In the early 1990′s, Greg Mortenson failed in his attempt to climb K2, considered the most menacing and difficult mountain on the planet. As he stumbled back into civilization, he lost the trail and ended up in a poor and remote Pakistani village. Here, residents fought for survival, cut off from Pakistani government aid, under the menacing glare of some of the world’s tallest peaks. Mortenson watched as a group of children struggled to attend school. In a field near their village, they scrawled in the dirt with sticks.
Growing up in a religious home, I have listened to countless sermons. Almost all of them argue a main point, supported by various minor arguments, and end with some application, some way that I should change my life. Rarely do their ideas stick with me beyond lunch that day, and I’ve found myself wondering before: now what was that second point? Why should I change what I’m doing?
Beyond the power of a well-constructed syllogism is the power of a story. For one, the story doesn’t fall apart if minor details are left out; an argument does. More than this, stories engage our senses. They open the door to our imagination, maybe not so much letting us access it as letting it access us. Stories let our imagination rush like the wind and take us to unforeseen and unexpected places. They don’t push or prod. They let us say to ourselves: imagine if this was you. Because it could be.
Greg Mortenson decided to build a school for Korphe, the village into which he stumbled as he tried to wander back to civilization. In the process, his girlfriend dumped him, he spent many nights in his car, he lost his job. But, he went on to found the Central Asia Institute and build 55 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The ultimate power of Three Cups of Tea lies in its simplicity. It is not a treatise or manifesto or argument. It is a story. It is a story about a man who decided to make a difference in the world that he saw.
More than this, it is a story about us. As it portrays the unassuming roots of Mortenson, it begs the question: what about you? What can you do? What do you want your life to be about? Where are you going? It asks these questions, because it tells the story of another man who asked these questions, and the spectacular answers that he found.