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27 August 2014

Ice bucket challenge chills charitability

There is a time in every person’s life when the only natural and acceptable response to the words “I dare you to eat this lump of dirt,” is to eat it. Then, presumably, we learn to say, “no thank you, I have no reason to be eating dirt.”

Or, as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has revealed, maybe we don’t.

This challenge has recently acquired perplexing popularity. Once challenged, a person chooses either to donate $100 to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association (ALSA), or to douse themselves with a bucket of frigid water and donate $10. 

With thousands of people, including Oprah Winfrey, participating in countries all over the world, the ALSA has raised $94.3 million since July 29, compared to the $1.9 million raised in the same time period last year.

It isn’t awareness that’s garnered all these donations, but massive peer pressure. 

Here, the ice bucket acts as the proverbial clod of dirt a person must consume in order to participate. 

For some, the challenge has been performed to save face on social media platforms. It is difficult for people not to donate altogether and risk looking like a social slacker. 

Dumping ice water on someone’s head has become a punishment of sorts. Those who cannot donate the full amount may feel guilty and thus forced to perform this task. Potential loss of social standing may dictate a person’s decision, not a personal investment in the cause.

 One would think that the prospect of ridding the world of one more disease and saving thousands of lives would be sufficient motivation to give to charity, but sometimes it’s not enough.

It’s true that many people endure the frigid dousing and donate a substantial amount, but why is the ice bucket necessary? 

Clearly, there is a third option: save the water and donate whatever you can.

Though it doesn’t matter what spurs people to donate as long as they do – and certainly no one begrudges the ALSA all the funds they’ve raised – this challenge  highlights the interesting dynamic between charitable action and the growing influence of social media.

So, the next time someone dares you to eat a lump of dirt, return it to the Earth and plant a seed instead. Maybe you can even pour a bucket of water on it to help it grow.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.