Criticize The Ice Bucket? Why So Cold?


   As the Ice Bucket Challenge has taken the Internet by storm over the last couple of weeks, inevitable criticisms have emerged.  It seems that when something becomes successful, we need to take aim at it.  This is known as tall poppy syndrome.  If one poppy gets taller than the others in the field, it is to be felled. 


The criticisms seem to fall into four categories:

1)   It’s taking money from other causes

2)   People who are participating are ignoring other important issues

3)   Its success is based on shaming others.

4)   It’s a waste of productive time


Regarding point one, I have seen the criticism, but never with evidence.  I haven’t seen a charity say that their donations are down because of this.  Yes, this could happen.  When the Tsunami hit South-east Asia, the Canadian Government diverted funds to provide aid rather than pledge additional funds, causing other organizations to suffer.  But I haven’t heard that is actually happening. 


Now, even if it were, I’m not sure where that critique takes us.  Is an organization  -with a mandate to help families struggling with a horrible illness that receives decidedly inadequate research funding – supposed to shelve an initiative that could help it achieve its mission?  And if an initiative touches something in people such that they are motivated to act, are they really supposed to resist their impulse to help?  (And to have some fun along the way?) 


There are a lot of people who have learned just how terrible a disease this is and have chosen to help.  If those people chose to divert their giving because they found something they want to help more, good on them. For those who are doing  it just for the fun, or the profile, I have to seriously question whether they are truly likely to divert funds from other charities as a result. 


The second criticism troubles me a lot. The reality is, there are more worthy causes out there than anyone can meaningfully absorb.  I’m on the board of something called The Funding Network and we support different charities that come with projects for which they seek support. 


We’ve addressed lack of education in Tibet by building schools, sustainability by creating self funding initiatives in a private school in Uganda,  lack of health care by building a clinic in Guatemala, facial disfigurement in Africa by sending a team of surgeons to operate and teach others, inner city isolation of youth through funding outdoor camps, the sex slave trade by funding a reintegration program for victims and a bunch more.  Then there is war in Syria, Gaza, Ukraine.  Joseph Kony is still running around as are Boko Haram and ISIS.  Coral reefs are being decimated, bee colonies are collapsing, girls are having acid thrown on them, aboriginal women are disappearing and being murdered in Canada.  And then there is Climate Change.  Some say everything else pales in the face of destruction of the eco-systems we depend on for life. 


It’s a depressing list, right?


On the logic of criticism 2, anyone who advocates and participates in one high profile initiative is somehow abandoning, forsaking or pushing to the sidelines all other issues. 


About a year ago, a woman wrote an article advocating for action regarding male violence against women.  A commenter attacked the article as being only about violence against women.  It ignored the fact that there is domestic violence against men, as well.  I replied to that comment by suggesting to the gent that, if that were an issue of importance to him, he should advocate for it.  But that wasn’t her issue.  If she is successful in her efforts, good for her and hopefully that would inspire him and others to take action.  But she has no obligation to advocate for other issues.


I feel the same about this.  Instead of resentment towards a successful program, how about applauding it, its creativity and the simple fact that tons of people are becoming engaged.  And then, if you feel an issue important to you is ignored, start actively promoting it.  Only the critics seem to be of the view that supporting this is to exclude others. 


The third criticism is that this involves shaming; that it requires an unseemly level of peer pressure for its success.  This overlooks a few things.  First, one can just write a cheque.  See Patrick Stewart’s brilliant example ( ) Second, everyone who does it looks like they’re having a great time.  There’s something about this challenge that is bringing out the playful kid in people.  Third, I imagine there are, in fact, a few people who put some hard pressure on people.  That is, indeed, unfortunate.  In my experience, the same thing happens when someone is selling tickets to a fundraiser, asking for sponsors or buying cookies from a co-workers’s kids.  That doesn’t make “bullying” behaviour ok; it’s just that the ALS campaign doesn’t seem to be worse in that regard.  I’ve seen people who’ve declined or asked not to be challenged and their wishes have been respected.


The final critique is one I find rather fascinating as it bumps up against things I teach.  It basically says this: you only have 24 hours in every day.  To get the most out of life, you need to be highly strategic about the choices you make in those 24 hours.  Before the Challenge, you probably didn’t think too much about ALS.  Now suddenly everyone is a passionate supporter of this disease that affects only .0001% of the population. 


Because this wasn’t your cause before, you should stick to your passions and your goals.  If there are causes that you support, stick to those.  The length of time it takes to plan the event, to shoot the video, to post the video is excessive and is an unnecessary distraction. 


To this, I say lighten up.  Yes, I’m a fan of being focused on goals.  Yes, people are too distracted by media, by materialism, by other people’s priorities.  But a fulfilling life needs a bit of spontaneity.   If everyone only supported their own causes and never came to the support of the causes of others, how far would we get? 


I feel all these criticisms miss an incredibly important point.  Most charities ask for a cheque.  This is asking for something more.  And people are stepping up to deliver.  What’s more, they are having a blast doing it. 


Some say it trivializes charity.  I say the opposite is true.  This demonstrates to people that giving of oneself instead of just one’s pocketbook is rewarding and enjoyable. It has illustrated that individuals can make a difference.  It should be challenging other groups to be more creative. 


This became popular because it tapped into something.  Others need to ask questions about what that is.  Why did so many people enthusiastically jump on this?  They were challenged, they felt as if they were making a contribution, they were pushed outside their comfort zone, they felt connected to something larger.  And as I alluded to earlier, it connected people to some youthful innocence; to the pure enjoyment of play. 


Maybe other organizations can learn from this initiative (without copying it.)  At the end of it all, I believe we want a society in which people do step away from their own selfish interests, where we feel that contribution is rewarding and where we are keen to learn more about the challenges faced by those around us even as we help.   The Ice Bucket Challenge is contributing to that by giving joy to the experience of giving.


My 6 year old daughter doesn’t really understand ALS.  But she knows it’s a bad thing, she knows I wanted to help, she saw I was willing to drench myself to participate and she wanted to contribute.  And she had fun. 


How is that a bad thing?


If you want to see my daughter and I in the Challenge, here’s the video: