Ice Bucket Challenges: Complaints and Community

Back in July, ALS-sufferer Peter Frates sat on the field at Fenway Park and had a bucket of ice water dumped on him. Thus launched the Ice Bucket Challenge which, according to a recent Boston Globe article, has raised $94 million dollars for the ALS Association. Videos have been popping up all over social media. Celebrities have jumped on board. Collages of failed attempts have been shared.

The premise is simple: if someone challenges you to take the challenge, you have 24 hours to donate $100 or you can have a bucket of ice water dumped on you and only donate $10. This has been, in my humble opinion, just about the greatest thing ever.

But as with most good things in our society today, people have been complaining about how awful this is. Some common objections:

  1. People are getting water dumped on them to avoid donating. How selfish.
  2. Social media stunts are stupid and bring about no actual change.
  3. People are wasting water when millions of people world-wide have no access to clean water.

Even with these objections, I still think the ice bucket challenge is awesome. I think too many people just need to find reasons to complain about everything. So here is my response to those objections.

First, $94 million dollars has been raised for ALS research! And that does not include the amount of money given to other charitable organizations. So apparently some of those people getting dumped on are being a little bit more generous than the naysayers are giving them credit for. This is a great thing. In addition to the money, awareness being raised is also a blessing. There are so many health issues plaguing our society today it can often seem overwhelming. But behind every long, scientific name or short, easy-to-remember acronym, there are people and families. Let us be reminded that when we donate to organizations such as the ALS Association we are contributing to the help that real people will receive.

Second, social media stunts are stupid. But they are also fun. I would much rather watch 1000 people have water dumped on their heads then read one more ill-informed, close-minded political rant. The great thing about social media sites is that you have to voluntarily sign up for them. You get to pick whose stories, pictures, etc., show up in your timeline or newsfeed. You have the ability to scroll past something you don’t want to see. So if you don’t like the ice bucket challenge, you do not have to participate or view others participating.

But let me say this: we are a people who long for community. It seems that almost everything we do is more successful when we have partners. 12 Step Groups have sponsors. Diet and exercise routines encourage being a part of an accountability group. Churches grow through small group involvement. Community is important. When people all across the country are participating in something like the ice bucket challenge, we are creating a community of sorts. And we are creating it around the opportunity to help other people.

Will my having water dumped on my head cure ALS? Will the fact that I walked 60 miles and slept in a pink tent cure breast cancer? Will jump-roping for an hour prevent someone’s heart attack? The answer to all of those questions is no. But would I have been as aware of ALS or breast cancer or the American Heart Association? Probably not. I love watching other people’s videos. I love seeing playgrounds full of kids jumping rope. I had such a blast walking the streets of Philadelphia with a few thousand people I will probably never see again. Because being drawn into community gave me the opportunity to be more generous than I could have ever hoped to be on my own.

Third, let’s find ways to be generous instead of putting down others’ generosity. It is true that we are a blessed people. Sometimes, we are too blessed. We are a people of privilege. We can waste things that other people across the world are in desperate need of. Water is no exception. So I understand the objection that people have about wasting water. Here is what bothers me about it, though (and I am totally judging and I know that’s wrong): it seems to me the people who are complaining about the waste of water just really want to be curmudgeons. Are they watering their lawns? Washing their cars? Rinsing off their plates before putting them in their dishwashers? Taking 20 minute showers? Like I said, I’m judging so I may be way off base here.

But I think there is something much better to do than shake fingers and say, “Tsk, tsk, I’m much more aware of the world’s suffering than you are.” That is to follow the example of Matt Damon who used toilet water to highlight the fact that people in the developing world do not have access to clean water. There are ways to still participate in the generosity and the community even if you have to make minor adjustments.

So participate. If you have not yet done the ice bucket challenge, find some way to be a part of it. If you have participated, do it again! My family’s video is coming. Due to travel schedules, sickness, and other daily realities we have been putting it off. And we may not contribute to ALS. We may contribute to a place like or Because long before Matt Damon made us aware of the need for water, Liam Lowe was raising money to build wells for people in developing countries. (You can read more about that story here.) But however we do it, we will do something.

