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

by Tracy Kidder
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Paul Farmer believes that “if you’re making sacrifices...you’re trying to lessen some psychic discomfort” (24). Do you agree with the way that Farmer makes personal sacrifices in Mountains Beyond Mountains? What are your expectations about sacrifices for both you and others? What things are worth your sacrifice? Under what circumstances do you think others should make sacrifices?

In Mountains to Mountains, Dr. Paul Farmer has said that an upbringing in which his family lacked running water and electricity has made it easy for him to sacrifice personal comfort for the greater good. Any sacrifice is made on the basis that one gives up something of lesser importance for something more significant, but this can be for one's own benefit, that of a loved one, or that of a complete stranger.

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Dr. Paul Farmer has talked about his own unusual background, growing up living in a bus without electricity or running water and bathing in nearby lakes or rivers. The sacrifice of comfort and the amenities of modern civilization is therefore easier for him than it would be for many people....

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Dr. Paul Farmer has talked about his own unusual background, growing up living in a bus without electricity or running water and bathing in nearby lakes or rivers. The sacrifice of comfort and the amenities of modern civilization is therefore easier for him than it would be for many people. Dr. Farmer makes his sacrifices in the service of something he regards as more important, and it is difficult to argue with him when his objective is to bring high-quality medical care to some of the world's poorest people.

You will have your own ideas about what is worth sacrificing and why, and what is worth making sacrifices for, but, in general terms, everyone makes sacrifices on much the same basis as Dr. Farmer, giving up something relatively trivial for something more important. One might do this on an entirely selfish basis, sacrificing time and leisure for more money. Many people make sacrifices for their children or other loved ones, for instance, by working hard even at jobs they do not enjoy, so that their children can have a better education. As Peter Singer points out in The Expanding Circle, the more tenuous the connection between two people, the less we expect one to make sacrifices for the other. It is fairly common to make sacrifices for one's wife, husband, or children but uncommon to make any significant sacrifice for people one does not know, as Dr. Farmer does.

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