This week, our newsfeeds have been flooded with videos of friends and stars alike participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge. The campaign has raised a lot of awareness, a lot of money, and a lot of questions as to whether or not it’s actually doing good.
It’s unclear where the ALS campaign originated, much like the recent #nomakeupselfie campaign, which emerged organically but was adopted by Cancer Research UK and raised £8 million in six days. In that case, a lot of women participated in the alarming act of sharing photos of their bare faces – but how many also donated? In the case of the ALS drive, not only have we been granted a view of many a washboard stomach but as much as £40 million has now been raised, perhaps because of the campaign’s global reach and virality involving so many high-profile individuals and groups.
The campaign has clearly succeeded in raising awareness of ALS, which a lot of people didn’t even know was related to motor neuron disease, or Lou Gerig’s disease as it’s known in the US. The idea of ALS has always both fascinated and terrified me, and I’ve read a number of memoirs recently from women suffering from this degenerative disease including Rowing Without Oars and Until I Say Goodbye. It’s a disease that affects a small number of people and that is little understood, and raising awareness and funds to support this cause can only be a good thing.
The ice bucket challenge has been criticised, however, for its wasting precious water, for not really creating meaningful engagement, for the gratuitousness of showing off your body in something that is not far from a wet t-shirt competition. Some celebrities including Patrick Stewart and Barack Obama have refused to dump an ice bucket over their heads but committed to making a donation, while perhaps the most effective voice of reason comes from this Australian news reporter. Macmillan Cancer Support has even been accused of “hijacking” the campaign and stealing ALS’ thunder to get funds for its own cause.
So is there a ‘right’ way to raise awareness and donate money to a good cause? My über-fit friends are constantly running or cycling or triathlon-ing and asking for donations to their chosen charity, and I try to oblige when I see the requests. I myself have run for a charity that is close to my own heart while also supporting a foundation that my aunt and uncle set up for my cousin, who passed away at a young age having lived with the rare developmental disorder, Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome. I volunteered on P&G’s Community Relations board, supporting local children’s charities. I regularly give clothes and things to charity shops, with especially big bags being given away this past year as I’ve been moving and de-cluttering. I also give money to buskers, on the principle that I’m happy to do so as long as I’ve actually enjoyed the music they’ve been playing!
On the other hand, I don’t like being approached on the street by organisations like Amnesty International and the Red Cross asking for my bank details. I don’t give money to the homeless. I walk by the many Roma who now sit on the street corners in Stockholm, giving them nothing but an apologetic smile. I don’t even like watching the news as seeing what’s going on in the world makes me feel both guilty and powerless to stop it. And my work, though meaningful in other ways, is not exactly helping the needy.
Where is the line that you need to cross to be Doing Good? How much is enough? Should we all be quitting our jobs and moving to Africa to help people on the ground? Donating all our business profits to cancer research? Which causes should we be prioritising? Should we all work in NGOs, at the Red Cross, at the United Nations, or can we do more good by getting involved in business or government and changing things from the inside?
The answers, as ever, will be personal and I suppose each of us has to decide how much we need to give, what we need to do, in order to feel good about ourselves and our contributions to whatever causes we choose.
And, in the meantime, why not enjoy the 10 hottest male celebrities doing the ice bucket challenge…?