“Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” John Adams, our second president, had a way of getting at the heart of the matter. Facts are indeed stubborn things, but they still come under attack. If you can devote a few moments to thoughtful reflection, please consider the following.
We have entered an era of apathy about alcohol’s harm. There are adults who refer to underage drinking as “a rite of passage.” College students tell us that “underage drinking is merely a ploy for the city to make money by writing drinking citations,” at the same time that “law enforcement deals with incidents of public drunkenness and phony ID cards.” (Columbia State, October 2012).
Here in our community, our children lay facts out before us. Nearly three-fourths of students at county high schools, participating in the 2010 Communities That Care Survey, report having had alcohol in their lifetimes. More than half of those report the use of alcohol in the past 30 days.
In the GLEAMNS communities (Greenwood, Laurens, Edgefield, Abbeville, McCormick, Newberry, and Saluda), 2011-12 Highway Patrol data show 26 vehicular fatalities. Eleven were alcohol or drug related. Drunk driving has now emerged as the nation’s most frequently committed violent crime.
One local hero, a law enforcement officer whose life is on the line every day for our well being, summed up the issue at a recent gathering. “Our kids drinking is a community problem that every citizen must accept as very real and very important. It cuts across every social, economic, racial, and sexual boundary, and no one is immune. We cannot wait for tragedy to spur us to action.”
As a senior in high school, two of my good friends were killed within a week of each other. They were two years my junior, immensely talented, delightfully funny, and very special. Neither ever drank alcohol. Both died at the hands of drunk drivers. I remember them as forever young and can promise you that the passing of more than 40 years has done nothing to lessen either the pain or the sense of loss.
We owe our young people, indeed every person in this community, much more than apathy. Like our law enforcement officers, we can work to prevent the tragedies rather than react to them. Contrary to the opinions of some who choose to dismiss this issue of alcohol’s harm, these efforts are not about prohibition. Responsibility, yes. Obeying the law, yes. Prohibition, no.
Across the ocean from John Adams, Edmund Burke, a British philosopher and contemporary of our president, offered his own view of facts. “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing.”
We dare not embrace indifference and turn away. As citizens of this community, we are not afforded that luxury.