Ice Bucket Challenges: Complaints and Community

Back in July, ALS-sufferer Peter Frates sat on the field at Fenway Park and had a bucket of ice water dumped on him. Thus launched the Ice Bucket Challenge which, according to a recent Boston Globe article, has raised $94 million dollars for the ALS Association. Videos have been popping up all over social media. Celebrities have jumped on board. Collages of failed attempts have been shared.

The premise is simple: if someone challenges you to take the challenge, you have 24 hours to donate $100 or you can have a bucket of ice water dumped on you and only donate $10. This has been, in my humble opinion, just about the greatest thing ever.

But as with most good things in our society today, people have been complaining about how awful this is. Some common objections:

  1. People are getting water dumped on them to avoid donating. How selfish.
  2. Social media stunts are stupid and bring about no actual change.
  3. People are wasting water when millions of people world-wide have no access to clean water.

Even with these objections, I still think the ice bucket challenge is awesome. I think too many people just need to find reasons to complain about everything. So here is my response to those objections.

First, $94 million dollars has been raised for ALS research! And that does not include the amount of money given to other charitable organizations. So apparently some of those people getting dumped on are being a little bit more generous than the naysayers are giving them credit for. This is a great thing. In addition to the money, awareness being raised is also a blessing. There are so many health issues plaguing our society today it can often seem overwhelming. But behind every long, scientific name or short, easy-to-remember acronym, there are people and families. Let us be reminded that when we donate to organizations such as the ALS Association we are contributing to the help that real people will receive.

Second, social media stunts are stupid. But they are also fun. I would much rather watch 1000 people have water dumped on their heads then read one more ill-informed, close-minded political rant. The great thing about social media sites is that you have to voluntarily sign up for them. You get to pick whose stories, pictures, etc., show up in your timeline or newsfeed. You have the ability to scroll past something you don’t want to see. So if you don’t like the ice bucket challenge, you do not have to participate or view others participating.

But let me say this: we are a people who long for community. It seems that almost everything we do is more successful when we have partners. 12 Step Groups have sponsors. Diet and exercise routines encourage being a part of an accountability group. Churches grow through small group involvement. Community is important. When people all across the country are participating in something like the ice bucket challenge, we are creating a community of sorts. And we are creating it around the opportunity to help other people.

Will my having water dumped on my head cure ALS? Will the fact that I walked 60 miles and slept in a pink tent cure breast cancer? Will jump-roping for an hour prevent someone’s heart attack? The answer to all of those questions is no. But would I have been as aware of ALS or breast cancer or the American Heart Association? Probably not. I love watching other people’s videos. I love seeing playgrounds full of kids jumping rope. I had such a blast walking the streets of Philadelphia with a few thousand people I will probably never see again. Because being drawn into community gave me the opportunity to be more generous than I could have ever hoped to be on my own.

Third, let’s find ways to be generous instead of putting down others’ generosity. It is true that we are a blessed people. Sometimes, we are too blessed. We are a people of privilege. We can waste things that other people across the world are in desperate need of. Water is no exception. So I understand the objection that people have about wasting water. Here is what bothers me about it, though (and I am totally judging and I know that’s wrong): it seems to me the people who are complaining about the waste of water just really want to be curmudgeons. Are they watering their lawns? Washing their cars? Rinsing off their plates before putting them in their dishwashers? Taking 20 minute showers? Like I said, I’m judging so I may be way off base here.

But I think there is something much better to do than shake fingers and say, “Tsk, tsk, I’m much more aware of the world’s suffering than you are.” That is to follow the example of Matt Damon who used toilet water to highlight the fact that people in the developing world do not have access to clean water. There are ways to still participate in the generosity and the community even if you have to make minor adjustments.

So participate. If you have not yet done the ice bucket challenge, find some way to be a part of it. If you have participated, do it again! My family’s video is coming. Due to travel schedules, sickness, and other daily realities we have been putting it off. And we may not contribute to ALS. We may contribute to a place like or Because long before Matt Damon made us aware of the need for water, Liam Lowe was raising money to build wells for people in developing countries. (You can read more about that story here.) But however we do it, we will do something.

And I hope you will, too.