once supported. Morning news reports were filled with endless bashings of the man who had built his non-profit organization, literally, from pennies.
I remember being disappointed when I’d heard of his shortcomings. I remember dwelling on it for quite some time. My daughter was astonished and completely irate that her class was going to finish reading the book despite the news that had come out.
But as I chop up the red pepper and onion to throw into the boiling sweet potato deliciousness, I also remember the conversation I’d had at that enormous walnut dining table years ago. Someone had snickered at the fact that Mortenson had attempted climbing K2, and that he never made it. I remember glancing up and looking across the table, kind of disgusted. I remember saying “You’re sitting in this cozy room having a deliciously hot meal and making snide comments…but what happened when YOU tried climbing K2?” The whole room was quiet at that point, and the answer quickly shot back, “Well, I haven’t tried climbing ANY mountain.”
“Exactly. That’s exactly my point. Thank you,” was my response to her, and she may still be pondering that interaction to this day.
The media was MUCH quieter this past spring, a year after the story broke, when a federal judge threw the lawsuit out of court, saying that the idea that Mortenson lied in his books was “flimsy and speculative at best.” It just didn’t make for quite the same sensational story. Not nearly as much fun to report. It is true that Mortenson is no longer the executive director for the group that he founded, the Central Asia Institute, and maybe that is from mishandling the funds, who knows? Maybe it’s because of the surgery he underwent for an aneurysm in 2011. But he’s still a part of the company, he’s still advocating worldwide for the importance of literacy and education for women and girls.
He has still helped to build over 130 schools that have educated over 50,000 girls and women in a tremendously oppressive part of the world. And last I counted, that was….over 130 more than I’ve built.
I’m sure Greg Mortenson has faults, I’m sure he made mistakes. But instead of wasting time sitting around and criticizing him, instead it would perhaps be a better choice to think about all of the good he’s provided and try to expand upon things from there.
Remember: Positive breeds positive.
Sweet Potato Chili with 3 Cups of Tea
throw all of this stuff into one big stock pot:
1 T olive oil
1 medium onion (chopped)
1 large red pepper (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 lb cooked boneless chicken breast (chopped)
1 (15 oz) can great northern beans (drained and rinsed)
1 cup chicken stock
2 1/2 cups cold water
2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (about 6 cups)
1/2 t crushed red chili flakes
1 t cumin
2 t chili powder
1 fresh jalapeno pepper (minced)
simmer it a while and then garnish with cilantro, tortilla chips, and/or minced scallions