Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Discussion Questions!

Hope you all are enjoying the book and it has inspired a desire for discussion! Below are the first round of discussion questions, please discuss at your leisure. Also, here are some helpful hints and tips regarding online discussion:
Book club members bring diverse and extraordinary experience to the process, each person involved brings depth and creativity to the discussion.
Writing your insights, thoughts, and responses to others in a way that's relatively public can be a little un-nerving at first! Although, it is also important to simply "be present" -- find ways to describe in writing what you might be doing non-verbally, e.g., nodding your head, smiling, or looking quizzically at someone. Imagine making a statement in person and having no response from the audience --let people know you're there, that you've read their posts!

Discussion questions for Three Cups of Tea:
1. There is a telling passage about Mortenson’s change of direction at the start of the book: “One evening, he went to bed by a yak dung fire a mountaineer who’d lost his way, and one morning, by the time he’d shared a pot of butter tea with his hosts and laced up his boots, he’d become a humanitarian who’d found a meaningful path to follow for the rest of his life.” What made Mortenson particularly ripe for such a transformation? Has anything similar happened in your own life?

2. At the heart of the book is a powerful but simple political message: we each as individuals have the power to change the world, one cup of tea at a time. Yet the book powerfully dramatizes the obstacles in the way of this philosophy: bloody wars waged by huge armies, prejudice, religious extremism, cultural barriers. What do you think of the “one cup of tea at a time” philosophy? Do you think Mortenson’s vision can work for lasting and meaningful change?

3. Mortenson hits many bumps in the road—he’s broke, his girlfriend dumps him, he is forced to build a bridge before he can build the school, his health suffers, and he drives his family crazy. Discuss his repeated brushes with failure and how they influenced your opinion of Mortenson and his efforts.

4. Much of the book is a meditation on what it means to be a foreigner assimilating with another culture. Discuss your own experiences with foreign cultures—things that you have learned, mistakes you have made, misunderstandings you have endured.

5. What did you learn about the culture in Northern Pakistan? Did anything surprise you?


  1. Question 2 resonated with me because I could related to making things change one cupful of tea at a time. I think that even in a home culture, bringing about change can be difficult and best tackled by small steps that eventually lead to something. The true test is to keep the vision alive while wading through all the mundane aspects that can drag a person down. I think that Mortenson's vision was kept alive by his sister's memory. What began as a memorial ended as a memorial, but on a much more profound and uplifting level.

  2. I couldn't agree more with you! Thanks for being brave and posting first.

    It was inspiring for me to read how Mortenson continued on his journey through all of the trials and tribulations, especially coming off of the failure to climb the summit. This one cup of tea philosophy was an important take-home message for me, big changes can occur even by tackling them through small steps. I like what you said about "the true test is to keep the vision alive while wading through all the mundane aspects that can drag a person down" -- what an uplifting statement!

  3. I always envy people who find their "mission" in life as I think most of us are searching for the same thing! Question #4 resonated with me as I have traveled abroad and it's so refreshing to get beyond the sound bites you hear in the media. It's a cliche, but it really does help you broaden your perspective of the world and realize as Greg Mortenson did that we're all just human beings even though we may come from different cultures or backgrounds. I enjoyed reading this book!

  4. I agree, Sarah! I think the "Three Cups of Tea" example particularly shows the importance of getting past the soundbites to connect with real people. After 9/11, I think the possibility for negatively stereotyping Muslims and especially Pakistani/Afgan Muslims is real. I believe that's why this book is so vital--Americans in general need to get past the stereotypes. It's one thing to see past negative stereotypes in groups that you already feel comfortable with, but in this case, Americans are REALLY being challenged to walk the walk of judging by content of character, not by religious or geographical affiliation. I think that's why Greg included the story of how he was held captive for weeks--I think that was his real test.