Last week, I was nominated to do the Ice Bucket Challenge, but I declined the invitation. I came up with 10 reasons why someone might say no. Let's start with three bad ones:
1) I don't like iced water being poured over my head
Of course I don't, but it's a challenge. It's supposed to be humiliating and unpleasant. But, even if it were the Chocolate Cake Challenge, I still wouldn't do it.
2) I'm mean and don't care about charities
I do care about charities. I give money to some. I give time and expertise to others. It's not a sacrifice. It's part of being a decent human.
3) I'm a killjoy
Don't get me wrong. I've enjoyed watching friends take the dunk, Bill Gates getting sluiced and George Bush being watered. I've snickered especially at the many 'fails'. But do I feel good about enjoying those things? Not really. The enjoyment comes from the part of me that might have once got pleasure from watching someone get mildly teased in a playground, going along with the crowd, safe in the knowledge that no one's really getting hurt. It's all just fun, right?
I'm not saying the Ice Bucket Challenge is bullying, just that laughing at someone else's expense doesn't leave me feeling proud.
So much for the bad reasons. The following seven are my reasons for not doing the Ice Bucket Challenge.
4) Why should I?
Of all the causes I could support, why this one? That's a question I ask about any good cause. I try to support those that are close to my heart (education, the arts, the environment and social justice). If I tried to support everything, I'd be broke, exhausted and thoroughly depressed at the lack of impact that all my efforts would have had.
Worse still, I wouldn't be supporting the causes I believe in, but rather, a nonsensical jumble, prioritised only by who has shouted the loudest, has embarrassed me most or has the best marketing materials.
5) Is this a good charity to support?
I do support health charities, but I try to avoid giving money to causes, such as hospitals, which I feel should more properly be supported by the State. Otherwise, I'd be endorsing a system in which the coldest hearts are allowed to contribute least to the running of society, regardless of their ability to pay.
Health research, however, is a bottomless pit. There can never be enough spending, so my contribution doesn't displace public money, but, I hope, adds to it.
Having said that, most spending on health research is done by pharmaceutical firms. They stand to gain hugely and so they invest most heavily in diseases and conditions where they're likely to gain most. And so, Ebola, which kills poor, dark people in unphotogenic ways, has attracted less funding than erectile dysfunction.
If I want to contribute to health research, the overlooked conditions are the kind of research I'd prefer to support.
Where is ALS in all this? To what extent is it a 'Western' disease attracting a disproportionate amount of research funding when compared with the wider needs? I have no idea... and nor, I suspect, do most of the people who have taken the Challenge (which has, I understand, raised $100Mn and counting).
6) ALS is terrible, but other stuff is even worse
What I do know about ALS - largely thanks to the awareness-raising of the Challenge - is that it's a debilitating neurodegenerative disorder and a cure would be a huge contribution to humankind. But the attention it's receiving shouldn't distract from other pressing and widespread conditions such as HIV, malaria, TB and, the biggest of all, malnutrition.
7) It's not the best way to give to charity
The philosopher Maimonides wrote about the Eight Orders of Charity, the lowest of which was to give unwillingly and inadequately, seeking gratitude and abasement from the recipient. The higher orders involve giving without hope of recognition or thanks, and following the teach-a-man-to-fish approach.
If the Challenge is about being charitable, then clearly it's not among the higher orders. Even the lowest order is better than none at all, but I get more reward from keeping my charitable support relatively quiet.
8) It's not actually about charity
I think many people who're doing it have forgotten charity was the idea in the first place. To raise money for and awareness of ALS. For many, it's just a funny stunt to film and share. Fair enough, but I'm just not that keen on doing a funny stunt that everyone else has done already and parading in a cloak of altruism.
9) I don't like peer-group pressure
The Challenge is like one of those irritating chain letters which thrive on telling people that if you break the chain, bad things will happen.
In this case, the only threat is that I'll be branded a miser and a killjoy. Well, I can live with that. I'm confident enough to know I'm neither and I don't need a YouTube clip to prove otherwise.
10) Not doing it is the new doing it
As I've said, the Challenge has raised my awareness about ALS - and many other people's. By now, I think most of us have got the message and, if you haven't, you're probably not going to get it however many people get cold and wet.
Time to change tack, then. I hope that by outlining my reasons, anyone who's bothered to read this far will have thought again about why people should do it - or not. Why they should give time and money to good causes and how to go about it. And why "it's all for charity" is not a reasonable excuse for anything.
Those are my reasons and mine alone. If you've done the Challenge or want to, I'm really not judging. In fact, I admire your foolhardy commitment to whatever your reasons might be. And, in spite of it all, I was flattered to have been nominated - in much the same way that if you inherit an ugly vase from a beloved aunt, you appreciate the thought far more than what you're left holding.