Wednesday, 21 July 2010

striving to understand

I already read Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson quickly for pleasure, and am rereading it, and sharing my favourite tea-related things here as I come to them. On page 150, he finally explains the main idea of the book, which I've repeated here many times. While drinking three simple cups of tea, the people sitting across from one another go from being strangers to friends to family. Of course it's simplistic, and I don't think I can easily start seeing you as my blood just because we've had several cups of tea.

But the context of his example is important. He brought enough money to build a school he'd promised, but was delayed because first a bridge had to be built. Then when the bridge had been built, he became obsessed to have the school built as rapidly as possible. He was demanding and pushy with the locals as he ordered the people he was working with to do this and that.

Haji Ali, the village elder and Mortenson's mentor, pulled him aside and insisted that he sit down in order to share some tea. The old man explained to him that his way of accomplishing things didn't fit in this context. Here's how Mortenson explains what he was told in this passage:

Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.

There's part of me that just wants to reject this outright. What if he was an expert in construction? He wasn't. What if he really had better ideas and they were being lazy? Well so what? I've worked with bossy people. It can be a nightmare. It's almost worse when they're right.

Here I am tonight drinking my Sencha Dong-Bai and continuing to pick apart this book. My biggest problem with reading this sort of book, which I'd call inspirational of a sort, is that then I put the book down and cannot imagine how I could ever do such a courageous thing. But this idea about building relationships is something I can imagine myself doing.

Pouring tea and trying to understand the other people more than to make sure I'm understood. That's certainly something I can strive for. Often, I'm looking for something more complicated. Something mind-blowing. The simpler the better, eh? Yeah-I can see that.


  1. Sometimes, the three cups of tea can be virtual, my friend.

  2. Other cultures, other people, other ways of working.

    The three cups are also a metaphor.