When you encounter someone who can tell a good story, you quickly get sucked into his orbit. When I first read “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson, I was sold completely on the great things he related doing in central Asia, bringing education to children who would otherwise languish in ignorance and poverty. The man can really tell a great story.
Then, I read “Three Cups of Deceit” by Jon Krakauer, and I came up for air. Krakauer claims in his book that he too was moved by Mortenson’s tales; so much so in fact that he donated to Mortensen’s Central Asia Institute. The problem, according to Krakauer, is that Mortenson’s tales were just that, and mostly tall ones. His accounts of using the millions of dollars, donated mostly by individuals, to build schools in remote areas, schools that are educating hundreds of Afghan children, are, Krakauer says, mostly fabrications, or highly embroidered versions of reality.
His story that he was kidnapped and held for several days, for instance, was totally made up, the author says.
Now, this leaves me in a quandary. Clearly, many people admire Mortenson for what he has done, and are willing to overlook some of his over exaggerated claims. Some are even willing to forgive the poor financial management of his Central Asia Institute, and accuse Krakauer of being merely a destroyer of other writer’s reputations who hasn’t substantiated his allegations. On the other hand, there are others who find the allegations credible, and who are extremely concerned with any non-profit organization that doesn’t perform in a completely transparent manner.
I don’t know who to believe. In my career I’ve seen too many highly motivated NGO workers who are willing to skirt the truth to press their cause; who fabricate stories in the belief that their cause is so important it justifies such behavior. I’ve also seen people who will write anything that they think will sell, and who make a living trashing other people; pulling the angels from the pedestal. So, for now, I’ll just decide to not decide. Maybe one of them is right; maybe both of them are wrong.
I do know, that henceforth, I’ll be less likely to be suckered by a well-written sob story, and ask for documentary evidence instead.