Commentary – Blame the water, not the horse

Pearl Lorentzen

In a discussion about a homeless shelter in Slave Lake, someone mentioned the old adage – ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.’ I’d already started this regional with the same adage.

I wonder about this adage. Why doesn’t the horse want to drink? When using the adage, people seem to blame the horse, but maybe the issue is the water.

I’m not sure how accurate this is, but I saw a meme recently saying that people should drink from the same stream as their horse brcause horses won’t drink tainted water. (Generally, people shouldn’t drink untreated water.)

Of course, the adage is really talking about people. This idea comes up time and time again. For example, whenever someone or an organization has an event or program and no one shows any interest.

This adage is anouther way of thinking strengths-based community development.

I came across this concept in the Rural Mental Health Network training. An email I received from RMH somes this up. It says, “Everyone has gifts. Everyone has something to contribute. Everyone cares about something and that passion is his or her motivation to act.”

This resonated with me. I have included it in each agenda for the Slave Lake and Area Mental Health Network meetings.

It summarizes something I have believed for a long time. That everyone is interesting, you just have to find the right topic.

The goal of the mental health network is to engage as many community members as possible and help them identify ways to improve their own and other people’s mental health.

Humans are social creatures, and one of the ways I find that improves my mental health is being involved in community.

Not everyone is going to be interested in the same things.

‘You can’t put a square peg in a round hole,’ and it makes more sense to make a round hole than to blame the ‘square peg.’

Remembering that everyone has something to offer and that everyone is different is important. If a target audience is, say teenagers, it makes sense to ask them what they are interested in instead of just coming up with a program or event.

Also, it is a good idea to ask more than one teenager. As a teenager, most things teenagers were supposed to like, I didn’t.

No matter how young (or old) a person is, they are part of the community and can be involved in community development.

In a small town, the best way to get to know people is to volunteer. I had been in Slave Lake for three months when I broke down and accepted a position on a non-profit board. I thought I was doing pretty well to have held out that long. I joined some other, and passed on ones that didn’t interest me. Also, I wanted to be part of a writers’ group. There wasn’t one so I started one at the library.

However, I’ve met other people who have lived in the area for longer and think there’s nothing to do. It is especially hard for people who moved to town during COVID-19.

Communities are made up of people. All of them have something they care about, given the opportunity they will act on it. Let’s give each other the opportunity to act. Even if it means starting something new.

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