Monday, April 18, 2011

Some tea, some stones, some schools, oh who can remember the details, anyway?

I was deeply fascinated and disappointed by the report on Greg Mortenson's non-profit agency, which supposedly builds schools in Afhganistan and Pakistan. Investigative reporting by 60 minutes revealed inconsistencies with stories integral to Mortenson's credibility. Additionally, there appears to be either questionable or unethical accounting practices related to Mortenson's non-profit agency, his career as an author and public speaker, and his personal expenses.

One of the most interesting things I read about this ordeal is the blind eye turned towards the facts reported by 60 minutes by those in the inner circle of the non-profit world. I'm not sure if anyone has used this phrase yet, but it seems Mortenson was "too big to fail" as far as celebrity philanthropists go. Except instead of being too large economically, like big banks on Wall-Street, his mission carried too large and powerful of a message. It's not that no-one knew Mortenson embellished his non-profit work and lined his pockets; the problem was that the cost-benefit analysis determined that the world was a better place thinking of Mortenson as a philanthropic icon.

Maybe more revealing than an idolization of Mortenson, we idolized the power inherent in a good person with a good idea doing a good deed. It seems to me we live in"good Friday" world that longs for an "Easter message" (I'm paraphrasing Anne Lamott who paraphrased someone else). The challenges of Afghanistan and Pakistan are great and it seems the experts have few viable solutions. As a people, we latch onto the idea that someone has innovative solutions to complex problems. We can't help ourselves. We want hope. It's not sad that Mortenson is imperfect. It's unrealistic to think he should be. But it will be sad if we lose hope that good people exist and every day millions do good deeds. It will be sad if we choose another idol to elevate -- because these idols always fall. It's simply the human condition that we'll fall, every imperfect one of us will, at one point or another. Instead of elevating a person, we must elevate a mission (a world without war, hunger, catastrophic disease, oppression) that eclipses any person or institution.

In what mission do you place your faith?

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