Thursday, August 21, 2014

Good Intentions Down the Drain?

The latest social media craze includes dumping an ice bucket over one’s head with the purpose of raising awareness and money for ALS research. It seems that everyone I know has taken this challenge including former President George W. Bush (his video by the

way, shows why he and Bill Clinton are so much more likable than President Obama). Like all social media phenomenons, there is a lot of good that could come from all of this and of course, there are also a lot of naysayers.

First of all, let’s understand the origins of this craze. It appears that the challenge began with professional golfers challenging their friends to dump ice on their heads or donate $100 to any charity of their choice. In July, Greg Norman challenged NBC’s Matt Lauer so when Lauer followed through with the challenge on the Today Show the craze began. 

Sometime along the way, the challenge became associated with ALS and to date, ALSA has raised over 46 million dollars. This is incredible news for the more than 30,000 Americans living with this disease and for the researchers searching for funding as they seek a cure. 

But this is the new age of humanity where not even good things escape the line of critics and experts with opinions. 

One of the biggest criticisms I have heard so far is that “millions of gallons of water are being ‘wasted’ in this challenge”. I understand the difficulty of explaining this waste to the 3.4 million people who die each year from a lack of clean water and it is a bit difficult for those of us living in the severe drought conditions in California but let’s think this through. 

  1. The 2-5 gallons of water dumped over a head cannot be shipped to the people around the world in need of safe water so dumping a bucket on one’s head in Minnesota does not add to the global problem of insufficient clean water. 
  2. If you live in California and turn off the water while brushing your teeth, get into your shower before the water is all the way warm, or even skip one toilet flush a day (If it’s yellow let it mellow) you will save even more water than what you just poured on your head. If you pour the water while standing in the grass and turn off your sprinkler that day you will actually help the drought rather than exacerbating the problem. 
  3. More than half of the United States are actually experiencing an incredibly wet summer and are in no danger of running out of water so dumping a pitcher of water over one’s head is not a problem whatsoever. 

Another criticism to this phenomenon is, “This is just a trendy thing to do and people are not actually learning about ALS”. 

I understand this concern to a point. In fact yesterday I asked a young man why he did the ice bucket challenge. He told me it was to raise awareness for ALS. I then asked, “What is ALS”? He told me it was a disease but that was all he knew.  

At first I was critical of his involvement because he did not actually learn anything or help promote ALS research and then I discovered my kids did this challenge and passed this on to others. My kids were not previously passionate about ALS research and did not donate money to the cause, but they did take a moment out of their day to think about the needs of others who are hurting. 

This, I think, is the great thing about this movement. People from all walks of life are giving and accepting challenges to dump ice on their heads in honor of a worthy cause. It really doesn’t matter the cause. Consider that this movement began being about “any” charity. Nearly 500,000 people in the US are living with AIDS, over 400,000 kids are living in foster care, close to 3 million men have prostate cancer and over 3 million women are living through breast cancer. The amount of causes in the world are plentiful but the point is that people are turning their attention away from themselves and towards others. 

Today my wife said, “Our kids and their friends are dumping ice on their heads for a cause rather than hurting other people. That is a great thing”. I agree. From Ferguson, Missouri to Mosul, Iraq people are divided, they are selfish, and they are bent on causing harm to others. So why should we be critical of millions of people who don’t want to cause harm, but rather do good? 

So for those who are critical of the “ice bucket challenge”, ask yourself what is the real harm in participating in the trend of doing good? It may not be perfect and there are certainly some who are doing this merely for attention but let’s be careful not to throw out the “baby” with the ice bath. 

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