Lately, I’ve seen a lot of backlash about the #ALS #icebucketchallenge (http://www.alsa.org/about-us/ice-bucket-challenge-faq.html). If you aren’t familiar with ALS, it’s a progressive neurodegenerative disease that effects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. There are a few instances where ALS “burns out”, or the progression slows, but for most people with this disease, it’s about prolonging survival. At this point, we don’t know the cause of the disease, and are only able to offer one drug to slow its progress, although there are many drugs going through clinical trials. In case you’ve somehow missed it, the ice bucket challenge is a charity endeavor gone viral, wherein people dump a bucket of ice water over their heads, and then donate to ALS, after nominating three other friends to follow suit. If your friends don’t want to douse themselves, they’re invited to donate instead. So far, this effort has raised $94.3 million since July 29, 2014. This challenge was a grass-roots effort that was started by families with members suffering from ALS, and caught on when celebrity athletes and professional sports teams began taking the challenge.
In California, we’re dealing with a record-breaking drought (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/08/28/californias-drought-what-losing-63-million-gallons-of-water-looks-like/), so it’s totally understandable that people are concerned about a viral challenge involving buckets of water being wasted. There are people who are in areas of the country where the drought isn’t an issue, but still feel we shouldn’t waste resources. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I gave a TEDx talk about this very thing, not too long ago https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw0EE2poWSA.
I’ve seen people posting a meme of a child who looks utterly dehydrated as a person holds a cup to his lips, clearly meant to depict a third-world country (where many people are suffering due to a lack of clean water), next to pictures of “stupid Americans” dumping water over their heads. Then yesterday, my beloved friend Paige Elenson, who moved to Kenya years ago to teach yoga, and to teach locals to teach yoga with Africa Yoga Project http://www.africayogaproject.org/, posted a video of her birthday celebration at work. Apparently in Kenya, when it’s your birthday, they…dump buckets of water over your head to “wash away the past”! Here’s Paige, in Africa helping, and not just helping, but shining her light all over the place. So let’s talk turkey for a minute.
I’m in California, and I did the #icebucket challenge. As it happens, my mom nominated me, and after I educated myself about ALS, the ALS Association, the challenge itself, and the amount of water we were talking about (a couple gallons), I decided I’d do it over my parched lawn, and take a shorter shower that day. When you run your shower, you’re using 7-10 gallons of water per minute http://www.wsscwater.com/home/jsp/content/water-usagechart.faces. So you can do the math on that. If I had it to do over again, I’d take a bucket and a little ice down to the ocean, use ocean water, and call it a day. If a person wanted to be totally awesome, they could pass on the ice bucket part, make a donation, AND shorten their shower. But you know what doesn’t help anyone at all? Getting self-righteous about this stuff.
There are plenty of things we, as Americans, can improve upon. Like, a lot of things, but one thing we’re pretty good about is caring for each other. I was in New York City on 9/11, and I’ve rarely seen such an outpouring of help, empathy, activism and kindness. We could use more of that, not less. In fact, I’d argue that the more we build upon and feed that natural tendency, to help each other when we need support, the faster the world around us would improve. There are so many things you can do to get involved and make a real impact if you want to. You can support Paige’s efforts in Kenya. You can make a donation to ALS research. You can donate or volunteer for Matt Damon’s Water.org, dedicated to bringing clean water to everyone everywhere (and you can check out his awesome #icebucket challenge here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlGhuud-s4w), but knocking other people down for trying to help out won’t serve anyone. Let’s build on the love. That’s really all we need to do.
Sending you love,