Recently, I re-shared this photo on Facebook:
I received some backlash from friends about it, emphasizing the need for ALS to receive charitable funding and that I shouldn’t be promoting one charity as more deserving of funding than another.
I can see how this could be the perception given from this photo, but in fact it is a statement of statistics – open to interpretation.
First, I would like to state that ALS is a shockingly horrifying disease that strips the sufferer of all dignity and causes extreme hardship on the families of those affected by it. It DOES deserve funding and a cure! Never have I begrudged the donations being made to research into the disease. For more information on ALS or to make a donation, go to https://www.als.ca/.
The reason I posted this image was because it provided an opportunity to raise global mindfulness.
When is the last time you flushed your toilet and thought “I just defecated into 3.5 gallons of fresh, clean drinking water”? If the answer isn’t “all the time”, then that is why I posted this photo. The argument can be made that because of our plumbing, we can’t choose to exclusively have dirty water go to our toilets, but much like my reasons for posting the image, that is not the point. The point is awareness. We should be conscious of the impact our actions have on the planet. We need to think about what we are doing as we do it!
No, flushing our toilets less or taking shorter showers is not going to help the people across the globe without fresh water, but it will help our environment, which is also a good thing (and a whole other issue that I would be more than happy to go into over a coffee or beer).
My hope for sharing the picture is not that people will stop with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but that in this spirit of generosity, they will look at what more they can do or what they fail to do. When you are dumping the bucket of ice on your head, do you think about those without access to water?
It is all about mindfulness for me. And it is about raising voices and giving perspective to injustice.
No, the Ice Bucket Challenge is not going to use as much water as showers, laundry, toilets, etc. each year, but it is a form of extravagance and is a good way to point out the excesses of our culture. We take our access to clean water for granted. If you look at the wealth possessed in our society (yes, largely by a vast minority), we have the power to solve a lot of these problems. But, examples like the Ice Bucket Challenge point out that even those of us not part of the 1% can afford to spare $10-100 to help out. And little sums can amount to large totals.
There is the pessimistic side of me that wonders how many of the people doing the challenge follow through on their donation (I think I would appreciate it more if the people were holding evidence of their donation when the water is dumped on their head). I’m not saying the people who do the challenge purposefully forget, but in our busy society it could become one of those things that was supposed to be done, but never was. (And yes, many people have donated, but I would be extremely interested to see the number of donations versus that number of challenges completed.)
I know that viral stunts like the Ice Bucket Challenge are extremely effective marketing campaigns for charities, but it also makes me disappointed in the general hive mind of our society. Is dumping a bucket of ice cold water on your head the only way to get people to pay attention to what is wrong? Before dumping the bucket, do people actually look into what ALS is or how awful it is to live with? I hope the answers are all yes (and I know there are some mindful people out there), but I feel in reality it is no (for the majority). The only reason I know about ALS is because Tuesdays With Morrie is my favourite book, but that is pretty much as far as my research into the disease goes. (Though it does give a vivid description of what it is like to live with ALS.)
In most of the videos I’ve seen, people don’t actually talk about ALS. My worry is that this is just a trendy thing to do, not that people are actually becoming more aware or educated. I’ve heard people talking about the challenge or posting their favourite celebrity videos or laughing at how people react to the cold water, but when I search for actual dialogue about the disease, I come up short. I think what upsets me most is the lack of conscious thought that goes into campaigns like this.
As well, how many of these people will still be donating to ALS next year? How many will keep supporting the cause until there is a cure? How many are actually inspired to make a difference or are they just doing it to be cool?
When you look at similarly trendy campaigns such as Movember, you will see that even though participation grows each year, the average donation per person has been on a steady decline for the past 4 years. Personally, I have friends who participate in Movember each year and though in their first year they were actively fundraising, in subsequent years, their efforts dwindled to “Oh yeah, I forgot to raise money this year.” (Though they still grew a mustache.) Which would be fine because the argument could be made that they are still raising awareness for men’s health, but when asked when the last time they got examined, the response is usually, “Ugh, never! I don’t want a doctor’s finger up my butt.” In my perception, Movember is becoming just an excuse to grow a dirty mustache in November. Even when I ask people why they are growing a mustache, I get a variety of answers – even they don’t know what the Movember movement actually does.
Another example was the “No Make-Up Selfie” for cancer awareness. It took me weeks to figure out what that was for because the dialogue around it was so sparse. I guess my point is, if you are going to participate, then advocate. Do it for a reason. Be part of the solution.
Now, when it comes to the two death statistics quoted in the picture, you could argue that the comparison is irrelevant. Maybe so – they are completely unrelated issues, both of which deserve attention. But the numbers give a good perspective. Too often I feel our society doesn’t give fair acknowledgement to issues that affect “the other” – AKA if I don’t face it daily, it’s not that big a deal. Over 3 million people die annually due to lack of clean drinking water. That is a huge deal! But it doesn’t affect Western culture because we have clean drinking water, but ALS, your neighbour or family member could have ALS – this is a real problem! (And it is, but this is a discussion about perception, not severity.) Again, it really all comes back to the hive mind of our culture and self-centric actions rather than a global awareness.
We need to create real education and advocacy across the globe. I know that everyone can’t fight all the battles, but we can start by talking about them; raising issues, perspectives and discussion. The juxtaposition of the stats displayed in the picture was an opportunity for dialogue. It provoked conversation – and for that it was worth it.
I am extremely happy that ALS has been able to raise such a significant amount of money for research. I hope that they are able to find a cure because of this campaign. I hope that those suffering from the disease are able to find greater sympathy and support from their communities. But I won’t be dumping a bucket of water on my head to do it.