It’s a book many people have told me I should read. I bought it some time ago and started it, but I didn’t get very far.
I asked a few friends if they had read it. I was surprised at how many said, “Well, yeah, I started it…”
Then the Kansas City Star Book Club called a couple of months ago to invite me to be a participant in their next discussion. The book? Three Cups of Tea. So I picked it up again.
This wildly popular New York Times best seller is not particularly well written. The metaphors are tired and uninspired. Events that could have, in someone else’s hands, translated into a gripping and compelling read often collapse into bland, contrived, predictable and self-serving verbiage. Greg Mortenson, the climber turned humanitarian co-wrote the book with journalist David Relin. Mortenson is truly an inspiring man with a fascinating tale to tell and many powerful lessons to pass along. I just kept getting annoyed with and distracted by the writing style (or, should I say, lack thereof.)
But since I had promised to read the book for the Star book club, I forged ahead. I’m glad I did.
I learned a lot about what is possible in the world of global humanitarianism. Though what I am doing is far, FAR smaller in scale and can’t even compare to the magnitude of Mortenson’s contributions, I was able to relate to his joys and frustrations, setbacks and victories. To my surprise, I came away from the read feeling inspired to learn more about international aid and to push myself even further with my own organization, Change the Truth.
One of the most frequently asked (or implied) questions I get concerning the work I am doing in Uganda is this: “Why Africa? Why not your own backyard?” While I politely reply that I am indeed involved with community volunteer work here in the US, I have always struggled to find the words to explain why I feel it is also important to help attend to the needs of people in developing nations. In Three Cups of Tea, Sir Edmund Hillary’s response (in 1964) to a question about his humanitarian efforts in the world’s poorest and most remote places is mentioned, and it really resonated for me:
“Slowly, painfully, we are seeing worldwide acceptance of the fact that the wealthier and more technologically advanced countries have a responsibility to help the underdeveloped ones. Not only through a sense of charity, but also because only in this way can we ever hope to see any permanent peace and security for ourselves.”
Throughout the course of the book, Mortenson succeeds in gently and successfully explaining to his audience the logic behind Hillary’s statement. In doing so, he inspired this particular reader to continue her work and to push ahead with even more determination and vigor.
In his dogged quest to build schools, especially for girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mortenson has changed tens of thousands of lives for the better. He has endured a kidnapping, a fatwa, death threats, hate mail and an endless array of unbelievable obstacles that would have sent most of us home crying. He’s a rock star among humanitarians.
The book club discussion was a real treat. I was honored to sit with a distinguished panel of people who are truly committed to repairing the world. Our conversation about Three Cups of Tea will be published in this Saturday’s Kansas City Star.