Beating ALS will take more than being a temporary ice cube

That's Life with Terri McCormick

Published on August 29, 2014

Everywhere you look people are dumping buckets of ice water over their heads to raise awareness and funds for ALS.  In case you've been trapped under something heavy (say, a large boulder of ice?) for the past month and didn't know, the Ice Bucket Challenge encourages people to either donate or pour ice water over their heads and then nominate others to do the same. Folks are filming themselves and the videos are all over social media.

Everyone's jumping on the bandwagon, even if they've never even heard of the disease.  All the other charities vying for our hard earned dollars are no doubt clambering to keep up with this ice bucket hailstorm in hopes of getting even a smidgen of whatever's left over. Let's face it there's only so much people can give and right now the attention is all on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.)  

ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord but almost always leaves victims' minds intact. So you remain very much aware while your muscles slowly die.  

It's a horrible illness. It joins all the other awful things happening to people and animals in the world today. Along with disease there is war, famine, lack of clean water and education, abuse, neglect, exploitation and the suffering goes on and on. Money is almost always needed to at least alleviate it.

Critics of the ice bucket campaign say that particular cause shouldn't be overshadowed by the popularity of the challenge videos themselves. Regardless of whether you make a donation or not, the viral video aspect of it all seems a bit self congratulatory, but for fear of being beaten with an empty ice bucket, I haven't voiced that thought until now.

Don't get me wrong, this challenge has proven to be a money maker and it's really been a public relations dream. The Internet is crawling with videos of celebrities and regular folks enjoying their two minutes of fame by being doused with cold water.

The New York Times has reported that people shared more than 1.2 million videos on Facebook between June and August and mentioned the phenomenon more than 2.2 million times on Twitter.  

Charitable donations have gone through the roof, which is great! But isn't it enough just to be drawn to a charity because it touches you in some way, and not because you'll get a ton of "likes" or comments on Facebook?

Well, apparently it's not enough, because in the dog-eat-dog charitable world, in order to attract the masses, you have to stroke their egos; capture their attention and by golly the ALS Association has hit the jackpot. The campaign really stands apart and it's likely more and more charities will follow its lead, in fact it's already begun.

In India, the Rice Bucket Challenge has been raised where social media users are urged to donate a bucket or bowl of rice to someone in need, and in Palestine, journalists launched a "rubble bucket challenge" to draw attention to desperate living conditions in Gaza where water simply cannot be wasted.

On a local level, this could inspire less known charities  to issue fun challenges of their own in the hopes of a "giving" blitz. For me the Ice Bucket videos that I often pause to watch are those that include family and friends of ALS sufferers. These folks are enjoying a much-needed laugh, and are doing the challenge for all the right reasons. They've committed to research for some time, have seen the devastating effects of the disease, and know that truly supporting this, or any other worthwhile cause requires more than just becoming a human ice cube for 20 seconds.


Terri McCormick’s column appears bi-weekly in the Amherst News.