Shades of gray / by Eric Dacus

In general, we like our heroes and their struggles to be black & white, good vs. evil, etc. We want them to do good because they are good, but what happens when reality comes crashing and it turns out that there’s the possibility that the hero is also a liar and a thief? Does the good they do get outweighed by the bad? How much bad would you tolerate in the mix if the end result was good?

That’s more or less the ethical problem at the root of the Three Cups of Tea/Three Cups of Deceit controversy that brewed up yesterday. In one hand you have Greg Mortenson’s story, books and charity to build schools in Pakistan & Afghanistan and the proof that soft power and relationships can heal some of the cultural wounds caused by a decade of war in that part of the world. In the other hand you have Jon Krakauer, who donated a tidy sum of his own money to the charity, calling out Greg for fabricating large parts of his story, for unduly profiting from the charity, and for mis-handling the building of the schools. 

How much would it be worth to heal a war-torn corner of the earth and bring some, even small, amount of reconciliation? Or how much is it worth to educate children in a place where that education could save their life and livelihood? If a movement to build schools and bring education to such a place was started by a liar, does it matter? Maybe it does. The use of large amounds non-profit funds for personal use seems harder to forgive, especially since the people being helped have so little.

I’ve never met either of these men, been to Pakistan or Afghanistan, and I’m not going to pass any sort of judgement on the situation, its sad no matter the outcome. Even if Krakauer is completely wrong, a large number of people will probably become cynical about another non-profit mishandling funds to help the third-world, and all this and could hurt some of the help than can be done. And if Mortenson is indeed a liar and profits off his charity, hopefully what comes to him as a result doesn’t undue the movement and charity that’s building up a region instead of bombing it. 

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