Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World

by Tracy Kidder
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In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Paul Farmer believes that “if you’re making sacrifices...you’re trying to lessen some psychic discomfort” (p. 24). Do you agree with the way that Farmer makes personal sacrifices?

It is for Dr. Farmer to determine whether the sacrifices he makes are worth making. The effect of a sacrifice on the psyche is such an individual matter that it is probably impossible to determine for anyone else.

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Dr. Paul Farmer has said that the sacrifice of personal comfort is an easy one for him to make. He spent much of his childhood in poverty, living in a bus without electricity or running water, bathing and washing clothes in nearby lakes. Although he is now an eminent academic,...

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Dr. Paul Farmer has said that the sacrifice of personal comfort is an easy one for him to make. He spent much of his childhood in poverty, living in a bus without electricity or running water, bathing and washing clothes in nearby lakes. Although he is now an eminent academic, Dr. Farmer has never become dependent upon comfort, and is able to make sacrifices which are difficult for others.

This highlights an important point about personal sacrifice, that it really is personal and individual. On the most basic level, you might say that it is not for anyone else to agree or disagree with the way Farmer makes sacrifices or the type of sacrifices he makes. These are matters for him to decide. However, you might still have an opinion about whether it is a good idea for him to make these sacrifices. This opinion is likely to be based on whether you would be prepared to make such sacrifices, and the effect they would have on you. You might even be wrong about this. A strong sense of purpose, such as Farmer's in bringing high-quality medical care to people in the world's poorest countries, can often make sacrifices of money or comfort seem irrelevant. Whether or not you might find yourself willing to make the sacrifices Farmer makes for his life's work, however, such sacrifices affect everyone differently, and he clearly thinks they are worth making. He is also speaking principally for himself in his observation on why people make sacrifices, since there are a wide range of possible reasons, by no means all of which are dependent on personal psychology.

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