How does Paul Farmer connect with people whose backgrounds are vastly different from his own?
Paul connects with people in a number of ways, some of which, alas, may be too demanding for everyone to use them as models. First, he accepts the underlying value of every human being. That means that a sick poor person deserves as much treatment as a rich one, and as good treatment. Second, he goes to people where they are, both emotionally and literally: he walks mile after mile to get to people in their villages, walking himself into ill health at times. Related to this, he refuses to accept secondhand accounts, but goes to see people for themselves. Third, he gives their beliefs respect, even when they radically differ from his own.
Paul Farmer is surrounded by people from different backgrounds than himself in Mountains Beyond Mountains. A well-educated doctor with white privilege, Farmer finds himself living and working among the poorest of the poor in Haiti. An American from a working-class economic childhood, he teams up with a British woman who is the daughter of a successful author. A man with little tolerance for bureaucratic procedures and red tape, he finds himself in the position of advisor to the world's most powerful health policy makers.
Throughout Mountains Beyond Mountains, Dr. Farmer is constantly defying traditional divisions and making connections across these barriers. Crucial to this defiance is Farmer's mindset; he tells the author, Tracy Kidder, that he has organized his life to avoid feelings of ambivalence as much as possible. Such feelings often arise when differences - such as wealth disparity, say - are manifested in the environment around us; Paul Farmer faces down these feelings by giving as much as he can to serve the neediest patients he encounters.
Farmer also connects with people who are different from him by immersing himself in experiences like their own. For example, he walks to the homes of Haitian patients in the mountains, and lives in the communities & neighborhoods of the people he serves. Farmer's compassion and willingness to make compromises also allows him to connect with different people; for example, with patients back in Boston, he is willing to prescribe a pack of beer for one of his in-patients, making the point that "it's either our drugs, or theirs,"meaning more harmful ones out on the street, and he'd rather have a patient drink beer in order to remain in treatment, than try to go cold turkey and wind up back with the harder stuff.
Farmer's imagination, love of reading, and penchant for asking frank, direct questions, such as those he directs at Kidder throughout their time together, are other means by which he connects with different people throughout this book.