Circumstances Shape Us, For Better and For Worse
A couple of weeks ago I started listening to the book, Power Broker by Robert Caro. This book is the story of one of the most important figures in New York City’s history – Robert Moses. Almost everything about the way NYC is laid out today – for better and for worse – can be connected back to Moses.
Bob ultimately ran the city by acquiring and leveraging power over everyone, including local and state governments. Furthermore, he used that power to develop the city the way he wanted, even if it wasn’t what was best for its people. When he wanted something built (i.e. highway, new housing, parks, etc.) he simply evicted everyone in the project’s path. Most of the time, the people evicted were the city’s poorest. He could tear neighborhoods apart without hesitation and without much to stand in his way.
What makes this story interesting is how Bob started out as a reformer looking to improve the city for those who didn’t have the means. He wanted to create a city that treated those without wealth almost as nicely as those with wealth. For example, public parks for families to take their children on weekends. He also believed government roles should be merit-based as opposed to gifts handed out to politicians’ friends and family. He wanted to create fair systems. And early in his career, he fought hard for these ideals and mostly lost. In fact, he was often embarrassed and fired from posts.
Bob’s Slow and Steady Transformation
As the years and decades marched on, he started learning about the game of power and politics. He learned the same game his early opponents used against him. And this is where he started to change. Bob Moses because to learn how to play the game and little by little, he started to lose his original values and ideals. He started creating systems where he could get his friends into important government posts. Bob became a master bill writer and could create legislation that would give him more power than he was supposed to have without others noticing until it was too late. He started favoring those who played by his rules, dismissing those whom he originally set out to serve.
Bob wasn’t an evil or bad person. I believe he simply responded to and evolved in the direction of those he was surrounded and taught by. His environment, circumstances, and situations contributed small and consistent changes. Little by little, the changes developed in him and they were probably so subtle he didn’t even realize them. With hindsight, we can see how drastic those changes were.
What Can We Learn from the Bob Moses Story?
This made me think about how we could apply these lessons to our foresight. How can we look at our current circumstances, friends, colleagues, etc. and evaluate how we are responding to them and evolving? In what direction are we going? Are we developing good skills and habits? Essentially, are we becoming or on the path to becoming the people we want to become?
Sometimes I have found that certain circumstances (some recently) can make me quite angry and bitter. When enough days pass this way, staying angry and bitter is a lot easier. It’s also easier to apply it elsewhere. It’s crazy how just a few days can make a difference. Imagine weeks, months, years, or even decades? The sooner we catch it, the sooner we can recalibrate our path.
What are your values? What is your mission or vision? Are you on track, however, slowly or quickly? Is your path slightly off course? How long might it stay that way if you don’t do something about it now?
As time passes, even just a few degrees off course can take you to radically different places over time.
Check in with yourself and make sure your current habits, practices, colleagues, friends, activities, etc. are helping you develop and grow in the ways you want to. Your vision, goals, and dreams are too important to leave to chance.