It may be that the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is close to running its course. More and more, I see people criticizing it, asking not to be tagged, etc. A friend who runs a rescue farm wrote about not having time, ice or money, and I thought, we need a farm chore challenge. Muck out a stall, feed some horses, and share a video of it online, or contribute to an animal rescue.
It made me think of another challenge, which I’ve been trying to get a chance to write a few thoughts about for the past couple weeks, the 100 days of gratitude challenge. One such gratitude I might post is about being able to safely let my twelve year old run around outside after dark with friends screaming and laughing and having fun. Not everyone gets to do that. In fact, far too few people get to do that.
It made me think of my friends who have black kids and the talks they have to have with their kids.
Today, another friend posted, “I love that the ALS challenge is capturing attention, wish we could create a Michael Brown Challenge....” Many friends replied and I started to reply there, but I thought it might be better as a blog post.
The power of the Ice Bucket Challenge is that it is something lots of people can participate in and share virally. Many of us may be too cash strapped to be able to contribute to the ALS Association, but we can at least help share the message with a video. What might be a good simple thing many people could do to help spread the word about undoing racism?
Since I had just gotten home from church, my thoughts started off in that direction. The church I currently go to is very diverse. It is one of the things I love about my church. However, at other times, I’ve attended churches that are very homogenous.
I remember years ago, when I was in college, a friend of mine invited me to go to church with him. We walked along the road together, and a car pulled up and asked if he was going to church. He said he was and that I was coming with him. We both climbed in the car and headed off to church.
As we walked up the steps, Ronnie introduced me to many of his friends. One, an older woman, looked me over closely and said, “I’m surprised you want to come to church with us.” I looked at her, puzzled. “Really?” I asked. “Why?” She got all flustered and apologized and said maybe she shouldn’t have said anything. I looked around for a clue as to what that was all about, and it slowly occurred to me. I was the only white person there.
During the service, there was a time for guests to get up and introduce themselves. I felt awkward and insecure as the eyes of a hundred black churchgoers looked at the only white person in the congregation.
For me, a white person who was not accustomed to being in the minority, it was an enlightening experience. I wondered if that was how some of my black friends often felt.
My first thought was that the undoing racism challenge for white folks might be something like going to a setting where they experience being in a minority. Yet getting people to take pictures of that and share it online might be a challenge, limiting the potential to go viral.
Instead, what if we made it simpler. Post a picture of yourself hugging someone from a different race or ethnicity and challenging your friends to do the same, and then perhaps attending some sort of undoing racism training or contributing to an organization aimed at undoing racism.
I realize it isn’t much of an ask, and I can imagine some of my racist friends who talk about how even one of their best friends is black, might participate to convince themselves they aren’t racist, but it is small enough and simple enough to be doable.
When my mother died two years ago, the obituary ended with “In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the International Essential Tremors Foundation. http://www.essentialtremor.org/Home” I don’t remember how many people donated to the IETF in memory of my mother but for the next month the letters I received from IEFT when another person donated proved to be an important point of joy during my grief.
Recently, a friend’s grandson died. “Memorial contributions may be made to the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation.” I shared a link to the obituary and to the PKDF. Another friend lost her nephew at just about the same time. “Donations in his memory may be made to Ron’s Run for the Roses, The Ron Foley Foundation, www.ronsrun.org.”
If more people donated to the battles against essential tremors, polycystic kidney disease, or pancreatic cancer, we could make great progress. Yet these, and so many other diseases get so little attention.
I work in health care communications. I know how hard it is to get anyone’s attention these days. You send out an email and get 10% of the people to open the email, 1% to click on the link and even less than that to do anything. You post something on a Facebook page and get several hundred people to see it, a few to like it, maybe one or two to share it, and almost no one to act on it.
I know, working for a non-profit, and having been very involved in politics, how difficult it is to get people to contribute to anything. For most of us, money is very tight these days and writing a check for $100 can be a big challenge. So, what if we encouraged people who are tight on cash, to contribute what they can in different ways? What if we asked people to contribute $100 to an organization, but if they can’t spare the hundred bucks, they contribute their social capital in spreading the word and asking others to contribute? What if they used something that would get people’s attention to result in a higher conversion rate?
That’s what the Ice Bucket Challenge has done brilliantly. An article in the Sacarmento Bee on August 15th wrote:
Since July 29, the association has received $9.5 million in donations compared to $1.6 million during the same time period last year. The donations were from existing donors and 184,812 new donors.
A friend of mine died from ALS. My daughter, Fiona was challenged by her friends to take the Ice Bucket Challenge. She’s made her video and has shared it.
