I remember we had a deep discussion in the 8th grade about lying and we debated whether or not there are times when lying is ok. We came to the conclusion that if we were living in Hitler’s Germany and we were hiding our Jewish neighbors, it would be ok to lie if the Nazi soldiers ever came knocking on our door to ask of their whereabouts. This was the only scenario I could remember from our talk that day.
If the good outweighs the bad by a God-sized margin, I’m all for lying; especially if it means that I can save a life.
I wonder if this is what Greg Mortenson’s logic was as he wrote Three Cups of Tea, a New York Times best seller that is now under fire for allegations of falsehood. The controversy about the validity of many of his accounts, including an alleged kidnapping by the Taliban, has stirred a world-wide outrage by all who have read and felt their lives changed by this book.
Mortenson sold over 3 millions copies of the book in 47 different languages worldwide. To say that this book is pretty influential would be like saying Brad Pitt is just ok-looking. This book is a world-wide sensation and Brad Pitt makes it acceptable for heterosexual men to justify their strange feelings with the phrase “man-crush.”
I have not read the book but fortunately, many anecdotes from this book have been shared in our staff meetings by my friend this past month as a way to inspire and move our leadership. Personally, the timing of this scandal couldn’t be more coincidental and peculiar!
As I ponder the ramifications of this controversy, I have developed my own set of FAQs that I consider my Three Cups of B.S:
1. So he lied (allegedly). What’s the big deal? Authors, journalists, and reporters do this all the time!
I’ve honestly thought this. What really is the big deal? I guess the answers are somewhat obvious. If this was an obscure book on the dusty shelves of a dollar bookstore, nobody would care. The fact that over 3 million people purchased and read this book (along with countless other cheapskates who borrowed their friends’ copies) makes this a lie that is hard to swallow and make go-away. The more people buy into your words and leadership, the greater your need for accountability. Let’s take a line from Spiderman and satisfy my point: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
2. Can’t we just start over and call this a work of Fiction? Re-organize this book’s placement on the Dewey Decimal System? It’s still a good book.
That’s what makes this controversy so difficult. So much of what he’s written seems to be true. . . and if it is not, it has to be true now. Or does it? Through the words and accounts in this book, millions were inspired and felt compelled to give to Mortenson’s non-profit. Much-needed schools were built in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a result of the money that was raised. I wonder: if this much good has been done for a group of people that the world had previously chosen to ignore, how could this scenario possibly be bad? The book accomplished its mission did it not? Read on to the next question.
3. What is this REALLY about?
Money. Plain and simple, this is an issue of money. According to the CNN report, in 2009 Mortenson’s organization only used 41% of the $14 million that was raised to actually build and fund the schools. The disbursement of the rest of the funds seems a little dubious. One would also have to wonder if his books would have sold the number it did if it was a work of fiction.
If this was a controversy about just a few inaccurate stories and details in the book, I’m personally “ok” with it. Not to say that I don’t believe in honesty and integrity in all works of art! I believe that Mortenson’s book accomplished more good than bad–that people were inspired to examine and change their own lifestyles while broadening their scope of the global need is nothing short of a miracle!
I truly believe that Mortenson’s motives were/are good. He discovered a need and he found a way to creatively fill it, using the only thing he had of worth in this regard: his stories from the ground.
Along the way, if the fund-raising became a little too successful for Mortenson to handle and the transparency and integrity in how all of the money was being spent became a lesser priority, this is unfortunate.
That being said, this is a lesson in honesty and openness, a possible debate on how lies have the potential to perform good (and if this is ultimately “ok”), and a possible example of how money corrupts. I say possible because Greg Mortenson is still innocent until proven guilty. We have to give him that much.
Whether this is relevant for our discussion now or not, I want to say for the record: if I was housing a family of Jews in my home as they run from the Nazis, I would lie my butt off to protect this family. In fact, I would do more. Is this how desperately Greg felt the need to assist these families in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Who knows . . .