The Ice Bucket Challenge

I write having just completed the Ice Bucket Challenge, and the proof is for all to see on my Facebook page.

According to Wikipedia: “The Ice Bucket Challenge, sometimes called the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, is an activity involving dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research. It went viral on social media during July–August 2014. In the US, many people participate for the ALS Association, and in the UK, many people participate for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, although some individuals have opted to donate their money from the Ice Bucket Challenge to other organizations. The challenge dares nominated participants to be filmed having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads and then nominating others to do the same. A common stipulation is that nominated participants have 24 hours to comply or forfeit by way of a charitable financial donation.”

Whoever came up with the idea could not have imagined the impact this would have. While the time is ripe to be moving onto the next craze, whatever that may be, it is quite evident that many people e.g. if media reports and postings by “friends” on Facebook are anything to go by, have accepted the challenge, albeit with variations. Like most, I saw it as a piece of harmless fun and didn’t want to be a party pooper by NOT accepting when a friend challenged me, but I quite see the down side also. As one who resists the “pass it on rhetoric” that often crops up in social media, seeing it akin to the old fashioned chain letter with its rather sinister connotations, I did think twice. I also realized some see any pressure to participate to be tantamount to bullying. Others have questioned whether ALS is a worthy charity to donate to. It is far better funded than many charities; some staff seem overpaid; its fundraising is slick; and some of the research involves experimenting on human embryos, which I am opposed to on ethical grounds, although most I know who do the challenge do so to support other worthwhile charities, that are often much less well placed and more in need, as did I.

The power of advertising, of which social media is one of its most recent tools, has been long recognized, and it is easy to see why. It is rather old hat nowadays to decry advertising, appealing as it does to our lower natures, but we cannot ignore it or its need if we are to get our message out and, in the case of charities, raise much needed money to continue the good work they do. Many years ago, I came to a view that many charities, including those I support, run raffles and such like, and while against my principles regarding gambling, I decided it was ok to enter into the spirit of things and take part when it is part of a local initiative. The same goes when someone asks to be sponsored for doing some arduous task in order to raise money for a charity they support. Having worked so long in the third sector, I know what a challenge fund raising is and how important it is to be properly resourced in order to do what is needed.

The fundamentalist streak in me says we are stewards of all we possess, which belongs to God anyway, and we don’t need incentives to give, rather wisdom and a spirit of cheerful giving, but this isn’t the time to get sanctimonious, and I felt quite happy on this occasion to go with the flow. Tomorrow, for example, my services will be auctioned off, in aid of one of my charities, to the highest bidder, who in return will get from me a chess lesson. Coming up with bright ideas to get people to give to charity is the way of the world and it is not one I’m inclined to oppose.

But there is a salutary warning regarding social media, having listened to today’s “Thought for the Day”. I was reminded how pre-occupied people are these days with social media and things like smart phones by which they can access it. This is pertinent given the role this played in spreading the news of and whipping up support for people doing the Ice Bucket Challenge. While we need forms of escape that are recreational, it mustn’t take us away from engaging with the real world and real people, as I fear it is beginning to do, if the number of people engrossed this way, oblivious to the human activity that is taking place around them, is anything to go by!


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