Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

Book: The Other Wes Moore
Basic Information : Synopsis : Thoughts : Evaluation : Book Group : New Words : Book References : Good Quotes
: Table of Contents : References

Basic Information:
 Author: Wes Moore
Edition: eBook from the Public Library
Read: April 12, 2017
323 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5
As the title implies, the author whose name is Wes Moore tracks another Wes Moore who lived only a few blocks away from him in Baltimore. Both are about the same age and both are African-American. One ends up being a Rhodes scholar, the other in prison for murder.

You would expect in a book like this, there would be some prescription for how to make things better. But at the end, it sounds like Wes Moore is still sorting out his thoughts which is a bit refreshing, also a bit dissatisfying. The dissatisfying because you want the way to have things different. But refreshing because you realize that people come in so many different ways that doing one thing will never fit all people or even most of them.

Wes Moore leaves the prescription to others to state. Even then the answer given is to be involved. And that is the call to action. Not more government programs or more money or another organization, but individual involvement in individual lives.

The involvement of people close to the author made the difference between the two Wes Moores. Even though the other Wes Moore had his brother saying don’t go the way I did and a mother who was concerned. They were not effective nor energetic in keeping him away from running drugs.

The thoughts on manhood is interesting. The way the author was through the military’s way of owning up. It seemed like the other Wes Moore was still searching for what it meant to be a man. The South African story at the end is the author’s way of supporting that there is a need for ritual from when a child becomes an adult. Age does not make the difference, but outlook does.

Part I. Fathers and angels.
I was taught to remember, but never question. Wes was taught to forget and never ask why. The other Wes is so much sadder, much of it caused by the failings of a father. But I am not sure you can talk about the father's failings without understanding the father more. Was it fleeing a responsibility which he never wanted?

...pondering an absence [of their father]. This is a key meditation of our society. What has become of the fathers, and secondly, how can we be responsive to those who are fatherless?

Part II. Choices and second chances.
The author is coming to visit his namesake in prison. He stops and noted the daily miracle of my freedom. This is something we are so used, that I take it for granted.  It is only when we are faced with the loss of something which we appreciate what we have.

The other Wes asks the author, when did you become a man. The answer: when I first felt accountable to people other than myself. When I first cared that my actions mattered to people other than just me. But the author seems discontent with the answer, a bit too pat. He cannot identify a moment when he felt like he became a man.  The other Wes gets pretty close when he says that second chances are pretty fleeting.  There is a sharp edge between heading right and heading down. Author Wes Moore adds in about second chances and last chances.

Marking territory
The other Wes Moore wanted to be like his drug pushing brother; the brother wanted him to stay clear of that lifestyle. Sometimes it is the person who has made a mistake and cannot get out of it is the best person to keep us away from a problem. the “don’t do what I do, do what I say.” May seem hypocritical, yet it may be the best someone can do.

Part III. Paths taken and expectations fulfilled.
The other Wes Moore kept repeating his innocence, even though there was conclusive proof that he was involved. The author wonders, did he think if he repeated this enough times, he would be innocent? How about us? Do we repeat something about ourselves hoping that it is true?

Then there is a meaningful section about expectations. Is it our expectation of ourselves which forms us? Or those placed upon us?  The conclusion is that our expectations are influenced by those others have on us.

The land that God forgot
Books suddenly become alive for the author.  He was able to learn about various situations and imagine himself in them and see how he could work things out. The academic life grew on him.

Also the military school surrounding the author formed his thinking from easy ways to doing the right things.

excuses are the tools of the incompetent was pounded into the author by Sergeant Major Harry Harris. While I do not think this is an absolute truth, I know I perform better if I do not look for excuses.

The above can be contrasted with the other Wes thoughts about God. Where was God when things went wrong?  When bad things happen? The conclusion on this was, He certainly did not reside where this Wes Moore was.

The other Wes Moore never thought about the long term arc of his life. Do I think about where I am going and what I am doing? How does this fit in for the next five years? Ten years?

The author realized he had been very fortunate not to end up like his namesake. Others had been set onto the wrong path by tiny misfortunes-he had not been. He realized that his missions has to be to pull up others behind us. This was done for him and he wanted to do it for others. This is a good realization to have. Even for someone who was not from the projects. We cannot say that we are completely self-made as we are a product of our circumstances as well.

...admire the beauty and culture. But make sure you do not leave without understanding the history. That is something which we all should do wherever we are. When I am in Yosemite, it is not enough to see its beauty, but understand how we got to this place, so that as the future unfolds, we are not the slave to its past.

The author asked his South African host "how are you able to forgive?  ... How are you so able to move on?" The answer is less than intuitive: She gave me an easy half smile and took another sip from her mug. "Because Mr. Mandela asked us to."

I'd expected more. "I'd expected her to tell me that she was still working on her revenge scheme, ... But her simple and profound answer helped me to understand ubuntu  was not simply a word. It was a way of life. Her candor and exquisite simplicity framed the rest of my trip and helped me better understand the land I was living in. We are part of a community and must learn to live in one or we will self-destruct. Even if parts of that community has done us wrong.

