Building a Better Health Service


The Paul Reveres of the Irish Health Service

Paul Revere

Spreading the word and unleashing a movement

My father is a retired history teacher. Not only was he a history teacher, but he has always loved nothing more than telling a good story, the longer the better – and he has a photographic memory.

So just imagine our epic summer holiday journeys driving from California to the family farm in Pennsylvania where my Dad grew up. To my Dad’s credit, those journeys taught me the importance of looking back into history, to make sense of its stories, as we try to move forward and shape the future.

One story my Dad taught me is particularly relevant for our Values in Action Champions, who have been peer nominated by their colleagues and come from all grades and roles across the health service.

Spreading the word on horseback

This is the story of Paul Revere’s famous ‘Midnight Ride’. Growing up in the United States, every young child has heard of Paul Revere – we have Paul Revere colouring books, picture books, poems, cartoons – and even Disneyland has the Muppets re-enacting Paul Revere’s ‘Midnight Ride’. It’s very much part of the culture of our upbringing.

Paul Revere’s story is set in Boston in 1775, after the Boston Tea party, when the American Colonists were angry. So too were the British Army, who had started a secret campaign to imprison the Colonists’ leaders and destroy their weapons.

A young stable boy overheard some British officials talking about their plot that was to take place the next morning. The stable boy ran with the news and told Paul Revere, a local silversmith. That night, Paul Revere started his famous ‘Midnight Ride’ on horseback, riding from town to town northwest of Boston spreading the news so local Colonists would be ready to confront the British troops when they arrived. Paul knocked on doors and spread the word. Soon, church bells were ringing and drums were beating. The news spread like wildfire.

When the British started marching the next morning, to their amazement they were met with fierce resistance. This marked a pivotal moment in US history that led to the American Revolution and the independence of the United States.

But, and this is where the story gets interesting from a Values in Action perspective, Paul Revere was not the only one who set out on horseback that famous night. William Dawes, a tanner from Boston, also did a midnight ride that night, covering just as many miles as Paul did, as he went from town to town west of Boston.

William also put his life on the line; travelling through the night, on what some historians have called a riskier mission than the journey Paul undertook. William was, most likely, a really great guy.

However, William’s ride didn’t set the countryside alight with the news that the British were on their way. As a result, those west of Boston found out too late and were not ready to put up a resistance the next morning.

The importance of being connected

Well, why?

The reason is that William was not as well connected in the countryside – he did not know the social networks of these towns, he did not know the right doors to knock on. He did not know how to multiply his message outside of his hometown of Boston.

Paul Revere, however, did. Paul was a ‘connector’, he had experience of carrying messages to key individuals outside of Boston and was active in several societies, he knew a lot of people. According to historians, Paul Revere was a highly influential, highly connected individual that was trusted outside of Boston.

Paul understood who had social influence in those towns, and understood the informal networks – he knew exactly which were the right doors to knock on in order to spread the word.

Simply put, Paul knew how to start a social movement – he knew how to multiply – and as you know – no multiplication, no social movement!

This is why children across the United States still to this day know who Paul Revere is and the mark that he made on American history.

The modern-day activists

As we welcomed our new Values in Action Champions at their two-day Bootcamp in October, I shared this story with them. I wanted to tell them this story because it has helped me to understand the role of a Champion and activism. I wanted them to know that they are the Paul Reveres of the Irish health service.

We know this because their colleagues told us. Their colleagues have selected them as the most highly influential, highly connected staff members from within the health service.

They are the ones with the skills and attributes we need to start a social movement. Our Champions’ challenge is to spread the behaviours that reflect our values of care, compassion, trust and learning to build the cultural fabric in the health service.

So here’s to our Paul Reveres of the health service, our Champions. We need your help in spreading the word and multiplying the behaviours.

I look forward to supporting you in your journey as a Values in Action Champion, developing a culture where our values are a way of life for us all, and a visible part of our every day actions throughout the health service.

Kahlil Coyle, Values in Action Core Team, 

Reference: Gladwell, M. (2013). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. New York: Back Bay Books, pp. 30-34; 56-59.