First-World Ignorance is Arrogance

Ok, y’all — it’s that time. There’s no escaping it; it has plagued my Facebook wall for days on end (weeks even?). I watched two guys do it outside a bar on my walk home last night. I’ve seen mothers, children, athletes, congressmen, and even pets participate.

It’s Ice Bucket Challenge time.

Oh no, don’t mistake my intent — I’m certainly not lining up to dump a bucket of cold water on my head. And it’s not because I fear the discomfort. Nor is it because I am a heartless wench who hates charity and helping people.

It is because I have first-world privilege and I refuse to rub it in. I refuse to disregard my good fortune at being born into a middle class American family by wasting resources that others in the world, and this country, desperately need. (And yes, I take short showers, turn off the water in between washing dishes, and drink from a reusable H2O bottle.)

Take a deep breath. I’m not trying to say that those participating in the Challenge are downright selfish or malevolent or purposely boastful. I have no doubt that this viral sensation began from a place of love and selflessness. I have no doubt that the moms and kids and pets just want to feel as thought they are contributing to a good cause. I have no doubt that the money raised for ALS is a welcome contribution to a deserving fund.

I also have no doubt that most of the participants are completely ignorant about the statement they are really making. And, my dear friends, ignorance where education is possible is simply arrogance. Intended or not.

Dumping freezing cold water on yourself is admirable in that you are putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation out of a desire to help others. You know what else does that? Giving your shoes to a homeless man. Sharing your lunch with a hungry child. Donating blood.

Do you know what none of those other options do? Declare to the world that you are so rich in resources that you can throw them away, as if others are not literally dying for those same exact things. To me, the Ice Bucket Challenge is comparable to saying, “Look, here is a table full of my very favorite foods. I’m going to dump them in the garbage. Go charity!” It is an insult to those who go without that we would so joyfully waste what we have. And it is done in ignorance, which protects the innocent intentions of the participant, but not the offense to those in need.

Has the Challenge raised awareness for ALS? I’m sure. But you know what? Before writing this post I still didn’t know what ALS stood for or how the disease progressed. Watching 30 people dump water on their heads put the words “ALS” in my mind, but it did nothing to help educate me. A thoughtful post about the disease and ways to help would have done much more.

It is the sickness of our culture that we choose to ignore the situations of those not immediately near us. I bet any of the 10-15 homeless people I walk by each day would be happy to use that water to bathe, freezing cold or not. Perhaps we could start a “Bathe the Homeless Challenge.”

I am no saint. It is easy to forget in our day-to-day lives that the world does not revolve around us. But I also do my best to stay vigilant and aware of people who are less fortunate that I am.

So if someone challenges me to the Ice Bucket Challenge, I will politely decline. I will not donate $100. I will instead find someone in my community suffering from the disease and ask them how I can help. I will visit the local hospital and discuss volunteer options for patients with ALS.

I will try to make a difference in a way that helps give to some without taking away from others. I encourage you to do the same.


Also, if you haven’t watched this video, you should: First World Problems Read by Third World People.


4 thoughts on “First-World Ignorance is Arrogance

  1. You make a very good point.why not actually DO something that will have impact on those of our society who need more practical assists
    I agree, the notoriety of the ice bucket challenge has become very popular, but what are we really learning about the disease? Thanks for making me think!


  2. Good observation. Sometimes the question is “how do we get peoples awareness up?” Maybe doing a silly thing like dumping ice water over their heads are just baby steps – too many people live in their own tiny bubble of me, myself and I and have no understanding (or caring) for what goes on outside their bubble. There are soooo many other devastating diseases out there – how do we educate the ignorant about them? And, even more importantly, how do we make them care?


  3. I understand where you are coming from, however, I think the ice bucket challenge served two important purposes: (1) to bring ALS to the public (whether or not it was in a thoughtful or informative way is certainly questionable), and (2) raise money for research and treatment of the disease. While personally volunteering at a hospital or organization that serves ALS patients is a great way to become more involved and educated, the donation aspect of this challenge is significant. Those donations contribute to the medical research necessary to help the current and future ALS sufferers; something that my volunteerism alone will not do.


    • I agree, there has been some fantastic money raised for the ALS foundation. However, only approximately 20% of that money will go to research. The rest is used for overhead. That’s not to say that the money is not significant; it is. I just wonder if this is truly the most effective way to promote awareness and to help those who need it. I take no issue with campaigns to raise awareness. I do take issue with campaigns that raise awareness in a way that wastes resources we all need. One bucket of ice water may not be a big deal, but according to some projections, the challenge may have usurped up to 19 million gallons of water. That’s about the daily use of 19,000 American homes. This is not water from the lake or the toilet — this is potable, drinkable water that could be put to better use. (Don’t even get me started on golf courses!) Let’s all take a polar dip in the ocean instead!


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