Why I won’t be participating in the ice bucket challenge

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral lately. If you haven’t heard about it, you haven’t been on any form of social media.

Buckets-of-MoneyThe idea behind it is to raise money and awareness for ALS. The money part they have hands down. The ice bucket challenge has raised almost 50 times more money in a matter of weeks than they normally raise in a year. Awareness? Until I looked it up to write this post, I still didn’t know what ALS stood for. (It is Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” a degenerative nerve disease, in case you were wondering.)

Before I go too far, I just want to make a couple of things clear.

  1. I have nothing against the ALS Association.
  2. I am not attacking any individual or organization who has taken on the ice bucket challenge.
  3. These are my opinions, and I am entitled to my opinions. You are entitled to your opinions. We don’t have to agree.

OK. Let’s dig in.

When I first heard about the ice bucket challenge, I had no idea what it was. When I watched a couple of videos, and heard more about the challenge part (challenging others to pour ice water over their heads and/or donate money) I started getting uncomfortable. It felt awfully close to bullying, and I really hoped no one would challenge me.

I understand the principle behind it – use peer pressure to encourage others to do something good. I also think there is a fine line between positive peer pressure and negative peer pressure. And I have seen both.

An example of positive peer pressure is when my son entered public school in Grade 4 after being homeschooled for several years. Part of our decision to enter him in public school was that he refused to do any work for me. When he entered school, he was far behind on his writing ability. Seeing the other students writing, though, he quickly pulled himself up to a reasonable ability. And he did the work for the teacher without the complaints (read: screaming fits) that he had for me.

This is positive peer pressure because no one was telling him what he needed to do. He observed others, observed he was behind, and worked to catch up.

An example of negative peer pressure that I have experienced is even more personal.

When I was in grade school, I did not use swear words. I would use almost-swear words, words that sounded similar or alternative meanings of some curse words (like donkey-hole). Never the “real thing” though.

Around grade 3 or 4, some of my friends decided they needed to get me to swear. So they bribed me. With candy. My family wasn’t necessarily poor, but we weren’t exactly well-off either. I did not receive an allowance, and candy was definitely a treat, not an everyday thing. So one day when I was with said friends, and we went to the Stop-N-Go, they had money to buy candy, and I did not. Normally they would share a bit with me, but on this particular day, I was not going to get any candy unless I said those swear words.

I was totally conflicted. I wanted the sweets, and saying the words was really uncomfortable for me. I can express now that those words were not in alignment for me. I held out for quite a while, but eventually I caved. And I felt guilty for a long time.

The ice bucket challenge brought that memory, and feeling, back up to the forefront for me. Peer pressure to do something that I would not normally do. And to me that is a form of bullying. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be cool. And I wanted the candy. My friends pushed me to do something out of my character for the privilege of inclusion.

Being pressured to swear may not be as bad as the time my son was so desperate to have a friend that he allowed another child in the neighborhood to use him as a target for spitting practice, or traded his expensive light saber toy for a cheap dollar store water gun. It’s not as bad as being called names. And it is still an experience of bullying.

I think part of the reason the ice bucket challenge has gotten so much attention is because of the YouTube component. People want to be acknowledged when they Do Good Things, and they want to get their friends to support their cause. I get it. It is the same reason I go on about Kiva and The Heifer Project, and let those sites post to my Facebook profile when I make a donation. However I have not “challenged” anyone to match my donation, or do something out of their character for a cause. And I don’t think I will. It is not in alignment for me.

gift of honeybeesSo I won’t be participating in the ice bucket challenge, and I won’t be donating to the ALS Association. Instead, I’ve made a donation of $30 to the Heifer Project to provide a bee package, hive, box and training in beekeeping techniques for a family in need. It is an organization I believe in, and I definitely see the need for more bees around the world.

I encourage you (no challenge here, I won’t hold it against you if you don’t) to look around and find a way to support a charity or cause that is close to your heart. It doesn’t have to be money – many charities are desperate for volunteers as well. There are many worthy causes out there, and they deserve our attention as well.