Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Greg Mortenson in Garam Hamam

Soon after Greg Mortenson was put in a garam hamam by a 60-minutes CBS attack, Jon Krakeuer quickly followed with an 80-page PDF attack. In the hot tub, it appears as if Greg is struggling to find the faucet marked with the blue letter C.

To be honest, I am as bewildered about all this as anyone else. I couldn't bring myself to a conclusion about him, with all the good that I know about him and all the bad that I am reading about him. In the two attacks mentioned earlier, Greg is accused from two dimensions: 1. Fabrication and exaggeration of certain events. 2. Mishandling of funds (donations). Let's look at them one by one.

1. Fabrication and exaggeration: Greg probably thought that by making up or adding up certain events he could make Three Cups of Tea interesting, and considering how awfully Relin has written the book, it is safe to say that he was right. The nobility and drama of the story [and not the "catchy" writing of it] was the reason why it became an NYT Bestseller, and thus, a very important tool in inspiring people, who then donated magnanimously. The huge sums of donations were then used to build schools in more than just Baltistan. Had Greg been completely honest in his recounting of the actual events, it is likely that 3CT would have been less than an NYT Bestseller,  in that case, the book would have circulated less, and inspired fewer people. This raises a question though, Should one lie for a good cause? or, If you can lie and help needy people, without actually harming someone, should you? I think Greg's answer would be Yes. Greg's lies have arguably played an important role in touching people's hearts. At times, in 3CT he has made some people appear really nice, peaceful and loving; the people that they are. On other occasions, he has made some people appear simply spiteful; the people that may become. By creating the contrast between the two 'types' of people, and suggesting what can be done to prevent the former type from becoming the latter, Greg makes a point. May be Greg did not actually go through what he says, but, it is not something that cannot happen. You can absolutely be taken a guest for cups of tea in Baltistan, and you can be taken a hostage in North Waziristan on your bad day. What I think Greg's point was is that such things happen in this part of the world. Nice people exist here, who, if not given proper education, may become the not-so-nice type courtesy the extremists. If he had just told such-such things happen here, it wouldn't have had that-impact on the readers, and that-impact on readers was very important, so he lied, and made that-impact. His lies, didn't harm any, but helped many.

2. Mishandling of funds: This is where it starts to get confusing. My justification for his lies in 3CT kinda weakens here. If the figures Jon in his 80-page attack and CBS through their 60-minutes attack given are true, then it is likely that the extra donation raised because of the lies in his books is being wasted extravagantly on purposes other than the original one. It is also possible that the money spent extravagantly on Greg's personal may even be more than the contribution of the lies. In a way, his lies helped himself, regardless of what his initial intention was. After reading Jon's 80-page article, even an extremely optimistic person cannot help but believe that Greg is a terrible manager of finances and human resource. A number of staff members, board directors and field supervisors alike, have resigned from Central Asia Institute because of Greg's nonchalance, lack of trust, negligence towards communicating, and other key shortcomings an organizational chief shouldn't have. His team of managers in Pakistan primarily consists of people he acquainted on his climbing-related tour of the area. People he befriended during his early few years in the region became the project managers in the subsequent years. Ultimately, CAI in Pakistan was being run by either uneducated or insufficiently educated individuals with no experience in the field of education development. What I am sure of these managers and supervisors is that they considered themselves lucky to have jobs like that, and therefore, they didn't question/contradict/suggest Greg, instead, they duly obliged. This duly obedience and yes-sir sub-ordination kept Greg content, and in illusion that all-is-well. While these managers, inapt, at times did not take necessary measures that were required. This lead to some schools turning into ghost schools, as Jon refers to them  in his 80-page PDF attack. 

It must be awful to be Greg right now. With so many allegations, and a cardiovascular surgery coming up, I can hardly put myself in his shoes. I believe Greg's intentions were not ill, however, his management was flawed. I think Greg should come to the media, and tell people that his management style has failed, not his mission. He should apologize to his donors, to gain back the trust. He may also want to apologize to the people who he showed off as Taliban while in reality they had hosted him. He should then hire personnel with relevant expertise, limit himself to one job (speaking at fund raising events) and better master at one level than failing at many.

I want to make it clear that I am an admirer of Greg Mortenson and his mission, even after reading the 80-page anti-Greg article by Jon Krakeuer which may dent the trust of many on Greg. By writing this piece, I do not automatically imply that I find it truthful, I hope the  allegations are false. But if they are true, this is what I would think. 

Author: Sajid I. Barcha.


  1. Well, after reading the whole scenario - I couldn't agree less than what you have just stated above. It is shocking yet devastating for all those true admirer's of Greg Mortenson in either sense. But you have just opened a new frame for thinkers to look deep into this matter once again.

  2. Thank You TheBlueHawk. I always try to do that.