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 had an eccentric childhood, and his accomplishments have been unique. Do you see a relationship between the way Farmer was raised and how he has chosen to live his life? How has your own background influenced your life and your decisions?

Dr. Paul Farmer has said that his childhood, in which he lived on a bus without running water and electricity, has left him largely indifferent to both material comfort and status symbols. This has allowed him to pursue his vocation unhindered by such concerns. To determine how your background has influenced your life, you might consider what it has led you to expect, whether this is a materially comfortable lifestyle, financial security, or the company of others.

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Dr. Paul Farmer has written that he enjoyed his childhood, and did not think of himself as deprived, or of his family as particularly poor. Nonetheless, his family would be regarded by most Americans as having lived in poverty. They moved frequently, were without a stable income, and spent part...

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of Farmer’s childhood living on a bus with no access to electricity or running water. They bathed and washed their clothes in nearby lakes and rivers, and had very few material possessions.

As an adult, Farmer has had a distinguished career in both medicine and academia. However, he has remained indifferent to material comfort and to status symbols. This indifference has allowed him to pursue his vocation for bringing high-quality healthcare to some of the poorest people in the world.

You will be the best judge of how your own background has influenced your life and decisions, but you might begin by examining your values and standards, and how you have acquired them. Is material comfort important to you, and to what degree? Think about what you want to accomplish in life, and what sacrifices you would make to attain this goal. Would you live in a poor country, without access to the internet, electricity, running water, or other people? This is not only a matter of material comfort, however. Think about all the things your background has led you to expect out of life. For instance, if you have grown up in a large and gregarious family, you might find it too difficult to live alone in an isolated area. You should consider what sacrifices would be too hard to make, and how this might influence your life decisions.

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