There is a ceremony which the author’s host son will be going through which will mark him becoming a man. It will be painful. But the son says  it’s not the process you should focus on; it’s the joy you will feel after you go through the process. Wisdom from a young man.

As a note: this ties in with the question from the other Wes Moore-when did you become a man? In the South African case, it was after he had gone through the ceremony. Maybe that is what we lack. A boundary which says you are no longer a boy, but a man and now must take responsibilities as one.

The author talks about the camaraderie of being with fellow soldiers, those who have the same mission and understanding, along with the passion. He also talks about the fellowship of those who serve and who have commitment, integrity and sacrifice. There is not a sense of aloofness which you get in our society.

The author also talks about the process of writing this story. How he listen, took notes and wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps of getting the story right. I am thinking about how we no longer have that passion for making the story right, but would rather twist our stories to fit our beliefs.

He also talks about What made the difference [between the two Wes’s]? He does not have a ready made answer. One thing he does bring up is the place of strong mentors in his life at crucial times. There is also a need to give young people the opportunity to make the best decisions on their lives, along with the information and tools and support.

What changed the author? He does not feel going to military school was the changing point. But when he felt himself surrounded by supportive people-his mom, grandparents, and extended family.

He concludes that it is up to us, all of us, to make a way for them [boys and girls growing up].

Wes Moore points out that lives typically do not change at a single moment, but are an accumulation of events. But even more important is a person perceives themselves in their own story. To me it is a rare person who can understand themselves enough to both be on stage and see the part they play.

A call to action / Tavis Smiley
the battle of life is won in the trying and serving.
 Good book with interesting lines of thoughts about how two similar people can grow up to be two different men. The author does not leave us with a prescription to correct the situation, but advocates involvement in people, particularly at critical times in their development.  Wes Moore’s background is as a scholar rather than a writer. His writing is fair, but not with charm or excitement. So when you read this book, read for content not great writing.

Notes from my book group:
Some of the thoughts which came out from our OSHER group were:
  • Expectations
    • The expectation others place on us influences our own expectations and consequently our own results
  • Each person is different.
  • Do not give up on the person, even if they give up on themselves
  • Mental and physical health
    • This has a great bearing on what we are able to do.
  • Focus on the people around me
  • Hope Now For Youth
    • A local example of a group who are changing gang members.
  • Individual responsibility to be a solution
    • Just because we are ok does not relieve us of the responsibilities to others.
Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Other Wes Moore:
1. How well does Moore describe the culture of the streets, where young boys grow up believing that violence transforms them into men? Talk about the street culture—its violence, drug dealing, disdain for education. What creates that ethos and why do so many young men find it attractive?
2. In writing about the Wes Moore who is in prison, Wes Moore the author says, "The chilling truth is that his life could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his." What do you make of that statement? Do you think Moore is correct?
3. Oprah Winfrey has said that "when you hear this story, it's going to turn the way you think about free will and fate upside down." So, which is it...freedom or determinism? If determinism, what kind of determinism—God, cosmic fate, environment, biology, psychology? Or if freedom, to what degree are we free to choose and create our own destiny?
4. The overriding question of this book is what critical factors in the lives of these two men, who were similar in many ways, created such a vast difference in their destinies?
5. Talk about the role of family—and especially the present or absence of fathers—in the lives of children. Consider the role of the two mothers, Joy and Mary, as well as the care of the author's grandparents in this book.
6. Why did young Wes, who ran away from military school five times, finally decide to stay put?
7. Why was the author haunted by the story of his namesake? What was the reason he insisted on meeting him in prison? Talk about the awkwardness of the two Weses' first meeting and their gradual openness and sharing with one another.
8. From prison, the other Wes responded to the author's initial letter with his own letter, in which he said, "When you're in here, you think people don't even know you're alive anymore." Talk about the power of hope versus hopelessness for those imprisoned. What difference can it make to a prisoner to know that he or she is remembered?
8. The author Wes asked the prisoner Wes, "when did you first know you were a man?" Talk about the significance of that question...and how each man responded.
9. Has this book left you with any ideas for ameliorating the conditions that led to the imprisonment of the other Wes Moore? What can be done to ensure a more productive life for the many young men who grow up on the streets?
(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)
New Words:
  • Inshallah (Introduction)
Book References:
  • Fab Five by Mitch Albom 
    My American Journey by Colin Powell

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: This is the story of two boys living in Baltimore with similar histories and an identical name: Wes Moore.
  • Last Line: How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.  (quoted from William Ernest Henley)
  • excuses are the tools of the incompetent  (chp. The land that God forgot )
  • ...admire the beauty and culture. But make sure you do not leave without understanding the history. (Surrounded)
  • it’s not the process you should focus on; it’s the joy you will feel after you go through the process (Surrounded)
  • the battle of life is won in the trying and serving. (A call to action / Tavis Smiley )
Table of Contents:
  • Part I. Fathers and angels.
    • Is daddy coming with us?
    • In search of home
    • Foreign ground
  • Part II. Choices and second chances.
    • Marking territory
    • Lost
    • Hunted
  • Part III. Paths taken and expectations fulfilled.
    • The land that God forgot
    • Surrounded
  • Epilogue
  • A call to action / Tavis Smiley.


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