This morning I observed one of the student advisory groups hotly debating something but I was busy and zoned out. I remember thinking that I rarely hear them in such lively discussion. Later their advisor asked me what I thought about what the kids had been talking about.
I admitted I didn’t know their topic and she said, “The Greg Mortenson expose.” I had heard on NPR that stories about building schools in “Three Cups of Tea,” and “Stones for Schools,” were being questioned, but I didn’t know the details. She told me that journalist and author Jon Krakauer had run an expose piece of Mortenson’s accounts of building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan on 60 Minutes; she said the students were very upset to find out that perhaps Mortenson’s stories were not true, or greatly exaggerated.
Then the advisor handed me a copy of the May 2, 2011 Newsweek article from The Daily Beast called, “Shattered Faith,” and I felt so confused. “No way,” I kept saying to myself as I read it. Kind of like I was a little kid and my mom or dad had told me one of my uncles was a bad man. Even the practices of his non-profit Central Asian Institute were called into question.
Big sigh! Mortenson is internationally famous for his humanitarian work; he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, for heaven's sake. His first book was my school’s (and countless other schools and libraries) One Book for 2010. He spoke to our student body last year and is a very successful fund-raiser; his role model was Mother Theresa. His book is required reading for our troops going into Afghanistan.
Like the author of Newsweek’s article, I WANT to believe in Greg Mortenson, even though I admit that I did query myself about certain stories when I read "Three Cups of Tea." Creative, gifted people sometimes are not perfect, but please don’t let this expose be true. I’m one of the people in this world that longs to have a hero; there are so few these days. The jaded and cynical 73-year-old me whispers, “You always were so gullible. We didn’t call you Pollyanna for nothing.”
If you haven't been following this story, a Google search will bring you countless hits about the expose, but this link from the Daily Beast was also interesting to me.
If you are familiar with Greg Mortenson’s work and the controversy now swirling around him, I’d be curious to hear how you are reacting. He apparently is having a heart procedure and though he has replied to questions raised by 60 Minutes, he isn't speaking out right now. Is it possible that he did do a lot of good, just not as much as he reported he had? I wish I were in one of my old college philosophy classes and we were debating this for situation ethics.