Some (Serious) Questions I Have

I’m super nervous writing and posting this. I don’t feel like I can adequately or articulately express what I’m trying to say, or get the point across that I want to make. And I don’t think I have the right to add anything to the conversation. But something is still compelling me to say something and get some thoughts out on…well, screen, I guess.

Like most everyone, I was (am) incredibly saddened about Robin Williams. I didn’t really process it on Monday when I initially found out. Husband sent me a GChat message that I didn’t get for at least 3 hours saying something like “Oh wow, Robin Williams died.” What? Died? The Genie? Mrs. Doubtfire? No…what? How? Why? was my approximate reaction.

I saw this tweet Tuesday night or Wednesday, I think, and got a little choked up. Then this morning I found out it was insensitive. That was news to me.

I read the tweet, initially, as a way to give some comfort to everyone who was sad or grieving. Like, it’s horrible and tragic it had to happen this way, but yes, now Robin Williams is free of the unimaginable, awful pain and anguish he must have been holding inside of him.

Now I don’t know. When something like this happens, how do we respect and memorialize the person without glamorizing or (unintentionally) condoning the act? Those who have called him a coward or selfish have been rebutted and the subjects of vitriol. How do we meaningfully not just talk about, but change the way we think about mental illness? What is the appropriate response from…any of us (news outlets, other celebrities, random nobodies like me) so we don’t offend anyone (apparently an impossible task)?

That’s Question One.

Next, the #icebucketchallenge. I’m sure you’ve seen this on Facebook or whatever. People get “challenged” by their friends and have to either dump a bucket of ice water over themselves or donate $100 to…I think ALS? (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease)?

First of all, I can’t stand it when people criticize charitable efforts. I always like to think that something is better than nothing. But these kind of Facebook activism campaigns (while a huge step up from the challenges to, say, chug a drink and post the video on Facebook, or eat a spoonful of cinnamon or something equally idiotic) leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. Husband participated in a group “challenge” earlier this week. He’s not entirely sure what the point was or what it was raising money or awareness for.

So I start to question — do these campaigns accomplish anything besides people showing off “look at my altruism!” on social media? Will anyone who participates in the ice bucket challenge think twice about ALS the next day, the next week, the next month? Will they ever be motivated to donate?

“Something is better than nothing” aside, I give a side-eye to “slacktivism” in general. The breast cancer campaigns where girls post the color of their bra or where they put their purse on Facebook, the Movember movement to prostate cancer — it all seems so empty and hollow to me. More like publicity stunts than actual change.

But is “something” still better than “nothing”?

I also resent the social pressure of the ice bucket challenge — honestly, if someone “challenged” me on Facebook, I would probably ignore it. I have no desire to make a spectacle or participate in a social media chain/meme/whatever. I would also resent the implication that I’m “required” to donate my time/money/awareness to this particular charity. How do you know I don’t already support it? Or I pledge a certain percentage of my income to another charity I find equally worthy of funding? Why do you, random Facebook friend, get to decide where I put my fundraising dollars?

I don’t mean to sound self-righteous. Question Two is an honest inquiry into to effectiveness of the ice bucket challenge.

Since I’ve been fortunate enough not to have been personally touched by suicide or ALS, I can’t speak for those who are. So I’m also hesitant about getting “offended” (which I’m not, really) on someone else’s behalf. I just…don’t really know what to think about these two issues.

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4 thoughts on “Some (Serious) Questions I Have

  1. I agree that these are very tricky topics to articulate. In regards to Q2, I can’t help but feel a little… hmm resentment? desire to challenge? critical?… about being challenged to donate as well. For all of the past social media campaigns, the factor that I always come back to is, “Are you actually donating or volunteering your time for the charity?” Take Movember for instance. I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve met who grow out their facial hair and pretty much use Movember as an excuse to not shave and draw more attention to themselves. Do they end up donating or even have intentions of doing so? No. Makes me roll my eyes every time.

    • Oh, agree! I actually know one guy on Facebook who participates in Movember, but he uses some service that collects pledges and donations from his friends (sort of like if you were running a race with Team in Training and got people to pledge/sponsor you or whatever). But I have no idea if anyone actually makes donations or anyone else who uses it.

  2. professional fundraiser here, coming to tell you that I totally agree with your hesitations about the ice bucket challenge šŸ™‚

    ALS is a terrible disease and it’s great that more people know about it now and that we’ collectively, have raised millions of dollars that wouldn’t otherwise be going to research the disease and possible cures.

    No question about all of that.

    However, things like the ice bucket challenge leverage peer pressure philanthropy to the max. When you go to an art museum or a theatre, you’ll often see donors’ names inscribed on a wall or listed in a program. That’s peer pressure philanthropy, too, because if Mr and Mrs Smith come to an exhibit or a show and see that Mr and Mrs Jones are giving at a higher level than the Smiths are, the Smiths might be encouraged to give more so that they can be as (and be seen as) being as generous as the Joneses. The internet and these viral challenges take that aspect of philanthropy to an entirely different level, on that makes me (and a lot of other people, it seems!) super uncomfortable.

    The second reason the ice bucket challenge makes me uncomfortable is because it doesn’t actually require any emotional investment in the cause. It’s a supremely effective fundraising method right now, no question, but it’s unsustainable. A very low percentage of those who give because of the challenge are going to give again, because they haven’t actually learned about the issued and become emotionally invested in what they’re supporting. You’re right, most probably won’t think about ALS once this challenge fades.

    And yes, the third reason it makes me uncomfortable is because the challenge is probably taking money away from causes/issues that people ARE emotionally invested in, causes/issues that people have budgeted responsibly for and have learned about and plan to be sustainably involved with for a long time to come. And that, to me, as a professional fundraiser, is what philanthropy should be about.

    • That’s super interesting about displaying donors’ names at museums. It does seem like there has been a significant increase in donations to the ALS Association, but by next year, their donations will be back to normal or likely even lower.

      The third reason you mention is the one that bugs me the most. I’m not denying that ALS is a worthy cause to support, but I personally would rather put my donations towards causes that support literacy, education, or mental health, simply because I have more personal and emotional investment in those.

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