Name Pronunciation and Foreign Policy

I am quite convinced that our nations foreign policy would improve considerably if we knew how to pronounce the  names of strategic locations worldwide. Think of the skill needed in negotiating and interacting across lines of culture, religion and politics. So much skill, and so unappreciated and quickly mocked by the mispronunciation of names. And then the journalists, their breed dressed for the camera with makeup, sculptured hair and whitened teeth – I shake my fist at them and feel annoyance akin to the sound of fingernails scratched across a blackboard as I yell “Can’t you even pronounce these names?” 

For years this has irked me (and it ends up I am not alone) that people in positions of great power have not taken the time to learn to correctly pronounce names like Afghanistan or Pakistan, and most recently  – a place that has gone from a fairly quiet existence into world-wide notoriety – that would be the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Many leaders of the “free world” have attended such prestigious universities as Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Columbia and the list goes on. Surely they have the brains and ability to learn how to pronounce these names. Take Pakistan for example – It’s not PAAK-is-taan  it’s PAHK-is-tahn or Afghanistan, another name regularly butchered: Off-GHAHN-is-stahn not Aff-GAAN-is-staan. 

But the most recent affront to pronunciation came with the world-watched announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden. It would seem like an announcement enjoying an audience of billions would merit attention to detail. But no…those pronunciation police among us were none too pleased when the name of a lovely city from our childhood, now written in history as the hideout for the most wanted man in recent history, was mispronounced. But as I was complaining and muttering, a friend from my past became creative as a result of his frustration and has done a “Teach in video” on how to pronounce the most recent egregious error in pronunciation. So for those of you who, like me, take offense over these small but important details in communication and relationships – take a look – I think you’ll enjoy. 

 Bloggers Note: Despite the rant above, it is important to mention that President Obama is the only official I can think of to pronounce Pakistan correctly. Regardless of what anyone thinks of his politics, this deserves credit. He was accused of being “ostentatiously exotic for this courageous act.

The Fine Line of Storytelling

I love a good story and I love telling a good story – in fact I want to get better at writing and telling stories (I sometimes trail off and leave my readers dazed and confused!)

Our entire family loves stories and the joke is that once someone tells us a story, it becomes ours and our version could be better!

Since last night I have considered the fine line between story telling and lying. Where does one end, and the other begin?

The impetus last night was the 60 minutes segment on Greg Mortenson, well-known author of “Three Cups of Tea”. Greg Mortenson is a third culture kid. Raised in Kenya he probably faced what many of us have faced in terms of identity loss and wanting to make a difference. The controversy centers on the facts uncovered by the investigative reporting team of 60 Minutes that presented a different picture than the one portrayed in the book – a picture of fewer schools, no kidnapping, and questionable relationships, to name a few. Perhaps the statement that was most helpful to me as I process this information is Jon Krakauer’s: “If Greg had built only 3 schools that’s a feat in itself, why does it have to be embellished to such a degree”.

Those of us who grew up in the area seemed to have two reactions from the beginning. The first was a deep connection. A connection to a place and a people, to the well-known difficulty in getting things accomplished in the area, to the need to drink not just 3 cups of tea, but perhaps 30 or 100, before a relationship is solid. The second was one word “Really?” as in “Umm are you kidding me? Some of this does not ring true”. But most of us accepted the story with appreciation for bringing the relational and human face to the masses who lump all of Pakistan and Afghanistan into a terrorist beard.

So in this case, where did storytelling end and lying begin? I don’t know. Neither probably does he. When we tell ourselves a version of a story long enough, it becomes true and unquestionable. And when we are telling the story in person, and someone else who was also there listens, they will often nod their heads and grin, noting at the end “Well, it wasn’t quite like that” and give the black and white tale versus the living color, or virtual reality version.

I articulated my response this way in a thread on Facebook that began through posting the story on my wall “Do I really believe that he is building 68 schools in Afghanistan this next year? No, I don’t. Do I believe that he cares about a cause and has given his life’s work for this and challenges others to do something – Yes I do”. Added to this: do I believe his integrity is in question?  Integrity is another blog post altogether and one that I would be cautious to write lest the fingers point back at me.

It brings up another big question – what in our culture craves sensationalism from Fox News to Greg Mortenson? We have so dumbed and numbed our responses that 3 schools is not enough – we need 68 and a bestseller to get out of our apathetic armchairs.  We have been deadened by sensationalist versions from religion to politics. Perhaps original stories start as core truth but end up as a product that has been marketed so carefully through sound bites that none of us know the real story. Or the real story is just not good enough. Sort of like the airbrushed women on magazines like Glamour or Vogue – What is the real deal and what is a made up version? Or what is allowed to be embellished and what should not be?

Many people faced the disappointment of an idol falling last night – the question is this: Should they have had an idol in the first place?

Bloggers Note: To add a little humor to the story, my brother Stan plans to write a book called “’One Cup of Ovaltine’ to promote my new startup with my brother Ed: “The Curiously Impertinent Project” whose mission is to keep the right balance between knights and cynics. Our mascot was going to be “Don Quixote”. Maybe we should wait until the dust clears.”