All along, I have been on the fence about this charity fundraiser which has been taking social media by storm. In case you've been living under a rock these past few weeks, the concept is that someone challenges you to donate $100 to ALS research, and if you don't then you have to dump a bucket of ice water over your head. It has morphed into donating $10 AND dumping the bucket, or else donating more money. It falls under the category of "raising awareness for ALS." Definitely a worthy cause. But, what started as mostly celebrities posting their ice bucket videos has rapidly evolved into everyone and their dog doing it, and posting it. It's gone totally viral.
It was only a matter of time before someone "nominated" me, and I wasn't sure how I was going to handle it. Would I decline or ignore it? Would I just do it and shut up about it? Would I waste the water, spend money on the ice, and feel good about it? There have been some valid questions raised about the ice bucket challenge, and I wanted to be more than a sheep simply following the herd.
As it happened, the nomination came up on my Facebook page while I was on a road trip, somewhere between Calgary and Canmore. I knew I wouldn't be able to complete the challenge within the required 24 hours, nor would I have access to a computer to donate anything. I also knew that the next day I would be at Lake Louise. A glacier-fed lake. Surely that would count as ice-water, right? And dumping a bucket of water that hasn't had to travel and which goes right back into the lake, that would have no impact on the environment. A plan began to form, and my sister texted her boyfriend to please bring a bucket and a towel with him when he met us for a day of rock climbing.
After a few hours of walking and learning to climb on actual rocks (!!! - more on THAT experience, later), I ended the day with the challenge. Because I had already messed up the rules, I decided to make up more of my own. I was uncomfortable with nominating three other people to do it. Not only because so many friends had already done the challenge, but because there's something a little bit off about guilting, shaming, or pressuring people into either donating or making a spectacle of themselves. To address my concerns about the Ice Bucket Challenge, I "nominated" anyone who watches this video (yes, that means YOU - you're hooked, now), to do 3 things:
1) Learn about ALS. Go find a few facts you didn't know before. The "raising awareness" component of the phenomenon seems to have gone missing from a lot of videos, at best people say something like "this is for ALS." Okay. We are aware that it exists. How will funding help to cure it? To detect it? What are we raising the money for? How many people does it affect? What does it feel like to have ALS?
2) Donate money to a charity of your choice. I love the fundraising element of this. It's clearly effective, and people are talking about something and doing something they wouldn't otherwise have done. It's not exactly "slacktivism" in its worst form. But there is an impact to asking people to donate to the same charity. It means that other charities and causes receive less. People have a finite amount to donate. So, choose something that is near and dear to you, which has a personal connection. Or, choose something which is an immediate urgent need, like the crisis in Syria, or health care (ebola outbreaks) in Africa. For me, I have donated to ALS. I will also be supporting my friend Katie in her efforts to raise money for ovarian cancer, which took her mom earlier this month. And I will be donating to my friend Robyn who will raise money for breast cancer, because that took my aunt from us. If you're not sure to what or whom to donate, those are two very deserving causes and people.
3) Do something nice for someone, and don't tell anyone about it. Don't post it to Facebook. Don't Tweet it. Don't Instagram it. Do it because being kind and generous should not be as self-serving as the ice-bucket challenge is. "Look at me! Aren't I awesome?" It is the hashtag activism and narcissistic altruism that I don't really love, so do something to balance it out for me, would ya please?
Still, it was important to me to do the challenge. In considering all the reasons not to do it, I also considered reasons to go ahead. There is a lot of good coming out of it. ALS is a brutal disease, without a cure, and it impacts the family and friends in addition to the person who has it. Acknowledging them virally? Nothing wrong with that.
And, as an unexpected bonus, we'll always have the fantastic family story to tell, about how my sister's boyfriend dumped a bucket of water on my head the first day I met him in person.