Raising money for a worthy charity is a good thing. Raising awareness about a (currently) incurable disease that afflicts 30,000 people in the U.S. and many more worldwide, is a good thing. Encouraging people to think about the needs of others is a good thing.
Doing all this using social blackmail that is guaranteed to cause embarrassment to some people is most decidedly not a good thing.
Let’s say that you have fibromyalgia or some other disability that would be greatly aggravated by dumping a bucket of ice water over your head. Let’s say, further, that you’re unemployed and on disability, and $100 is about, oh, $100 more than you can afford to donate to charity. How are you going to feel when one of your friends nominates you for the ice bucket challenge? Maybe you have a strong, independent-minded personality and it’ll just be ice water off a duck’s back. But it’s equally likely, perhaps more so, that you’ll be ashamed and embarrassed about your disease and the fact that you can’t afford to donate to charity being made public.
Even if you say nothing, even if you completely ignore the challenge and few if any people notice your lack of response, you’ll still have those feelings of shame and embarrassment, because those emotions are not dependent on outside observers. If you’ve ever felt your face flush and go hot about something boneheaded you did, even though nobody else noticed, then you know what I mean; if not, then you’ve led a charmed life.
Embarrassing people is wrong. Shaming people — who’ve done nothing to deserve it — is wrong. Doing these things for a good cause doesn’t make them any less wrong.
“But people won’t nominate their friends for the challenge if they know it’ll cause them shame or embarrassment!” Yeah, right, pull the other one. People don’t know other people as well as they thing they do. People don’t know other people’s personal circumstances. And some people just don’t care about shaming or embarrassing others “for a good cause.” A campaign like this is guaranteed to cause shame and embarrassment to at least some fraction of the people “nominated” to participate in it.
You know that theoretical fibromyalgia sufferer on disability? In fact, she’s not theoretical; she’s a real person who reacted with horror on a Facebook thread after having the Ice Bucket Challenge explained to her.
So, if you think the Ice Bucket Challenge is a good idea, then tell me something… are you too lacking in empathy to understand the shame and embarrassment that it will cause to some people, or do you think it’s OK to cause some shame and embarrassment for a good cause?