Why I can’t help but feel uneasy about the Ice Bucket Challenge

Ice Bucket ChallengeI must admit, when I returned to Facebook after my long e-vacation I was a little dismayed to see that everybody was in the grip of yet another viral ‘dare’ trend – the Ice Bucket Challenge.

I am not going to denounce this craze, though. How “bah, humbug!” would I have to be to say something that has raised however many million (I have seen too many different stats to hazard a guess as to which is correct) for various good causes should never have happened?

However, for reasons I am still not completely able to put my finger on, the whole thing leaves me feeling a little uneasy inside, just as the #nomakeupselfie craze did before it.

I will try and explain without sounding like a completely miserable, uncharitable bitch.

I know I am not alone in hating it when charity campaigners start hassling me for my bank details in the street. Even at this not-very-flush stage in my life, I donate what I can afford to charity whenever I can, and the frequency and size of those sums will continue to increase in line with my personal finances. However, with the exception of sponsoring friends for their chosen charities when they are on a personal drive, I – like anybody else – want to choose the causes that I support.

I find it incredibly difficult to say, upon hearing about the very good work any charity does, “Sorry, I don’t want to support your cause.” Every cause sounds like the most important cause in the world when you talk about it passionately. However, nobody can physically take all of the world’s problems upon their shoulders, and we are all forced to be selective in what we choose to financially support.

I also hate being dragged into situations in which I have to talk about my personal finances. Some people might find it unbelievable if I said, “Sorry, but every dollar I have this month is budgeted for, I have nothing else to spare,” but ultimately, if that is my situation, that is not something I should ever have to be pushed into explaining to anybody at the risk of their scrutiny. My current budget may or may not already include charitable donations, but I don’t feel comfortable getting into that level of detail with anybody. If I donate to charity it is a private choice and not something I need to talk about or put on show.

While there are of course differences, I also feel that there are similarities between the viral “donate to charity” dare and the charity street campaigners that pester you all the way to the bus stop. All involve peer pressure and some level of unspoken, “Wow, what a terribly uncharitable person you are,” if you choose to opt out, and instead choose to quietly give whatever you would have given to ALS/Macmillan/whatever to a charity that is even closer to your heart.

I can’t help but find the concept of saying, “I have donated to charity!” unfathomably irritating, and I really hate to be put in a situation where people assume I haven’t if I don’t announce it. However I am very conscious that this may be an unreasonable point of view, because if making that statement raises others’ awareness to this charity and ends up drawing in more donations, then how can it be a bad thing? This is what has happened with both the Ice Bucket Challenge and the #nomakeupselfie on a massive scale, and this is why I can’t find it within myself to denounce the phenomenon.

I guess I would just rather live in a world where everybody already donated what they could afford – whether this is $20 a year or $200+ a month – to causes they deeply care about, without having to rely on faddish viral crazes to prompt them into doing so. Instead we live in a world in which ‘slacktivism’, ie. maximum-publicity-minimum-effort gestures, has become the acceptable face of charitable contribution.

Regarding the concept of raising awareness and the question of whether it’s okay to be peer pressuring everybody to dump buckets of freezing water on their heads: this is something I go back and forth on. Aside from the issue of whether it is morally okay to be wasting all that water on a massive scale (something I am more conscious of now that I live somewhere where people live off (and run out of) rainwater and now that I just take it a little less for granted than I did when it was piped to my house) – it has undeniably worked. I daresay there are people who had never heard of ALS who are now a lot more aware of it, and this can’t be a bad thing, can it?

However, I just would have liked to have seen this awareness raised in a slightly less attention-centric, look-at-me kind of a way. How about we all actually talk about ALS, or whatever cause is in the limelight at the time? How about, instead of seeing our newsfeeds filled with endless videos of people participating in dares in the name of raising awareness, we flood our newsfeeds with information that actually helps people? But the problem is, nothing like as many people would read it or participate, would they? It just would not captivate the attention of the world in the way this goofy gimmick has.

Nonetheless, even if it is a side-effect rather than an organic event, a lot more information is now out there, and people are now talking about ALS. Not all people, not even most people, but it is now a mass phenomenon that is plastered across the media because of this viral gimmick. So isn’t that the next best thing?

None of this is to say that I think all of my friends who have participated in this challenge are a bunch of apathetic attention-seekers. I know many of you do care, that many of you do support charities in your own private way, and that most of you are doing this to be a good sport and to simply take part in a harmless bit of fun that is helping a worthy cause. This is another reason I can’t help but feel uneasy. I feel uneasy about my own cynicism. I know that, individually speaking, people are doing it because they feel it’s a good thing. So the voice inside my head is shouting down my instinctive gut feeling, and insisting, “That’s all that really matters!”

I am aware that the charities involved in these drives are absolutely thrilled with the results in terms of both donations and awareness, so this brings me back to my original thought: How could I ever say that it’s a bad thing? It’s not, and so, for that reason alone, I am glad it has happened.

Photo: Anthony Quintano

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