I’ll admit that I’ve been struggling with the Ice-Bucket Challenge phenomenon.

On the one hand it’s raised awareness and millions of pounds for an underfunded charity while making people laugh.

Undeniably good things.

On the other hand, it’s raised my hackles because it taps into two pet hates of mine: viral chain-messaging and so-called ‘sporting’ behaviour.

Let’s start with VCM. You know the sort of thing I’m talking about – ‘share this email with 10 friends who mean the most to you or your hair will fall out by Christmas’. This means instant deletion for me. I think the very nomination process of the Ice-Bucket Challenge preys on people’s insecurities: a) not to pour a bucket of icy water over your head is to be seen as not part of the ‘gang’, and b) something bad will happen if you don’t do it.

When I was younger, this was referred to as a chain letter. Back then you’d get a paper copy handed to you by a friend, telling you to write out ten copies and hand them out to ten friends, who’d then write ten copies… You get the picture. It was quite prevalent in a highly superstitious Catholic community, but at a certain age – I think I was about 14 – I decided to stop the chain. I’d rip up the letter and refused to carry the chain on. I delete emails that do the same thing now.

Job done.

Still alive.

Now this activity is transferred to Facebook. ‘Like this if you think our soldiers are brave’; ‘Share this if you have lost a loved one’; ‘Nominate a friend to neck a pint of wine to prove you are fun.’ It’s purely a con to get you to share something – the person or company that started it wants to see how far it will reach. I don’t blame a charity for using something so seemingly addictive to spread their word – I just marvel at the extent to which people adopt it, beyond the point at which they’re aware of why they’re doing it. It’s just for ‘fun’.

Ah fun. That word I’ve never quite got my head round. For many Brits, ‘fun’ is to be found in debasing yourself or others by various means, usually in large groups – wearing comedy fancy-dress costumes, throwing water or snow over each other, or playing a team game you’re crap at to show you’re a ‘good sport’.

I’m so not a good sport. I wear glamorous fancy dress, if I can be bothered to do it, I’ve never been in a snowball fight (just why?!) and I actively avoid team sports. To me, the national sport is showing how ‘orribly ‘umble you are by looking like a fool in public. We love it when our celebrities are forced to do it in jungles and in the Big Brother House – it somehow makes them ‘part of the gang’.

I’m also fascinated by the fact that people (including me) are more likely to donate to charity if they witness someone doing something either ridiculous or majorly ambitious that they can hang the donation on. Why can’t we just do it?

I recently went on a thirteen-mile hike and people asked me which charity I was doing it for. Er, my wellbeing, actually. I have two charities I actively focus on and donate to them monthly. They are tied to personal events in my life and I think many people have set up direct-debit donations in this way, enabling them to quietly donate in the background.

When we’re asked to donate to something with no link to our personal experience, we clearly need more motivation. I’ve recently given to two very worthwhile causes for which work colleagues have completed gruelling physical challenges. I could see how much they cared about their charities by the extent to which they were prepared to push themselves physically. When I volunteered for Crisis, I raised over £2000 for working over Christmas – people were astonished that I’d give up my Christmas Day to look after homeless people and dug deep into their pockets (thanks again, guys).

Do I have the feeling that the Ice-Bucketeers really care about their cause? Not really, no. I think about 1% of them have actually had personal experience of motor-neurone disease, either directly, or through friends. Good for them for showing that they care. But everyone else? I think they’re bandwagoning. (I felt the same about the no-makeup selfie, but was more astonished in the end at how horrified I was at the thought of showing my bare face in public – that’s for another post).

No one’s nominated me yet, as they probably know me too well. In an E. L. James way, I’ll just take my Inner Spoilsport for a lap round the building and quietly make a donation.

Fun times.


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Fifty-five-year-old woman flying solo since 2010. Freelance writer, editor, hiker, traveller, yoga teacher. Alcohol-, child-, and hair-dye-free.

6 thoughts on “Ice-Breaker”

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