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Needed: 3 cups of compassion

Needed: 3 cups of compassion

The Rev. Frank Logue reflects on the recent news about Greg Mortenson and proposes that we need, “Three Cups of Compassion,” as we respond:

Three Cups of Compassion

By the Rev. Frank Logue, in Episcopal News Service

With the first cup of tea, you are a stranger. With the second cup of tea, you are an honored guest. With the third cup of tea, you become family. This Balti proverb lends Greg Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea, its name. But with a class action lawsuit filed against him in early May following investigations by writer John Krakauer and 60 Minutes, what is needed now is three cups of compassion.

The first cup of compassion is for Mortenson who has admitted that some of his 2006 book compressed several visits into one and otherwise simplified a complicated story for his readers. The recently hailed humanitarian has been eviscerated by one-time supporter John Krakauer whose diatribe Three Cups of Deceit leapt to the top of the Kindle Bestseller list soon after it was posted online on April 18. Both Krakauer and 60 Minutes aim serious accusations at Mortenson concerning the financial dealings of the Central Asia Institute (CAI). They also pick at some facts in the book, including whether Mortenson was abducted by the Taliban. These concerns are not trivial. However, no one has impugned the central fact that a mountain climber became a school builder. None of what has been revealed changes the certainty that Mortenson’s book gave millions of people hope that education, particularly the education of girls, could build a better, more peaceful, future for all of us. He may have proved to have feet of clay, but that need not topple the central message he shared in his writing and public speaking. The first cup of compassion is for a man who arrived a stranger in Pakistan, and no matter what else has happened, left behind both schools in the mountains and hope in human hearts.


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Mary Caulfield

For all of us who are interested in development, Mortenson’s story needs to be a cautionary tale. There is a great deal that has yet to come to light about how something that began with great intentions fell short of what it could have been. In particular, it’s important to understand the temptations to “colorize” the story being told and to take our own publicity too seriously. I don’t claim to understand what happened, but I hope that examining the story helps us understand the complexities of crossing cultures, the need to show results to Western funders, and the temptations that arise when dealing with large amounts of other people’s money with very little oversight.


It is true that Mortensen didn’t provide teachers – something which is clear in his book – but buildings were a good first step and, unless his book is entirely misleading, teachers were recruited.

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Yes, compassion, but also learning. One of the more important criticisms of Greg Mortensen is that he left behind school buildings, but there are no teachers, no books, no classes–in fact nothing that makes a school a school. Please take a look at the invaluable Good Intentions are Not Enough blog for a round-up of various aid bloggers’ thoughts.

Laura Toepfer

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