Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge -- Meaning Making and Magic

It's with great sadness that I see what I woke up expecting to see: the skepticism that drenches us when something magical happens.

There are so many layers to the ice bucket challenge, trying to hold them in any sort of logical container, bucket or brain, seems like misconstrued meaning making to me.


I remember being about seven or eight years old, and going to bed on Christmas Eve.  In my room, alone, unbeknownst to my parents, I hung a brown paper bag from my desk.  A makeshift stocking that I secretly smuggled to my room.

I remember THINKING that Santa wasn't real…I couldn't wrap my head around how he, in reality, could make it to every house in one night; on the other hand, my prepubescent mind was hedging bets for what I FELT could be real.

I was ashamed of having these thoughts, even at this young age, so I hid them from parents who, I assume I thought at the time, would squelch my hopes and dreams and desires for something other than rationality to exist.

So, in essence, my (little secret) brown paper bag oddly became a scientific test to see if something non-scientific existed in my world.

I, of course, woke up the next morning to a brown paper bag.

And I was sad.


On one layer, there is the actual disease, which personally, has not touched my life.  I can't begin to understand the pain and grief of the people and family members who have dealt -- or currently deal -- with ALS.   I have felt loss and pain and suffering, maybe we all have, but I have not, personally, experienced watching someone slowly succumb to a disease.

On another level is charity, and the idea of awareness raising…and simply giving to something that is outside of yourself no matter if it is for ALS or something else.  But we can also think about charity cannibalism and limited funding, and one charity now usurping another.  We could go to the human condition and get into bigger systems, other things this challenge may or may not represent: The ice bucket challenge IS and ISN'T about ALS: it could be about water conservation, water rights, and potable water.  Other issues start feeling preyed upon, so there is a reaction.  Don't they matter, too?

Then we have social media…and the idea of how powerful it can be…a way of connecting people around a purpose.  And/Or connecting people to a self.  And/Or the way it can bring people down.  Trolling.  Tearing people apart from a safe distance through the veil of an online persona.

Then we have the idea of giving, and should charity be something privately done or publicly shared.  By using social media, does the ice bucket challenge (1) enhance, (2) diminish, (3) enhance AND/OR diminish any of the following:

  • Making it about the self: "Look at this great thing I did!"
  • Making it about the act: "Look! I poured water on myself!"
  • Making it about awareness:  "Look at this cause you might not know about!"
  • Making it about influence: "I did it, so could you!"  
  • Making it about shaming: "I did it, why aren't you?"
  • Making it about bullying: "I did it, now you do it, too!"

Maybe all.  Maybe none.

Questions about questioning the motivation of other people are then called into question (that's a lot of questions): Are people just throwing ice on their head BUT missing a/the/my point of doing so?  Are they doing it instead of donating?  Are they doing it and donating to something else?  Are they doing it AND donating to ALS?

What am I/you/we really doing here?

What is this really about?  ALS? Charity, in general?  Ice Water?  Social media?  Following?  Connectivity?  The human condition?  What? What?

And of course there is the pointlessness of it all.  This means nothing.  It is nothing.  There is no meaning.

A spectrum of possible countless permutations…and does someone else's point necessarily need to be my own anyway?


Personally, I keep coming back to what it means to me: the anger I felt when I started seeing the ANTI voice come in, and more importantly, why I even felt anger in the first place.

I keep thinking about that little boy, going to bed, and waking up to this world. Was it different?  Was he?  Was it A and/or B? Neither?

Just because there wasn't anything from Santa in my (little secret) brown paper bag, doesn't mean Santa doesn't exist.  Just because my experiment failed AND succeeded doesn't mean I  finished learning about it at that moment in time.

What I do know is that my tolerance for something bigger than myself, bigger than my rationality, and bigger than my senses is growing.

That idea is confounding to say the least.

I don't need to negate magic to make myself feel better, or make the world more tolerable/understandable for me, even if part of me wants to do that.

There is something so chillingly frightful and delightful about pouring a bucket of ice water on my head today, if I physically do it or not.

There is goodness.  There is cruelty.

There is charity.  There is selfishness.

My (little secret) brown bag was empty and full.


And therein lies the magic.

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