The Ice Bucket Challenge has taken social media by storm. At first I was puzzled. What were all these reasonable people doing having a bucket of ice poured over their heads? I wondered. Then I realized that there were charitable donations attached to the activity, most notably for research to cure the devastating disease ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The whole thing is not unlike the dunking booth at school carnivals, wherein students can, for a fee, sink their favorite (or most hated) teacher into a vat of cold water.
Inevitably, though, the haters started posting. Quit being stupid, these posts admonished, and stop pouring ice over your heads. Just make the donation already! I have to admit that in the past I have been a naysayer about charitable events, whether they be marathons or dinner dances. My favorite charitable event was one called the No Show Dinner. You were asked to send in a contribution without the expectation of getting dressed up and attending a pricey gala. This appealed not only to my dislike of wearing high heels and makeup, but also to my sense that the money spent on these events would be better spent by giving it directly to the charity in question.
I have come to realize, though, that the events themselves are important. First of all, they provide a catalyst for action. Most people don’t sit around pondering which charities or causes they should support. But if you invite them to walk or run a 10 K, hobnob with the glitterati at a gala, or, indeed, pour a bucket of ice over their heads, they tune in to the need and respond accordingly.
Charitable events also provide emotional support for those suffering from a particular disease or syndrome. It gives their loved ones a focus for their feelings of grief and helplessness. Last summer my daughter and her friends helped a good friend organize an event in New York City called Cycle for Survival. This activity helped my daughter’s friend after the death of her mother to cancer.
Participating in a benefit is also a way to cultivate our own sense of compassion for the suffering of others. Last summer I walked 39.3 miles in Chicago for the Avon Breast Cancer 2-Day. Although I have not been closely affected by the disease, as a woman I wanted to support others going through cancer treatment. Raising the money helped fund practical cancer-fighting activities, but the walk itself gave me a sense of unity with men and women in treatment for or, more happily, in remission from, this dreaded disease.
So if I am called upon to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge, I just may be posting my own video on Facebook and asking friends to donate to ALS research. I’ll be sure to choose a 90 degree day!