I first found out about this whilst sitting on my friend’s porch people watching from above the bakery next to a market on a dusty road cutting through the jungle along the beach here in Samara. Two friends rode up on their bikes, and we gave the appropriate holler from above. We noticed the girls had a bucket with them and began squabbling over the proper term for bucket in the local Spanish.
One friend went in to buy mac’n’cheese and the other came up the stairs to explain the bucket. She showed us the video of her dumping ice and seawater over herself on the beach and explained that the trend was going strong on the east coast of the US. She or a friend or a friend of a friend had ALS and she was doing it because she had been elected by someone to do the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and/or money for the cause by dumping the ice on her head, choosing three more people, and posting the whole thing on FB.
Oh cool! I thought it was a fun idea, and then demanded that she explain the deal to our friend in Spanish. The girls left and we moved on to discuss that bucket was indeed valde in Spanish in these parts.
Over the next week, a few other friends from here in Samara posted videos of themselves doing the challenge. Each video shows the volunteer stating something like “I’m Bernard and I’m doing the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness for ALS. I nominate Susan, Kathy and Jake to take the challenge or donate $100 to ALS organization within 24 hours.” Cool… viral thingie spreading all the way to our little beach town in Costa Rica…
Then another friend posted a response to the movement. She spoke of the absurdity of promoting awareness for a cause by unabashedly wasting fresh water when so many millions lack access to it. And she pointed out that by taking the “challenge,” supporters weren’t even donating money to support whichever foundation.
I was surprised by the passion behind the response she wrote because it seemed to hold true contempt for the concept of the thing that multiple mutual friends had participated in. She related in a later post that perhaps she had judged the movement too harshly and that perhaps indeed it had done some good.
Now, a week or so after all this, the movement has gained momentum - it’s drawn in celebrity volunteers, and it’s created a bit of controversy for the reasons outlined by my outraged friend.
The phenomena has lingered in my mind enough to warrant this post so I’ll now explain my ideas. I’m struck by the profound sweep of support for and the tragic absurdity of the thing and how its existence plays out from whatever obscure beginning to the sticky current segment to the inevitable forgotten spot it will occupy in the near future. Here are some ideas I have, however unrefined they may be:
1. Yes, we do need to raise awareness and support for ALS. It is a little understood degenerative nerve disorder that results in death for those who have it. I didn’t know as much about it until the movement sparked my curiosity and subsequent research.
2. Social media is a fantastic vector to spread the word about any cause, but often we become desensitized to the gravity of these situations due to the general frivolity of the majority of our interactions within the channel.
3. Promoting waste of (anything, but especially) clean water is a careless way to promote any cause.
4. Broadcasting outrage over the waste is almost as absurd as the Ice Bucket Challenge itself.
We (even those of us living a minimalistic and sustainable lifestyle here in Costa Rica) all waste. I think about all those who have no access whatsoever to clean water while we have enough to drink, water plants, and operate our toilets. I’m using a collective “we” to include anyone who chooses to identify with the concept, not to vilify America or western culture in general.
It’s great to make the effort to be a part of something, and not even “we” all have enough to make those financial contributions that are meant to make the real difference. And that’s why I can’t rationalize taking either side! Many of the organizations we believe are using our monetary contributions for good are not in fact utilizing the full potential of that privilege but rather use the capital for self-promotion as part of a broader campaign to benefit other individuals or organizations. I just won’t get on board with financially driven “non-profit” organizations.
I hope to be making a difference in my day to day life by showing kindness and generosity, when I can, face to face with the people in my community. And I hope, by talking about causes with people, that I can have a similar effect to that of social media. It may not reach as many people as fast, but there is power and stamina in real life human interaction. Affecting people’s lives on a person to person level can have an even stronger effect than a high-profile viral social media campaign.
So, I guess I’d just like everyone to take a step back from this controversy and think about how we can act individually to build an even greater result. I’d like to make a small difference and pass it along to someone who will make a small difference who will pass it along to make another small difference until the chain travels back and forth over itself. It’s the kind of movement that doesn’t lose power through public controversy. Let’s create the changes that will endure the controversies and will build a better world to come by giving our time and energy instead of publicity and money.