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Issues inherent to Ice Bucket Challenge

By Jonathan Steinklein
Class of 2014

Recently, my mother was challenged by her friend to complete the infamous Ice Bucket Challenge in support of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) research.

If you have not heard about it already, nominees are challenged to record themselves dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads to raise awareness for ALS or donate to the ALS foundation.

Then, the individual is supposed to nominate three other people to do the challenge and the awareness spreads. The numbness and shortness of breath caused by the ice water is supposed to show people without ALS how it feels to have the disease for just a moment.

The challenge has gotten lots of high profile support from celebrities and politicians — like Chris Pratt, Charlie Sheen and Chris Christie — and has raised over $94 million for the ALS foundation.

My mother, however, decided against doing the challenge or donating money. She gives to so many other organizations that are important to her that she does not feel she has to give money to the ALS foundation as well. Honestly, I feel somewhat similarly. I was also nominated for the Ice Bucket Challenge by a friend and declined to do it or give money.

Here’s why: Every once in a while, a social issue will gain momentum, become extremely popular for a little while, then interest will die down and another issue will come to the forefront. It is a familiar cycle — looking back, the same thing happened with issues such as Kony, abortion rights, marriage equality and breast cancer awareness. The meme culture fostered by the Internet has seemingly spilled into charity and activism. In the same way that the majority of people became really excited and then forgot about Gangnam Style and Scumbag Steve, those same people get excited and then forget about different causes.

With that, I have no real qualms with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. If you choose to donate your money and time to supporting ALS, good for you. People express their love for their fellow human in many ways. I think how people decide to care so much about certain causes shows that many people are altruistic despite living in a world that promotes narcissism at every corner.

However, I do not think it is right for individuals to shame other people into giving any money  causes. I think that is what a good amount of this Ice Bucket Challenge is, and that is regretful. It is horribly classist to assume people even have money to give in the first place. And let’s be honest — the dumping of ice water over one’s head is unnecessary now. The awareness is already at it’s peak. Instead, it seems like many people simply complete the challenge to show to their friends on social media that they are participating in a good cause.

There are people out there who are fully dedicated to a select few causes all the time. But in this kind of culture, caring about one or a few things all the time is a kind of long-term gamble. If you wait long enough, the collective online consciousness will hopefully choose your cause to rain down money and support long enough for it to gain some progress.

But for every dollar you have, there is another charitable hand asking for donations for its cause. Should you be shamed for not supporting organizations X, Y or Z even though you supported ALS or donated to another group? I think not.

Do not shame others for their choice in activism. Whatever organizations they choose to donate to or not, it is nobody’s business but their own.


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