Having been immersed now for many years in a culture that thrives on the 30-second sound bite and the 30-minute power lunches, last evening I had a very meaningful reminder that we can't cut and paste relationships.
I attended an event of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia where I learned about the story behind Three Cups of Tea (now available in Italian: Tre Tazze di Te') from Greg Mortenson himself. Mortenson is the founder and Executive Director on nonprofit Central Asia Institute.
Since a 1993 climb on Pakistan's K2, he has dedicated his life to promoting community-based education and literacy in remote mountains and regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is also the founder of Pennies for Peace, an organization that educates American children about the world beyond their experience and shows them that they can make a positive impact on a global scale, one penny at a time.
Mortenson grew up on the slopes on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania where his father established a hospital and his mother founded an international school. He served as a medic in the US Army in Germany during the Cold War, where he received the Army Commendation Medal, and later graduated from the University of South Dakota. As a global citizen, he always viewed the world as a global community.
Not so, this hero to rural communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he gained the trust of Islamic leaders, elders, commanders and tribal chiefs for his tireless effort to champion education, especially for girls, was teased and mocked in school for thinking that way.
In 1996, Mortenson survived an 8-day armed kidnapping in the tribal areas of Pakistan; he was released after he requested to learn about Islam from his captors. He escaped a 2003 firefight by feuding Afghan warlords by hiding in a truck under putrid animal hides going to a leather-tanning factory. He also received two fatwehs from Islamic clerics for his efforts to educate females then rescinded by the Shariat Islamic Court and hate mail with death threats from fellow Americans after 9/11 for his efforts to help educate Muslim children.
What have I learned from his story?
- The world should be a global community - if children can raise money for other children, we can too. It takes time, it can be done.
- When working in another culture, it's best to provide the resources and then sit down, shut up and let them build it. Let the local community provide the sweat equity, that's the best way for the school to succeed.
- Storytelling is embedded in the community - we've lost the value that came from grandparents telling the children stories.
- If you educate a girl, you educate a community - girls become mothers who in turn influence the education of their children.
- The West is used to strategic planning and it's tempting to apply that kind of thinking to indigenous societies, which are more intuition-based.
And now the meaning of the book's title: the first cup is for a guest, the second cup for a friend, and the third cup for family. The subtitle for the hard cover edition, created by the marketing folks, was "one man's mission to fight terrorism and build a nation... one school at the time." Mortenson did not like that, but was outvoted. This past Christmas he received a gift from his publisher, a new subtitle for the paperback edition. It reads "one man's mission to promote peace... one school at the time."
I agree with Mortenson, it's much more powerful to champion something positive, than it is to fight something negative. As he received a gift presented at the end of our conversation, he stood patient, reverent, almost helpful and definitely respectful.
During the conversation before the event, fellow attendee and music teacher Ruth told me: "the name of your bank changes as you're opening the mail" these days. What can never change is our ability to reach out for each other: pour the first cup to a guest, the second to the now friend, and the third to family. It's worth taking the time to invite and be invited back -- relationships are not cut and paste.