Apparently it’s not enough to do good deeds anymore, unless you’re doing them “correctly” or for the right reasons.
Perhaps you’ve participated in the now infamous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people video tape themselves getting a bucket of ice water dumped on their heads, donate, challenge others to do the same, and then post the entire thing on Facebook and other social media. You probably did it, donated, and felt pretty good about yourself, right? Well wipe that smug smile off your face, because some people think donations that come via marketing campaigns and viral memes are negative.
Yup, that’s right. You’re donating incorrectly and for all the wrong reasons. You big jerks.
Nevermind the fact that as of August 20, the Ice Bucket Challenge helped raise $31.5 million (and growing) for ALS research. Because (and stop me if you’ve heard this in the last couple of weeks) it shouldn’t take Facebook and videos of ourselves getting buckets of freezing cold water dumped on our heads to donate. We should donate because it’s the right thing to do, not because we’re guilted or pressured into it by friends, family, and social media, according to the critics.
Look, if someone had told me a month ago that I’d be showering myself with freezing cold water and donating to charity because of it, I would’ve mocked them. In fact, I was so dubious about the Ice Bucket Challenge that I held off on doing it, even though I had been repeatedly nominated. I only did it after I found out the challenge had actually led to a spike in donations.
Because here’s the thing — it doesn’t matter how or why people donate. It just matters that some good is being done.
Same goes for this story making the rounds, about a bunch of Starbucks customers in Tampa who started a “pay it forward” campaign, in which each person paid for the coffee of the person behind them. Hundreds of people in a row performed the good deed, but it ended when one pompous blogger intentionally broke the streak because the Starbucks baristas had begun asking each customer if they wished to continue the streak. To him, that violated the unwritten rules of good deed doing because it was more peer pressure than anything else.
Bullshit. Utter bullshit. Because good deeds are good deeds, even when they might have been prodded into existence by a little guilt.
Who among us hasn’t taken our kids’ fund raisers to work and hit up coworkers? Ever dug a dollar out of your pocket at the supermarket because the Scouts/Cheerleaders/Pop Warner are having a charitable drive? Volunteers man phone banks and make calls to raise money for charity as well.
If you gave to any of these, you’ve done something good. Something worthy of celebration. So what if you felt some pressure from social media to donate to ALS? I bet a lot of people knew nothing about the disease before they did the challenge and donated. And so what if a barista asks you if you want to buy coffee for the person behind you? First of all, you can always say no. There’s no shame in that. Second, I’m hoping knowing about “pay it forward” will prompt people to do it more often.
The world is so fucked up right now. Whether it’s racial tensions exploding in Missouri, another truce broken in Gaza, beloved actors committing suicide, or journalists being beheaded, we’re under siege from bad news. The world strikes me as off kilter and our humanity has never felt so fragile.
So in the face of all that, I think it’s pretty abhorrent and ill-advised to sit there and criticize things that are helping people.
No one deserves a medal for doing the Ice Bucket Challenge. Our donations don’t make us superheroes and we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back and be done with charitable giving and random acts of kindness, simply because we took part. But you know what else people who give to charity don’t deserve? Condescending and misplaced scorn from people who have nothing better to do than knock people doing something positive.
In a fit of irony, those railing against the millions raised the “wrong way” for ALS are guilty of the very same narcissism they allegedly abhor in others. So let’s criticize actual problems and misdeeds, and celebrate the fact that for a little while, we all came together and did something positive.