Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Last Ice Bucket

Just over a month ago, it was almost impossible to not see people from all walks of life drench themselves with buckets full of ice water and in some cases cubes of ice to raise awareness of the disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. I did not participate in the challenge because I really do not like to get wet at all, I was also not nominated by anyone and importantly, I thought it was rather bizarre that I would opt to subject myself to an ice-cold bucket to avoid giving to a cause.

The history of philanthropy is rather strong in the United States and some of the greatest philanthropists of our time are North Americans and so it was heart warming to see a return to that culture of giving. However, what I found unsettling about the ice bucket challenge was that it was just another opportunity for some to post videos to social media and jump on the hip bandwagon of the moment. I would argue that most people who did the ice bucket challenge have almost no idea what the letters ALS stand for, neither do they have an understanding of the basic etiology of the disease nor even know whom Lou Gehrig is, although that last part is unimportant. Still, as I saw scores of people continue to drench themselves and squeal in short video clips I became concerned about how much the ice bucket challenge was more about the people doing the drenching than the actual sufferers of the disease.

Surely, a lot of good has come out of the challenge, because so far, the ALS Association has received over a $100 million in donation, leaving the executives in the fortunate position of deciding what to do with the windfall. The donations pouring in are noteworthy because this time last year, the Association had only managed to raise $2 million. Yet, when put into perspective, ALS only affects a minority of people, as there are about 12,000 sufferers of the disease and most victims are white males and veterans. Thus, all things being equal, and given the percentage of donations that will fund research, visible gains might be recovered for sufferers of the disease with the hefty donations.

Yet, for all the good the campaign has done, I am still not a fan and became even more wary of the entire challenge after reading about a firefighter who recently died after having being electrocuted while helping to stage a massive challenge. When someone has to die for people to have fun raising money for a cause the entire premise is just plain unsettling. Further, it’s also upsetting because I am quite certain that few of those who gathered for that particular challenge or participated in others like it gave much thought to the disease once they got into some dry clothes and gloated over the response their videos got on social media.

If we truly care about a cause, I would assume that finding a remedy should consume a good deal of our time. I am very concerned about poverty and disease in Africa and hardly a day goes by that I do not ponder on what can be done and what lasting contributions I can make. As far as giving to causes, I do so without having to be cajoled into it or without the fun or lack thereof of being drenched in ice-cold water. And for certain, when I have the means to do more, I will do so. What bothers me though is that given the short attention span of our age and the tendency to jump on the next bandwagon, the donations may not be replicated in the coming years, and then what? For sure, most people are now aware of ALS and might be spurred to begin a new tradition of giving to the Association, but the converse might be the result and once the last ice bucket touches the ground, ALS and all it stands for will only be remembered as the fun activity that occupied a certain summer some years ago. 

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