Greg Mortensen’s fall from grace as a paragon of selfless service has been painful to those of us who read of his life-saving rescue by remote villagers in Pakistan, his subsequent return to build a school for the village, and his founding of the Central Asia Institute to build scores of school. A friend who countered my enthusiasm for Mortensen’s book with the comment, “It sounds contrived,” is now rubbing it in. But more troubling to me than the literary license taken in his books is the apparent mishandling of CAI funds. Hopefully, both Mortensen and the CAI can recover, reorganize, and continue the work in Asia.
Three months ago, the roshi (master teacher) of the Salt Lake Zen Center de-robed himself after confessing an extra-marital affair. Roshi’s Big Mind technique for meditation and self-discovery was a break-through for me—as well as for the hundreds of people who frequented his dharma-talks at the Zen Center. Without Roshi to draw crowds, the Center struggles for financial support.
Human nature tends to create superheroes –larger than life characters who do the things we lack the ability or drive to accomplish. Possibly as compensation for our own perceived limitations, we ply high achievers with accolades, offer them financial support, defend them from criticism. Gordon B. Hinckley, longtime, greatly-loved president of the Mormon Church, once said that he struggled with adulation every day.
Maybe the problem is less with leaders endowed with human weaknesses than with the desire of followers to elevate them into vessels of virtue—to believe that they are not human beings like ourselves, but moral powerhouses immune to the love of leisure, money, pride, lust and the rest of the seven deadly sins. It’s much easier to recline at home perusing Facebook if we tell ourselves that the people building schools in Asia or leading retreats to help people cope with an indifferent world are different from ourselves.
In the end, those with clay feet may be judged less harshly than those having no metal at all.