The Tragedy of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

ALS Thank YouWell, unless you’ve been living in a hole you’ve seen/heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the millions of dollars it’s generated for the ALS Foundation. Everyone is doing it from George W. Bush to Lady Gaga. Frankly I find the whole thing very annoying. What really bothers me about this “challenge” is how much it highlights our shallow, calloused, ADD society. While wars rage on all around us and people die from Ebola, we’re obsessed with running around putting ice down each other’s back like we’re middle schoolers.

As I watched the phenomenon build this past week I shared some of my observations via social media. I asked questions like “How many of you cared about ALS a month ago and how many will care in a month from now?” and “What’s the point of the Ice? Just make the donation. If you want your friends to do stupid things play truth or dare.” Responses varied on both sides of the spectrum:

I feel like the awareness is good but most of the videos are hollow. – Lindsey

ALS broke the heart of my family recently. The disease is Brutal. Glad it’s getting the attention – Tim

So for those who have challenged my sincerity toward the situation, please don’t misunderstand my reasoning. My point isn’t that this is a bad charity. It’s quite the opposite. My point is, if you’re passionately defending the gimmick that is the ice bucket challenge now, how passionate were you a week or two weeks ago about ALS? How much had you donated to the ALS foundation so far this year or even in your lifetime?

My wife is a physical therapist who works with children who suffer from all sorts of disease; ALS, Cystic Fibrosis, Fibromyalgia, MS, or a host of other diseases that affect the muscles, skeletal system, or mental capacity in one form or another. Our family gives year round to helping her non-profit clinic raise awareness and money to stay open so that they can provide treatment to help make life easier for those who suffer. There’s nothing more humbling than standing at a booth selling rubber ducks to raise money next to an 8 year old girl who has never walked and may never walk independently. Insurance alone doesn’t cover enough to keep my wife’s organization in business and they rely on donations as much as any other non-profit. Where’s their Ice Bucket? And why do they have to do it?

Why are gimmicks needed to get people’s attention? It’s as if compassion must come with a condition of reward. It’s like telling your children if they eat all their vegetables they can have dessert. Make a donation and get a t-shirt. Sure, you want to show the people who make a donation that you appreciate them, but isn’t the best reward in doing something responsible and showing results with what you’ve raised funds for as well?

Then where does this stop. Am I going to see my pastor get up in December and pour a bucket of ice on himself and challenge me to tithe more? I’ve already seen articles about charities trying to find the next “challenge” to replicate the effect. There are hundreds of charities begging every day for another dollar to help one more life put in their care. Is ALS more worthy than March of Dimes, St. Jude’s, The Red Cross, or AIDS research?

I wondered what Bill Gate’s thought as he dumped his water and made his donation. He’s been fighting Malaria for decades and it seems like no one cares or notices. I’ve tried for years to bring attention to childhood poverty through World Vision and find myself banging my head against the wall. 5,600 people are diagnosed every year with ALS while 20,000 children die EVERY DAY from poverty.  What would your response be if I poured a bucket of ice on my head and challenged you to adopt a World Vision child?

No this isn’t about the ALS foundation or how much they deserve the money for research (which they do). This is about you and me and everyone else who under normal circumstances wouldn’t have cared about ALS and wind up ignoring all other pleas for help on a regular basis. We wanted the attention and thrived on the peer pressure as we claimed our 15 seconds of fame and attention from all of our friends and family by posting a video of ourselves online. I wonder how much money ALS would have raised if it was merely a “donate and post to your FB page”. How many of us would have read the research and cared about how this brutal this horrible disease attacks people. I’m guessing it would have been ignored. And that’s the tragedy of the situation.

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3 thoughts on “The Tragedy of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

  1. You have an interesting post here Ben, thank you. Normally I would enjoy the thinking, click Like to acknowledge the thinking and your gift and move on. Something is tugging me to tarry.

    “This is about you and me” I think is the crux of why.

    Because I wonder: if sincerity and compassion and honesty was always a requirement – how many would be barred from entering church each week, how many would be fired from their job on days when turning up justified a wage, how many would be summarily divorced, how many would …

    Maybe a combination of fun, social media, a “good cause” and peer pressure has been tapped – rather than the usual handwringing and guilty conscience pressure so often on display. Those carefully composed heart tugging pictures designed to reach straight to our wallets. And if the result is millions of “resources” every charity and fundraiser drools over … why the angst?

    We all give for many different reasons. You have listed some of yours. I could list some of mine. In almost every list I see there is a payback of some kind or another. The payback in this case is no different than a collecting tin shoved under my nose on the high street, a knock on the door and envelope through the letterbox, or a photo-shopped touched up picture of a starving child. And from what I see – this one is a lot more fun.

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    • I appreciate you taking the time to not only read but respond. You make a good point about too many of the causes tug at the heart strings to get to the purse strings. Rather than show people the joy in giving, they rely on the guilt trip of “look what happens when you don’t give”. There’s a good “sermon” in there somewhere. Maybe about a widow and some pennies?

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  2. The money raised will fund the research necessary to find a cure for this disease as well as insight on other diseases. It is unrealistic to expect everyone to pass your caring and compassion test. I hope for the best for the eight year old and all the others.

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