Monday, August 18, 2014

Punting the Pail

Let me come right out and say it: I am not going to pour ice water on myself.

These days, the "hottest" thing is to take the ALS Ice Water Bucket Head Challenge Thing. In case you are reading this in some far flung galaxy after having inadvertently snagging a stray terran transmission, or are seeing this far in the future after stumbling on a memory module while you are excavating the ancient ruins of one of our "cities" destroyed in the Fourth Mutonium Conflict, or if you just don't know what it is, I will explain. A person is challenged either to pour a bucket of ice water on his head or donate money to the charity raising funds to help subsidize research into trying to find a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis(Lou Gehrig's disease). I think that there is some subset of rules that says that if you accept the challenge you still donate, but less, so that no one thinks he can shirk his civic duty by giving himself hypothermia.

I won't make jokes about Lou Gehrig's disease. ALS is a pretty bad thing. I don't want my refusal to participate in this ridiculous ritual to appear insensitive to those who have suffered or who have had relatives or friends who suffered from ALS. It is bad. I understand that.

But here's the thing -- people can't wait for some stupid and childish (and possibly dangerous) stunt of a gauntlet to be laid down before they act. We can't support that way of thinking. "Honey," he said to his beloved, "I was planning on donating money to ALS research but I feel like I have to wait until someone challenges me to do something I would tell my kids not to do any other day of the week!" Why have we descended to the point that our celebrities, politicians and friends think it is a good thing to waste water and publicize their willingness to avoid a larger donation by abasing themselves? Surely, you will say, this helps increase ALS awareness by having all of our worthy and heroic Hollywood types speak up about ALS. Yes, wonderful. It is nice to know that we, the commoners, need to be prodded and shamed by those people who have enough money to pay someone to dry them off and who have enough time in the day to support many good causes. We should be ashamed, then, of our own ignorance, or our hypocritical sense of self-righteousness when we finally do choose to get involved. Look at us! We are so interested in ALS research that we will participate in this charade instead of quietly mailing a check. And we'll emotionally blackmail others to do the same! What fun! I hope the famous people lead us in discovering another charity worth my money, next week, when this fad has run its course.

Sadly, there are many diseases out there. There are many causes, social, religious, political, economic and medical which cry out for our attention. Will each one have to use some its donation dollars to hire a PR firm to think of the new viral dare which will encourage people to give them money? Will those without a good spokesperson and a funny hook lose out? The pool of donation dollars is relatively fixed and finite. Money given to one is taken from another and what should determine a person's choice of causes to support should be something more than a bucket of ice water and the pearly whites of a movie star. Will I be asked to pierce my tongue to help cure cancer? And if I am, am I bad person because my donation dollars have already been spent trying to cure Tay Sachs? Or help support a soup kitchen? And if I choose to give to the ASPCA instead of Salvation Army, will I have to wrap my head in a flaming towel for 15 seconds and make sure I make a video so people know that my heart is in the right place? Will I then have to challenge my grandchildren to ride a stray dog like a pony or coat their noses in nail polish within 24 hours in order to increase worldwide awareness of Disabled American Veterans?

The cinnamon challenge. The pass-out game. Lying down in the middle of the street as in the movie The Program. Lighting our flatulence. Extreme wrestling. Coating ourselves in rubbing alcohol and letting it burn off. Internet videos show people doing stupid things all the time. Do we slavishly copy them in order to gain some communal acceptance or notoriety? I would like to think that most of us fight against it. We tell our kids not to succumb to peer pressure. Unless, it seems, it is to support a cause that other people are loudly supporting.

If, after I receive the myriad phone and mail and email solicitations for donations, my family and I decide that some of our money can be allocated towards ALS research, we will do so, because we feel it is important and within our means right now. And if we feel that the limited pool of ready cash should be used towards other causes, even ones that haven't asked us to do something dumb, then we will do that. It isn't glamorous. It isn't funny. And there won't be a video of it either. No celebrity will speak out about making reasonable and measured decisions. No politician will garner votes by throwing away envelopes from causes that just aren't practical choices this year. But if I wait to be challenged in order to spur my donations and make my recipient choice for me then I am already lost.

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