Evolving perspectives on Change

The times they are a-changin'

Bob Dylan’s song, “The Times They are a-Changin’ ” was the anthem for many of my generation. It captured my feelings at the time and the desire many felt to make the world a better place and to do it now. Civil rights, the Vietnam War, the environment, women’s liberation — so much needed drastic change was needed.

We were confident in our ideas and the rightness of our cause. We told our parents their views were rapidly aging and to get out of the way if they can’t lend a hand in creating the new world.

it looks different now

I see the song differently some five decades later as we are seeing wave after wave of fundamental change highlighted with vocal and popular advocates for upending the existing order.

What I see now in the song is the arrogance of my youth. While well intentioned, did we have the knowledge and wisdom to advocate change so fundamental people would “sink like a stone” if they didn’t get on board?  I have lived long enough to recognize my ignorance of people, society, and history. I have lived long enough to see the unintended negative consequences of the changes I so fervently advocated years ago. Our hearts were in the right place and good things came from our actions. When I look around today I see the results of the excesses of my youth in the daily news. I wonder, if we were so smart, so sure of ourselves, so good in our intentions, how did we produce the world we see today?

There are warnings

But I also see in Dylan’s insightful lyrics the recognition that those advocating change may get more than they bargained for.  He warns to the writers and critics not to “speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin and there is no tellin’ who that it’s namin‘ ” Once the beast is unchained — “The curse it is cast” — it can’t be controlled. The future gets determined far more by the random spin of history’s roulette wheel than any desire or plan of the change agents. History has shown time after time that emotional social movements for change, often well intended, but untempered by  reason and wisdom can result in decay, not progress.

The lyrics

Here are the entire lyrics. It is a great song.  It made me think.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

Bob Dylan - author of The Times they are a-Changin'
Bob Dylan