Want change? Get ready to work for it

Published 7:01 am Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sometimes Sisyphus gets a bad rap.

I thought of Sisyphus after we ran a story headlined “Addressing a problem” last Sunday on the Austin Area Drug Task Force and Parenting Resource Center receiving a grant to boost education and awareness in the schools on drug and alcohol issues.

But don’t mistake my comparing the drug task force to Sisyphus, the Greek figure destined to endlessly push a boulder up a mountain, only for it to roll down, as an insult. It’s quite the opposite. It led me to admire the task force’s many members and everyone who has worked to address drug problems in the area for their dogged determination and their push to make a difference.

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The work of the task force and law enforcement’s local approach to drug issues was on my mind as I watched protesters take to the streets following the recent deaths in the Twin Cities, Baton Rouge and Dallas.

After a year of several shootings, protests, and calls for change on national issues like race, guns and policing, we could all learn a few things from a steady and long-term approach to a problem, even as it fights a battle that can never be won.

Most logical people will agree our country has some issues right now. Just turn to our A-section of the paper and check out the updates on the tragedies I just mentioned, but we all have different ideas for the cause and solution.

But here’s the problem: More and more people seem to be confusing social media as an answer to these problems. They state their opinion and aim to set the rest of us straight. They post their opinion on Facebook or Twitter and think it will contribute to fixing the centuries-old issues of race, ignorance, fear and the general human condition that led to such tragedies.

Let me spoil the ending of this column: I have no lofty answer for how to fix these problems, and I don’t think sharing my opinions and outrage on Facebook will get me or anyone else any closer.

Let’s be realistic for a moment: The problems at the heart of our recent national tragedies will never be truly solved and corrected. In Biblical terms, we’ve been killing each other for idiotic reasons since Cain killed Abel. In scientific terms, the Telegraph reported in 2008 that scientists found proof that humans from the Stone Age used drugs. Racial issues have been around just as long, as some researchers have argued racism has a biological tie to the Stone Age and early man’s interactions in social groups.

So I think it’s safe to say that you and I aren’t going to completely correct the drug problem or ensure complete equality for all 7.4 billion people on this planet.

That means we should just all go home and wallow in self-pity as we crack a few — several — beers, right?

In fact, this is a good time to return to the drug task force and its beginnings. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the area faced big issues with methamphetamines.

The drug task force formed and many groups worked to pass an ordinance and state statute to stop selling Sudafed — a key meth ingredient — over the counter and regulate the amount that could be purchased. It proved effective and made it more difficult to produce meth here in Minnesota.

Mission accomplished, right? Drug problem solved, right?

Well, no. Nothing is ever that simple. We still have meth in Austin, and it’s still produced here, though more of it is probably brought in now too. And the substances being abused has continued to shift, as heroin has become more prevalent in recent years.

The task force pushed one boulder to the top of the hill and found another at the bottom.

But the moral of the story: They’ve kept pushing. No one has any illusions about the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division grant winning the war on drugs. The idea is to win battles.

As our story reported last week, the grant will primarily focus on creating, promoting and sustaining effective approaches to reducing alcohol and drug use, specifically opioid and prescription drugs.

“Ultimately, we hope it achieves students not using [substances],” Executive Director of the Parenting Resource Center Becky Rasmussen said.

With every child that doesn’t use, the task force wins one battle and, perhaps, saves one life.

Like with the drug issue, we don’t need political speeches or social media soapboxing. We need action — small, steady steps — and the best place to start is right here.

Those social media rants posted in recent weeks are likely buried under mountains of other posts by now. Even protests eventually fall silent and are forgotten and designated to history books.

If you truly want to make a difference, start right where you’re sitting. You’re far more likely to have an effect there than on a national scale. Start by simply being kind to someone instead of posting a snotty or insulting social media comment and continue by getting involved in a local group.

When everyone is shouting, any kind action, however small, will ring loudest.

But be ready to be dogged and persistent if you really want something accomplished. We can all join Sisyphus and push our own boulder up the mountain, or we can stand idle, complain on social media and watch the stones roll by.