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The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: A Cold Look

This summer’s social phenomenon was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Unless you abstain from social media, your newsfeed was probably flooded with videos of friends dumping buckets of ice water on their heads.

However, I was one of the few (or many?) to willingly not participate. There are a variety of explanations for why some people chose not to participate: from “It wastes clean water” to “ALSA uses some funds for embryonic stem cell research” to “Social media slacktivism.” Here I present two different reasons, one of personal virtue and one of corporate virtue, for why I did not participate in the fad.

Personal Virtue

First, nothing says, ‘Look how holy I am’ like posting a video on social media about donating to a charity. I am reminded of the words Jesus spoke against pride in Matthew 6:1-4 when He instructed his disciples, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a great way to spread feel-good do-goodism. And certainly, much social good can come from this. But, that doesn’t mean we should allow ourselves to do social good for the wrong reasons. Instead, Jesus provides some instruction:

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. […] But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Corporate Virtue

Secondly, ALS (like any disease) is a horrible thing. Like all sicknesses, we need to find a way to treat it. However, are we sure ALS is the disease we should have donated $100 million to? Why not pick a disease that affects more people, and thus do more quantitative good? Why not dig wells for people across the globe so they can have clean water. One fellow over at The Water Project is looking for just $1,000 to do so.

If we’re intent on focusing our money and efforts to find a cure for a specific sickness (rather than helping people provide for their basic needs of food, water, shelter, and clothing), we should have picked an illness where a cure would do more quantitative good. Consider this chart made of statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (produced by Vox.com):

Motor neuron diseases claimed the lives of 6,849 people in 2011 (it’s the smallest circle on the bottom right), a miniscule number compared to those who suffer from heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or diabetes. Perhaps we should be spending money on research concerning diseases that affect much larger numbers of people. If we were on a battlefield of war, we would be making horrible strategic decisions. Let us pick our battles wisely. In the long-term, hopefully all of these diseases can be cured, but meanwhile, we should focus our resources where they can do the most good.

These two reasons—against pride and for the greater good—led me to sit out from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge this summer.