So, have YOU been challenged yet?
Wait! Wait! Don’t click off. I realize that between summer and shoulders I’ve not been that active recently, and I missed the initial rosy glow of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Now, when I want to write something supporting it, I look around and see the Backlash. Money being raised will take away from other charities. Less funding will be available to use for developing cures for diseases with more victims. Why are we pouring ice on our heads when there are water shortages? When ALS uses genomes? When scientists test on animals? When we should be thinking about ISIS and Gaza and Ferguson and Ukraine and Ebola and…
Stop it. Pull back for a minute.
A few weeks ago, ALS—Lou Gehrig’s Disease—was mostly known about by friends and relatives and colleagues of people who have, or more likely died, of the disease. My wife’s aunt, the incorrigible, powerful Carol Kaufman, was my link. She died several years ago after a terrible, painful illness where the humiliation was only lessened by the incredible love and dedication of her family. But beside Carol, I have never been affected by ALS directly, as opposed to cancer or Parkinson’s or MS or many other illnesses. There are only (only…) a few thousand people suffering from ALS at any time. There is no cure, and researchers are not overly well-funded. Last year, at this time, the ALS Association had raised somewhere around $2.5 million.
And then someone dumped a bucket of ice over his head, made a donation, posted it on Facebook, and challenged some friends to do the same. And all of a sudden the game had changed. It was 50 Shades of Grey or Gangnam Style, but trying to help eradicate a disease. And it’s all done by taking a video, talking for a minute, dumping some cold liquid on your head, and paying it forward. And what is wrong with that? It’s been absolutely rejuvenating for my Facebook surfing (and by the way, it’s been fascinating to see, as in the article here (http://digiday.com/platforms/facbeook-twitter-ferguson/), how users are staying of Facebook for this, while tweeting the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown.) And it’s raised more than $80 MILLION in real money for ALS. And what’s wrong with THAT?
Well, folks are saying that it’s taking away discretionary charitable donation money away from other charities, and this is going to be a giant money suck away from other places that need it. Here’s the thing, though. The Challenge isn’t necessarily forcing anyone to give, or even suggest an amount. People are giving because they feel like doing good. It has felt to me (non-scientifically, so you can roll your eyes if you wish—but I suspect if you’ve read this far you likely aren’t going to do so) that this is the charity version of the impulse buy—the pack of gum or Us magazine at the checkout counter, where you aren’t going to stop buying bread (or, I suppose, the New Yorker, so stretch a metaphor until it screams) because one day you saw Oprah or Benedict Cumberbatch being shown doing something and feel like getting involved. I’m not going to give less to the American Cancer Society or my synagogue or my animal rights charities or my alma mater because I made a small donation to fight ALS because everyone else is doing it and it feels good.
Finally, another thing that’s happening is that people are starting to read about and understand ALS; and whether they are directly impacted by it or not in the future, they might have a little more understanding the next time they read about it or see a tv news story about it.
So that’s it. The ALS Challenge was a great, simple idea that took off unexpectedly. It has done good for the world. And it almost singlehandedly justified Facebook’s existence. There’s enough tragedy and despair in the world; let’s enjoy something good. OK?