humanity - depravity or frailty?

Two degrees ago I started blogging - as a place to throw half-formed emotional musings I wasn't sure how to process otherwise. Putting things out into a world where you're dying to know you're not crazy, but don't trust the people you know in real life to come to that conclusion. I try not to do that anymore. But right now, this is how it is.

Because of the odd mix of devastation,betrayal,suspicion, hope, sympathy, and fear swirling around my head and heart thanks to Greg Mortenson. Or- more accurately, the media storm around Greg Mortenson.

Monday AM I logged into Facebook to see Nick Kristof linking to a NYTimes piece. And then there was CBS, and finally, offering some faint hope for redemption, Outsider Online.

And maybe it's just a mark of how young I am that I've never been devastated by a public figure before...I was a middleschooler who was raised to despise the Clintons, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammie Faye Bakker were well before my time also. But one of my clan. He's an MK, and was a nurse. Three Cups of Tea isn't just a book about him, it's a book about me. What drew me to the book wasn't so much the story as it was the goal- to change society by empowering and educating women. And I was pulled in by his humanity- how Mortenson freely admitted his failures and struggles, and the toll this work took, the damage it did to his health (mental and physical) and his family.This confession of frailty was married to a fierce belief that the dream Mortenson had taken on was worth the sacrifices and struggles.

I copied a sentence into my journal in July 2008: "Together, the two began the kind of conversation that flows seamlessly, unstoppably, each fork begetting another branch of common interest, a conversation that continues until this day." It's a description of Mortenson's first interaction with his wife, and for me, was one of those thoughts that made me pause and say "If I ever choose to be partnered with another human being again, this is what it's going to have to be like" (Nearly 3 years later, it's possibly the perfect description of myself and my fiance').

Memoir is a strange genre- it's somewhere between biography and fiction, and can't possibly be objectively true. (Much like research can't ever be unbiased, because there are people doing the research...we all bring our own prejudices and preconceptions to our work, be it science or storytelling). I'm okay with the events being "compressed" or some degree of literary license taken (however, this accusation that Mortenson claimed to be kidnapped by gracious hosts- that goes FAR beyond making the story easier to follow).

The far more serious aspect of this is Mortenson's alleged mismanagement of funds and misrepresentation of the work of his charity- the possibility (probability?) that the man got too caught up in his own celebrity status to actually see and serve the people he was supposed to be helping. That in spite of his early devotion and enthusiasm he became materialistic and self-serving, narcissistic, dishonest. Because if Mortenson isn't who he claimed to be, who he thought he was, who he once was...what does that mean for who I am?

If Greg Mortenson, through stress, selfishness, mental illness, workaholism, poor judgement, (whatever mechanism you want to propose) did this great damage to himself, his family, and the cause he was working for - what does that mean for me? Does the "mechanism" even really matter? Regardless of the truth of this matter, Mortenson's reputation is going to be deeply damaged, and this is going to have a devastating impact on charitable giving and people's interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What am I capable of, and will I someday sabotage (deliberately or not) everything I'm working for right now? What if the real lesson of the story is that there are no heros, and no one ever wins?

A dear grad school friend and colleague who's religious background is similar enough to mine (rather conservative religiously/liberal socially Church of Latter Day Saints), with my same research interests and ethics is having some of these same issues right now. We were musing on these a bit during class yesterday evening, and instead of offering anything helpful, the professor tried to take another hero (Nicholas Kristof) away (while simultaneously stating the importance of having these heroes and role models).

Part of me wants to shake this off, and say it doesn't matter so much in the big scheme of usual response to questions, challenges, melancholy brooding. But this is's wondering whether human beings are EVER capable of doing more good than harm. Because from where I'm sitting right now, I can't see a single person or institution who is NOT open to the charge that the inadvertent (or deliberate) damage they are doing to society/individual people is far greater than any good they may be doing.


Emily said…
Oh friend. This is hard. I'm so sorry. For some reason this makes me think of Flannery O'Connor's story "The Lame Shall Enter First." It absolutely knocked the wind out of me... I saw myself in it... and not the self I wanted to see. I also think of Romans 12: "I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement..."

My pastor says that thinking about ourselves with sober judgement means not thinking of ourselves too "lowly" either. Not to high, not too low--that is humility, I think, knowing my place. And I'm just one of God's little creatures in God's world, both good and bad, like all the other people. It's when I start thinking that I'm great (greatly bad or greatly good, it doesn't really matter which, I've thought both) that big problems begin.

And that's not to say that we shouldn't try to change the world. Just that... my hope for changing the world absolutely cannot be in myself (my goodness, sensitivity, intellect, talent, whatever) because I will undoubtedly only screw things up.

And I don't think you're crazy :)

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