A View From the Cheap Seats

June 4, 2008

Time for a Change

Filed under: Uncategorized — trzupek @ 9:28 am


By Rich Trzupek

Congratulations to you, Class of 2008. As you head out into what is commonly described as “the real world”, you have been told that you have the ability to change that world. You do indeed. But, before you begin moving things around, let’s talk about this “change” thing a bit.

It’s an interesting concept; “change”. It is, arguably, the most over-used and abused concept in the history of American politics. Probably the only President elected without having to invoke the magic word is John Adams, who had the good fortune to succeed George Washington. Even then, people knew that there was no point in breaking what the father of our county had fixed.

You have undoubtedly heard the word used by your parents, generally when they’re beside themselves with anger, as in: “things are going to change around here!” Restaurants try to change their atmosphere, companies hire consultants to change their image and boozing Hollywood starlets promise to change their habits.

You may have observed that, while people constantly talk about change, things really don’t change all that often. But you, my dear graduates, you will be different. Your parents and teachers look at you and see fire and energy in your eyes and they think: “yes, they can do it. They can really change the world.”

And well you might. Actually, no – you will. Every generation leaves a mark on the world, although it takes a long time to figure out what kind of mark it is. But, before you jump out there and start making all these changes, I would challenge you to do something else first: don’t change a thing.

This is not to say that some things don’t need fixing. Some things need to change, have to change, if mankind is to grow and if we want everyone in the world to enjoy the blessings of liberty and freedom from want.

But there are also things that shouldn’t be changed, for changes are not always for the better. The French Revolution promised change, and it delivered, but it was bloody change that would, in time, throw Europe into a war that would span over two decades. Stalin, Hitler and Mao all promised change when they came to power, but their changes would bring more misery, to more people, than any other regimes in the long, sordid history of man’s inhumanity to man.

Many good people supported all these agents of change, for they honestly believed that the changes would make their lives better. The average French peasant who cheered the revolution wasn’t hoping for a government-sanctioned murder in the streets, to be followed by a never-ending conflict that would destroy the youth of their nation. They saw a different future, a richer future, a future where there were no class distinctions and no shortage of plenty.

Germans voted for change in 1933, believing that they were electing a chancellor who – though he was rather strange – would restore German honor and solve its economic woes. The number of ordinary German voters who could envision the death camps and a world war to come was very small.

Change is not always positive in more mundane parts of life either. When I was your age, Coca Cola’s makers decided to change the taste of their product. This was not a change well-received. In a very short period of time, it was decided that this particular change ought to be changed.

And the point here is that there is value, as you find your place in life, to doing nothing but observing for a while. Don’t worry: there will be plenty of time to make all those changes, but won’t you be better prepared to make them if you know what is worth preserving as well? At the very least, you should understand the price that change exacts.

Consider the Civil Rights movement of in the 1960s. It changed America forever, and few would dispute that it was the price, but we should recognize that there was a price, one that was often measured in terms of broken bones and blood, and sometimes, in terms of lives.

Do not, as our politicians (of both parties) so often do, promise change and assure us that there will be no consequences. As you move forward with your lives, you will become experts in at least one thing, and perhaps in many things. You will be in a position to understand what is worth preserving and you will know what changes are worth the price and which exact a toll too dear. It will be your duty, in a world that grows more complex each day, to communicate what you know to the rest of us.

That doesn’t mean that you have to write a letter to the editor, or start a blog, although blogs are certainly fun. How you communicate is up to you, but if all you every do is to chat over the fence with your neighbor, you will have done the rest of the world a service.

For there’s nothing wrong with shaking things up and I have no doubt that you can. But, this time, before you start making changes, let’s make sure that we understand exactly what it is we’re changing.

Now that would be a change.



  1. Excellent!

    Comment by CAS — June 5, 2008 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

  2. Some good advice here – it seems many proponents of radical change are blissfully ignorant of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Or they are aware of it but are certain that this time it will be different.

    Also I’m reminded of the Will Durant quote: “History has shown that nothing is often the right thing to do and always a clever thing to say.”

    Comment by Alex Cull — June 10, 2008 @ 5:34 am | Reply

  3. Thanks Alex — and great quote by Durant.

    Comment by trzupek — June 10, 2008 @ 10:03 am | Reply

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