Models

On one visit, in a new employee’s office, I saw a sign taped to a wall which read, “If Paul is the model, we’re golden.” When you looked closely, though, you saw that the word golden was written on a strip of paper. Lit up the strip and you saw that the original read, “If Paul is the model, we’re fucked.” This was a direct quote from Jim, a characteristically emphatic phrase, which sounded harsher than it was. Jim meant it as a warning to the many young PIH-ers who imagined, as many had and many would, that the right thing to do with their lives was to imitate Paul. To Jim, attempts at imitation would put the emphasis where it didn’t belong. The goal was to improve the lives of others, not oneself. “It’s not about the quest for personal efficacy,” as Paul himself liked to say. Besides, frank imitations would fail. What PIH-ers should take from Paul wasn’t a manual for their own lives but the proofs he’d created that seemingly intractable problems could be solved. “Paul has created technical solutions to help the rest of us get to decency, a road map to decency that we can all follow without trying to imitate him,” Jim told me, explaining the message on the wall. “Paul is a model of what should be done. He’s not a model for how it has to be done. Let’s celebrate him. let’s make sure people are inspired by him. But we can’t say anybody should or could be just like him.” He added, “Because if the poor have to wait for a lot of people like Paul to come along before they get good health care, they are totally fucked.”

Tracy Kidder Mountains Beyond Mountains p. 244

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