My thoughts on the ALS challenge

Before you read this entry, please be aware that it might rub you the wrong way. (That’s okay with me if it’s okay with you. I don’t expect that everyone will share my perspective.)

There’s always the one guy who has to be the party pooper, and I guess it’s my turn. Ever since hearing about the ALS challenge I’ve felt a bit weird about it. With every video I watched I got a bit more upset and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the cause.

It seems like a very harmless way to raise money for charity. I don’t have a problem with people trying to raise money for charity.

After considerable thought and some discussion with friends I have figured out why this particular challenge rubs me the wrong way. I have a problem with the mechanisms by which it has spread from person to person, in particular that it involves challenging specific people on a public forum by name.

Ultimately there are three reasons why people might participate after being named publicly:

  1. They like being part of something big, especially if it helps people. Your natural team player, they will jump on the challenge simply because they want to be involved in it.
  2. They feel guilty at the thought of not participating. After being called out by someone else, they can’t help but join in lest they feel like a grinch. The 24-hour time limit on the challenge serves to exacerbate the guilt and get people to react quickly without taking any time to think about what they are doing.
  3. ALS research is their top priority and is something they genuinely care about.

Some people may fit into all of these groups. I don’t really fit into any of them.

I’ve never been much of a team player to this extent; I mean, I work fine with others and even enjoy it, but I’m not a bandwagon-jumper.

Neither am I one to succumb to social pressure or guilting; I vehemently resist it. (This will be no surprise to those who know me.)

Ultimately, if I donate to a charitable cause it will be because I have given it considerable thought, and because I have considered it in contrast to other charities. It’s not that I don’t think ALS is a terrible condition, it’s just that there are other charities to whom I would prefer to give. If that is truly where you want to give then more power to you.

I don’t think someone saying my name in a video is a good decision-making process for deciding when, how much, and to what charitable organization I should give. On the contrary, bandwagon mentality and/or guilt trips are extremely poor reasons to give. I don’t believe that most people actually become part of the third group in 24 hours.

Now here is where I’m going to step on some toes (if I haven’t already), and while I don’t want to, I can’t really help how I feel about this. I’ve been having these thoughts long before I was ever nominated to participate in the challenge, and I was really hoping that nobody would mention me because I didn’t want to say these things.

By nominating someone, you are making the following assumptions:

  1. You assume that they have either the money or the water to participate. I have several friends on the west coast who don’t have the funds to participate right now, and many parts of the west coast are under a severe drought. They can’t spare either of the resources this challenge calls for.
  2. You assume that ALS research is one of their top priorities. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. Maybe there is something else they have judged more important to them. This isn’t a decision for you to make on their behalf.
  3. You assume that they would actually like to participate in the first place.

By nominating someone, this is what you are saying: “I don’t know if you have the money or water to participate, but since I’ve said your name you are now socially obligated to give this certain amount of money to charity, or waste water. You must provide us with proof of either action. If you don’t then you will be judged.”

If you’ve done your share of nominating you may be rejecting this interpretation because it’s not what you meant. But — and I cannot stress this enough — it is exactly what you meant. You just didn’t realize it at the time. (Or maybe you did!)

This is a form of social extortion: participate or be judged as a Scrooge.

I do not feel comfortable giving in to this kind of ultimatum, nor do I feel comfortable “calling out” others and putting them in this same position. Frankly, my charitable giving is none of your business.

My family does and will continue to give to charity — because I want to, not because a group of people are attempting to guilt me into it.

I cannot participate in this challenge, and I don’t feel guilty about it at all. Judge away.

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