Mike Kueber's Blog

July 28, 2010

For the times they are a-changin’, but are they?

When Bob Dylan sang about the changing times in the 60s, he gave words of warning to a variety of people: 

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Dylan was prophesizing that the world was fundamentally going somewhere it had never been before and that traditional thinking was no longer relevant.  But was he right, or was his singing analogous to a Wall Street speculator inaccurately declaring that the economic cycle of booms and busts was no longer relevant?  I suggest that the answer can be found in my hometown mayor’s speech at the dedication of Aneta’s new city auditorium in 1927.  (Please be aware that Aneta was a small town in North Dakota with a few hundred people, and my parents, who were both born in Aneta a few months after this dedication, still rode horses to school.)

Mayor Henry Haroldson:

“….  We have felt the need for this building for a long time.  Man is a social being and our community will develop in proportion to the social standard that is adopted by the people of our community.  If we could learn and understand the things that are for our good and work in harmony to attain that goal, we would soon find that we are living in a real progressive community.

We are living in a most mechanical age.  In fact, so much so that we ourselves have become mechanical.  We even salute our friends with a mechanical ‘hello.’  Not that alone, but we have become a restless people, we want to travel far, much faster than our fathers did and yet we have less time to spare than they did.

I can remember in my childhood days when my transportation was by foot or lumber wagon.  We would get up on a Sunday morning, do our chores, and the entire family would go to church, be back home for dinner and in the afternoon visit friends, having a real social time, going back to work on Monday with a feeling of satisfaction.

Today it is so different, we think in distance.  We get up on a Sunday morning, grab a lunch and start for some lake or picnic a hundred miles away and if we don’t like the crowd we crank up the old jitney, and start for some other place fifty miles or more away, returning at night all tired out from the drive.  Then, if we think of a neighbor whom we should have visited, we go to our phone, call up the friend to ascertain how sick he is and how fast his pulse beats.

We somehow have lost the spirit of neighborly friendship that is needed to build a community and my hopes are that through the use of this community building we may be able to re-establish some of that friendly spirit, that we can meet here from time to time and learn to understand each other better.  Much trouble and many court cases would be avoided if people had a better understanding of each other.  How often don’t we make the expression that so and so is a good sort of fellow after we have learned to know him?  If we know more people better, we would know more good fellows.”

….

The auditorium is built – it is here, we have completed the easy part in connection therewith.  I know you think I am going to say that the hard part is going to be to pay for it.  I do not feel that this is our largest undertaking.  The hard task as I see it will be to put it into such use that it will serve the community in the purpose for which it is built.  This building is like life itself; you cannot get more out of it than you put into it.  It you expect it to bring a good return and render good service to the community, you must put into it good, honest efforts.

What I found striking about Mayor Haroldson’s speech was how, 80 years later, we still worry about the same things.  And I’m not talking about too many lawsuits and government debt.  I’m talking about people making social connections and living in harmony, all while making material advancements.  This is a never-ending struggle, and each generation, each person should attempt to learn from the past, not reject the past as irrelevant.

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