Common Reading

George Holden

The fundamental question for developmental psychologists (and one that most other people wonder about), is why do individuals turn out the way they do? The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, provides some fascinating answers. It is an account of the developmental pathways of two young men reared in similar environments. However, at the age of 23, Wes #1 was sentenced to prison as a murderer. At about the same age, Wes #2 spent a year in England, as a Rhodes Scholar.

The toxic inner-city environment where these two boys grew up in is one that most of us are fortunate enough never to experience. But today in America, 22% of children (16 million) are reared in poverty and many more in “fragile” families. And in many other countries, that rate is much higher.

However, the stories of Wes #1 & #2 may not be so different from our own stories--albeit with different ingredients. The environment we are raised in exerts a powerful effect on our development. For Wes #1, the absence of nurturing adults, poor schooling, combined with stress, violence, a lack of goals and opportunities, and bad decisions coalesced into a lifetime prison sentence.

Wes #2’s story exemplifies the “American Dream.” At the core, this Wes benefited from the guidance of a wise mother who changed his negative trajectory by making the right, if sometimes difficult decisions. Most dramatically, sending Wes to military school resulted in positive cascading effects by instilling discipline and exposing him to positive role models and mentors.

Everyone who reads the book should be compelled to reflect on his or her development. In what ways did different individuals (such as parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, or religious figures) affect your development? What were some of your transformative experiences? What decisions did you make that affected your development—at least to this point?

~Dr. Holden is a Professor of Developmental Psychology and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Psychology Department at SMU. His research focuses on parenting and family violence. George Holden
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