Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

Part of my reaction to this book made me very sad. I'm not talking about the extreme poverty that exists in the world, though that does make me sad, and I'm not talking about the downs of Greg Mortenson's life, though those are significant also. I'm talking about the cynicism with which I responded to much of the story, and to Greg's own earnestness. Here is a man so dedicated to making a small patch of the world better that he sacrificed everything, and who went to great lengths to repay a debt without a creditor, and my reaction was "oh LAH TI DAH." That's pretty sad, particularly for someone who has said several times that people should worry about changing their own small part of the world and not worrying about saving the world entire. Greg Mortenson's quest to provide schools for the poor children of Pakistan is remarkable and a wonderful example of the potential efficiency of private charitable works.

All that being said, there was a certain disingenuousness to the presentation of Greg's story. He really accomplished some remarkable things, but the story was told with a certain "wow, look at this guy from absolutely nothing who managed to build all these schools" vibe that really grated on my nerves. Greg Mortenson made a lot of sacrifices to accomplish what he did...and that is plenty on its own. It is not necessary for Greg to be a penniless child of the gutters for the story to be compelling. Greg could have made great money as a doctor, and he had the money to attempt to climb K2. That's not insignificant and in fact I think it makes his sacrifice all the more impressive. Greg chose to live out of his car and forego all the options he did have in the name of helping people a world away. Not many people would do that, and to act like he didn't have those options shortchanges the magnitude of his giving spirit.

It bears mentioning that this is the first book on tape/CD I have listened to in years, and it was FABULOUS. My Uncle Todd gave it to me for graduation and I listened to it on my way to and from work. The last book on tape I listened to was actually a book on tape called Thornyhold that involved witches and carrier pigeons (?????). I took that bad boy out of the Worcester Public Library (holla!) about ninety seven zillion times when I was in middle school. My car has a five CD changer, so I could throw in five CDs and just let them run through. Of the many things I miss about living in DC, one of the stronger longings is for something I never thought I'd miss - my commute. When I was commuting on Metro or on the bus, I could always read or do crossword puzzles. I currently have a commute that's about the same length but is via car. Up until now, that meant I couldn't read, but now I'm definitely renewing my library card and taking out books on CD or downloading them onto my iPod. I'm really glad I rediscovered the medium!

All in all, a great book and a compelling story. It's a good one to hear post-September-11th particularly, because it emphasizes the basic reality that people don't like to fight for the sake of fighting. I don't think that the "you catch more flies with honey" approach is always the best, but it almost always helps, and this story is a fine example thereof.

1 comment:

  1. I think that the presentation of Three Cups of Tea was a bit problematic at time, but all in all I thought it was very much a worthwhile read. I can see, though, how your description of the writing in your second paragraph--I'm too lazy to quote--makes certain parts of the book more apropos to the "for kids" format. (Yes, that exists. Also a 'young reader' version. I find this latter version annoying.)