Why Abraham Lincoln said “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”

October 10, 2022 by Joshua
in Leadership

What did Abraham Lincoln mean when he said “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”? Doesn’t everyone recognize him as one of the nation’s and history’s great leaders? Doesn’t that mean he was a great man and figured out what to do?

Abraham Lincoln

You might think coming up with the Emancipation Proclamation and Thirteenth Amendment required great genius. On the contrary, he couldn’t have come up with any of his actions or plans without living at the right time. As he put it, “the logic and moral power of Garrison and the anti-slavery people of the country and of the army have done it all.”

From the perspective of leadership, leaders don’t have all the answers. Challenging situations tend to mean no answer takes care of everything. That’s when we need leadership: not complete answers but someone with the social and emotional skills to help us get there.

But I’m writing this post for a different reason than leadership. All those people before Lincoln, including William Lloyd Garrison, whom he mentioned by name, as well as countless others for centuries before him made his actions possible. Many of them were told “What you do doesn’t matter” or “only the government can act on the scale needed” or things people say today about acting on sustainability.

Lincoln could have done what did after all those other people acted first. You acting to do everything you can won’t solve all our problems. That’s not the point. The only way CEOs and presidents can change things on the scales we need is if the rest of us act first.

That’s not my opinion. That’s what Abraham Lincoln said works. Everything you do matters. The only way actions will happen on the scales we need to protect from global suffering is for all of us to do what we can starting now, this moment. Then don’t stop, keep going on your path of continual improvement. Start with intrinsic motivation, as the Spodek Method teaches, and you’ll find what you do meaningful, which will lead to bigger later because you like it.

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