Much is being written about the Greg Mortensen Three Cups of Tea scandal. As my initial shock and reaction wear off, some personal observations.
The situation in Afghanistan is a nightmare. The Graveyard of Empires, both for the British in the 19th Century, and the Russians in the 20th. Now we Americans are there.
Pakistan is unraveling, with fundamentalism on the rise, poverty and corruption rampant, armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, and at saber’s edge with it’s neighbor, India.
Nightly ceremony, Wagah, India-Pak border.
Faced with seemingly insoluble problems, in a world where earthquakes and tsunamis swath through nations, it is understandable that we look for symbols of hope. To me and many others, Mortensen symbolized what one person, everyman, could do if he worked hard enough, was selfless enough.
A comforting myth, as it turns out, yet a powerful one.
The allegations are serious. Fabricating his seed story. Misappropriation of funds, which I believe is even more serious, but seems to be getting less attention.
Worse, Mortensen’s cause was meaningful and spoke to our highest aspirations.
Hero worship is a projection of our own psyche’s need to feel safe and protected. To find tidy answers to difficult problems.
We once made heros of the Afghan Mujahedin, until they became dissolute warlords.
Visiting NW Pakistan and the Hindu Kush, I lived the romance of an area steeped in history, the Wild West of the British Raj, where 100 years ago, the Great Game played out between the Russian and British Empires to control the riches of the Silk Road.
The Roof of the World, where the Hindu Kush, the Hindu Raj, the Pamir, the Karakoram, and the Himalaya meet in unspeakable grandeur. The inspiration for Shangi-La, the setting for The Man Who Would Be King.
I experienced the seduction.
In Central Asia, hubris has destroyed many men.
I want to believe that Mortensen was in over his head, and lacked the ability to manage a successful and growing non-profit. I want to believe he began with his heart in the right place, then took a wrong step down a dangerous slope. That he became enchanted by the powerful lore of Central Asia and lost his center. I want to find compassion for the man and his family, while not excusing his alleged behavior.
I have learned I was romantic and naive in my hero worship. I have learned some things I did not know before about developmental aide. I have been reminded there are no miracles, no quick and easy solutions. That real answers must come from within ourselves.
Marianne Elliott, of ZenPeacekeeper, wrote a thoughtful and nuanced post about the Mortensen situation yesterday. I recommend her perspective.
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