And I hope you will, too.

Anxious? Sad? Fearful? Then Maybe You Have It All Together

Yesterday on my facebook feed, I saw two things that stood out. One was a friend posting that he really wanted to have a conversation with his father. His father passed away over 20 years ago. Some days, that feeling of sorrow and loss hit harder than others. The other was a friend’s blog post explaining how she does not have it all together, even when others seem to think she does.

For some reason, both posts had me thinking the same thing: these two friends get it. They really do have it all together.

I think the problem is we don’t really know what “having it all together” means.


Maybe we have the wrong idea of what the normal life is. Maybe we have the wrong definition of having it all together. Maybe we need to reevaluate what our lives should look like.

The danger is to pursue the sitcom model of daily life. Although different today, the shows that have endured–Cosby Show, Happy Days, I Love Lucy, among others–show families that quickly resolve all issues and end each day “normal” and “happy.”

While great for ratings, it sucks as a model for living our own lives.

So how do we change models? How do we shift from thinking that “having it all together” means swift resolution to all problems to realizing that it truly means living a life based in reality?

First, examine why we are pursuing a certain model. What has led us to believe that a fulfilled life is one absent of any problems? Who has taught us that always being happy with no challenges ever is the goal we should pursue? Are we trying to live up to someone else’s expectations for our lives (whether real or perceived)? How did we learn that problems = failure and calm = success?

This struggle does not come only from media sources, though they do play a prevalent role. But beyond television, advertisements, and social media pressure, we often face family, cultural, and societal pressures to attain a certain type of image. Western culture is terrible at being honest about our life experiences. We are taught from a young age to “get over it” and “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” and “if you work hard you will automatically be successful.”

Although they may be inspirational, ideas such as these can serve as quite a detriment. We need to examine what messages we have learned, where we have learned them from, and what affect they have had on us.

Second, give it a name. Any name will do: Keeping up with the Joneses; Coveting; The American Dream; The June Cleaver Syndrome. We give it a name so that we can acknowledge the issue is something other than us. We are not the problem. The problem is that we have bought into a vision that is weak, corrupt, and wrong.

Too often, however, we blame ourselves and think we are weak, corrupt, and wrong. By realizing the source of our frustration and the root of the difficulties we face we can begin to do the things necessary to shift our focus.

This is what AA and other 12 Step groups do. The first step is always admitting there is a problem. That problem, whether it is alcoholism or some other addiction, is named. Once it is named, strategies can be developed to fight against it.

Third, we create the story we wish to live out. This is when we get to shake off all those old messages that have hindered us. We get to look forward to what we think our lives should be. We don’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards or visions. We get to set our own goals and outcomes.

The amazing thing about this step is that people do not dream unrealistically. My clinical experience is limited so this not a claim that I could publish in an academic journal, but based on my ministry, my work with 12 Step groups, working with students at FaithWorks, and my limited clinical experience, people who break down the root causes of their issues and then give them a name go on to state realistic, attainable goals.

And that is what we need to do. We are informed by our faith and spirituality. We are informed by literature, music, and art. Most importantly, we are informed by open and honest conversations with people about what life truly looks like. We take the messages we have been taught and sift through them to separate the good from the bad. It is good to work hard and sometimes acknowledge that we do need to be a little less sensitive. But we also need to realize that real life happens and not every day is going to be a good one.

The story we create does not have to be a utopia. And to be honest, I think very few of us would try to create one. The story we create needs to be real; complete with an acknowledgment there will be good days and bad days. Our story will also tell us how we will survive when the days are tough and how we will celebrate when victories are won.


We need to realize that we will have days when we miss that person who has been gone for more than 20 years. We will have days when it takes a herculean effort just to get out of bed. And we will have days when we seem to be floating on air.

And all of that is normal. And all of it is good.

So maybe those who have anxiety attacks or bad days or moments of paralyzing grief actually have it all together more than any of us have ever realized.