Yet, there is the expected backlash. Why waste clean water when so many people go without? How about sending the money you spent on ice to the charity instead of wasting the ice? Maybe if the people who protest so much would share the contribution acknowledgement letter they received it would be a little bit more persuasive.
Me? My wife and I both work for nonprofits. Money is tight. We get by. We’re not food insecure, and if things get really bad, we’ve got friends and relatives that can help out. We’ve been paying down our debts and my wife just got a raise, so perhaps someday soon, we’ll be able to contribute more to causes that matter to us. Until then, we’re going to use our social capital however we can.
So please, don’t let the naysayers distract you. Give what you can to organizations like the ALS Association, the International Essential Tremors Foundation, the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation, or The Ron Foley Foundation, even if it is just a little bit of your social capital.
When you think of Robin Williams, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Mork and Mindy? Mrs. Doubtfire? Good Morning, Vietnam? For me, what comes to mind is Dead Poet’s Society, “dedicated to sucking the marrow out of life”, which is from a quote from Henry David Thoreau
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want it spoiled after these twenty-five years, stop reading here.
Robin Williams played John Keating, an unorthodox teacher who was a member of the Dead Poet’s Society and urged his students to suck the marrow out of life.
One of the students takes a part in a school play, is a great success, but is lambasted by his father and commits suicide. Mr. Keating is asked to leave the school, and has he does, his students stand on their desks and proclaim, “O Captain, My Captain”.
I don’t know the full story behind Robin Williams’ death, perhaps in some ways life has mirrored art in the death of a great actor. Yet perhaps the best homage is to stand with the students and say, “O Captain, My Captain”
It’s a typical day at work; talking with a person at my office and another on the phone, as I check my email and messages on Facebook.
It is with a heavy heart that I share Oliver passed away
I keep my composure as I mind moves from work to grief.
Oliver was the grandson of one of my college classmates. I have been following his struggles though my friend’s Facebook status updates and praying for him and his family. I post about Oliver’s passing and send out a few emails.
My office is a co-working space and there is a big project going on at the conference table. I overhear one of my co-workers ask about the airstrikes in Iraq. I glance at my newsfeed.
U.S. launches second wave of airstrikes in Iraq
I glance up at the raw ceiling of the workspace. My eldest daughter was five months old when the first Gulf War started. I was working for a financial services firm. In the evening, we watched the late night news of the airstrikes from our third floor walkup in Manhattan. I connected with my computer via dialup lines to the trading system where I could get more news and see how the markets responded.
I watched the airstrikes in Afghanistan in 2001 hours after my youngest daughter was born
Yesterday, a child came out to wonder
That’s how I started my blog post about Fiona’s birth at the start of that war. Today’s airstrike comes after Oliver has passed away.
I glance at Twitter. One person has posted,
Round up Obama &every liberal n America & drop them off right n the middle of Iraq, let them do a 2 min gay pride parade for the last time!
It is the sort of extremism that is indistinguishable from Al Qaeda which brings about so more hatred, war and suffering. I pray for the person who tweeted it, and then retweet Pope Francis.
Please take a moment today to pray for all those who have been forced from their homes in Iraq. #PrayForPeace
My coworkers have been preparing for National Health Center Week, putting together goodie bags. There are boxes all over the place and one of them comments that it looks a lot like Christmas.
Dar Williams’ song, “The Christians and The Pagans” comes to mind.
So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said,
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses.
How do I pull all of this together? Oliver’s passing, the airstrikes in Iraq, the hatred by extremists, here and in Iraq, the prayers of The Pope and of the characters in Dar’s song?
The final words of “Lord of the Flies” comes to mind:
Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.
I continue to use Facebook as a writing prompt. This morning, I looked at status updates from my friends. Many were pictures of their kids or their vacations. The line from William Carlos Williams’ poem, The Red Wheelbarrow, came to mind, “So much depends…”
Next, as if Facebook were reading my mind, came an advertisement for Depends. I’ve turned fifty-five, not eighty-five.
A few friends posted about “Townhouse” closing in Washington, DC. This was a watering hole of young progressive technology activists years ago that I would stop at on my trips to DC. I still have some Townhouse stories, but I’ll save them for another time.
Another friend posted about going to Arima, an old hot spring town in Kobe, Japan. Then, a friend posted about Jack, an old dog that had been rescued. It was his first time going to a beach, and he swam like a seal, smiling from ear to ear. Others posted further reflections from Falcon Ridge.
A big theme seems to be travels, and especially, travelling to new places. My mind wanders to Wim Wenders’s Road Trilogy and from there to my blog posts a while back virtually visiting places from William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways.
Are these Facebook prompts, as well as some other possible upcoming adventures, leading to some new travel directions upon which so much depends? Time will tell.