Monday, August 18, 2014

I Challenge You To Stop Dumping Ice On Your Head

In recent days, my Facebook feed has been all wet. Wet with the sight of my friends, neighbors, former colleagues, and even a relative or two dumping buckets of ice water on their heads.

I've watched as you've dumped ice water on your own head. I've watched your children and spouses dump ice water on your head. I've even watched (though I'll admit- I probably stopped watching halfway through) as your family has "snuck" up on you in a poorly veiled and badly staged routine, before dumping ice water on your head.

All this is part of what has been called the "Ice Bucket Challenge," a social media-fueled campaign to raise money and awareness for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Here's how it works- you either "accept" the challenge and agree to dump a bucket of ice on your head (AND record it... AND share the recording online, because if you dump a bucket of ice water on your head in the forest and no one is around to see it, does it really raise awareness for ALS?), or donate $100 towards ALS research. From everyday folks to celebrities, everyone seems to be taking the challenge.

So after sitting back and watching all of this unfold, I'd like to issue a challenge of my own:


Stop with the buckets of water. Stop with the ice. Stop with the recording, the sharing, the watching, and the "liking." Stop with what in many cases has become no more than a gratuitous party game with some vague connection to some charity.

It was cute and somewhat entertaining at first, but something has bothered me about this from the beginning.

Ostensibly, the Ice Bucket Challenge is meant to bring attention to ALS, which on the surface, sounds like a great idea. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a horrible, debilitating degenerative neuromuscular disorder for which there currently is no cure. I can still remember writing a report about the disease in 5th grade, tearfully asking my physician father why doctors couldn't just "fix" the people who have it. Author Mitch Albom poignantly described what it was like to watch one of his cherished professors succumb to the disease in his acclaimed book Tuesdays with Morrie. Certainly, we would all do well to be more aware of what those who suffer from ALS go through, what their caregivers endure, what treatments show promise, the state of clinical trials, and where the research stands.

And yet, in watching these Ice Bucket Challenge videos, I am yet to see anyone actually talk much ABOUT the disease. Yes, a few have mentioned having known someone who battled ALS, but no one describes the symptoms, talks about the pain of watching someone's life sucked away by the horrors of this illness, or shares their hopes for what can be done to help. In fact, many people who take the Ice Bucket Challenge, including Today Show anchor Matt Lauer, fail to even MENTION the specific charity in their video. Not once. But the crowd sure did "Oooh!" when Lauer removed his suit coat. And in a pre icing interview, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when co-host Savannah Guthrie posed the tough question to golfer Greg Norman, who had nominated Lauer: Would this be very painful for Matt? Because that's what's important here.

Let's also keep in mind that the majority of the people dumping ice water on their heads have done so to AVOID giving money to the charity. And what's going to happen if you don't take the challenge? Is this like those old chain emails where if you don't pass it along to 12 people in the next 30 seconds, something very bad will happen? Do you think the president of the ALS Association is monitoring all this, taking down the names of those who were nominated, and will send you an invoice if you don't go through with it?

Yes, the challenge has raised money for ALS, which again, on the surface, is a wonderful thing. It's a particularly wonderful thing for the roughly 5,600 newly diagnosed Americans and their friends and families whose lives are destroyed by this disease each year. But we can do better.

We can do better than this glorified wet t-shirt contest. The Ice Bucket Challenge is narcissism masquerading as altruism. It's like the love child of an illicit affair between two of social media's biggest class clowns: the selfie and "hashtag activism." It makes us feel good about all the awareness raising we're doing without actually having to DO much of anything. When the summer ends and the Ice Bucket Challenge stops trending, how many of our chilled friends will still remember ALS? I'm pretty certain for many, they'll tuck this particular charity away with their yellow Livestrong bracelets, red equal signs, and "Bring Back Our Girls" signs. At some point, awareness needs to turn to action, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, but dumping a bucket of ice on your head does not an activist or a philanthropist make. Just ask any high school football coach who has been treated to a Gatorade shower after winning the championship.

My parents, the most generous people I know, have always lived by the Biblical example of charity: "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret." Today, before our right hand can even do anything, our left hand has already Tweeted it, blogged it, and uploaded it to Instagram.

Many of us today, myself included, are guilty of over-sharing and under-doing. The line has blurred between documenting our lives and living them. We are so wrapped up in garnering approval and the "likes" of our social networks that we'll do anything, including dumping a bucket of ice on our heads for pretty much any reason. And can I just point out that it is just a bucket of ice water, folks. probably about the same temperature as Lake Michigan, where many of us have vacationed and gone swimming this summer. It's not like this is the Great White Shark Challenge, or even the Festivus Feats of Strength Challenge.

But you know what takes real strength? Having the courage to do something because it's the right thing to do and not tell a darn soul about it.

Perhaps the REAL challenge lies in looking within ourselves and the way we conduct our lives to figure out why this silly challenge has gone viral, and what it says about us. If you still want to dump a bucket of ice on your head when you're done, be my guest.

I nominate YOU.

1 comment:

  1. So true Mona! I've wondered from the start how this challenge could possibly help anyone with ALS. Thanks for sharing.