Recently the internet was all abuzz with the ALS ice bucket challenge. Fortunately people took pity on me with my injury and did not challenge me but I fully support the cause and making a donation to ALS for their non-embryonic stem cell research to try and thwart the horrible illness that is ALS.
Of course with any big movement you have the companion backlash, which to be honest kind of bums me out. The internet is used for bad things so often that why pick apart people who are part of a movement that has done good things and at worst are having fun with water?
But one part of the criticism has kept me wondering for a few weeks. Some have said people are only doing something good so they can look like a good person. While I think that is a pretty cynical attitude to be taking (everyone I know who did it genuinely wanted to have fun and spread awareness, be part of something bigger than yourself) I’m sure it applies to some who just want attention.
But is attention for doing something good, or being a good person, a bad thing? If we look at scriptures it is a little confusing. Jesus did many of his acts of service in large crowds with onlookers and observers noticing his goodness and even becoming converted as a result. As a missionary I wore my calling on my tag and went out proclaiming the gospel. There was no attempt to hide the good message I believed in.
But the scriptures also teach us to not moan over our fastings and sacraments to ‘be seen of men’. Those ‘have their reward’. So we are to proclaim goodness and serve but not be doing it for that reward. Such problem motives are easy to see in ourselves but I would be extremely hesitant to judge anyone else in that regard.
And what about movements? Does that lessen the impact whether public or not if lots of people are doing it? Is the first person who did the ice bucket challenge a better person than the one millionth? Does something’s goodness get lessened because ‘so and so challenged me, and I’m challenging her’? Is that the equivalent of a french pastry that starts out beautiful but the more hands it touches the more distasteful it becomes?
While the message certainly gets diluted, I don’t think it is so much so that it turns from a good thing to a bad thing. It’s just a good thing that took a little bit longer to get to some than others.
I had an interesting experience in college. For years from high school until my mission I seemed to always be in put in charge of running sub-4-santa programs whether it was for church, choir or school organizations.
One year we were assigned a latino family that lived in a small basement apartment. We sacrificed and gave them the best Christmas we could and gathered to give the presents and set up their tree. When we arrived at the small apartment the mother had made tamales (which are like my favorite thing!) and we had such a wonderful time. She had given of herself and so had we. It was a perfect Christmas moment.
That is why the next year I was so surprised when I shared the story with my co-chair and he looked very skeptically at me and said he would rather drop the items off anonymously. He felt there was less value in the giving when a ‘big to do’ was made of it. I remember it stinging a little bit because I felt he was calling into question the wonderful experience we had all had (much like the ALS critics). So, we did it anonymously that year and you know what it was a forgettable experience.
Maybe it is more noble to serve anonymously without any public acknowledgment but if it is forgettable and doesn’t bond you with other humans I’m not sure? Plus nobody is encouraged to pass the service on when it is boring. At least most of us need a little enthusiasm and sentimentality to get motivated to serve.
The other aspect to the ice bucket challenge is to remember that the internet at it’s best is a massive community. And really communities have been part of collectively doing good things together since the idea of community.
Think of your typical pancake breakfast to help a church or a firehouse. You are going to tell me that everyone there is attending for noble purposes? No just like with the ice bucket challenge some are attending to look good to others, some to socialize, some to eat, laugh, and some to encourage others to support the firehouse. All those reasons besides the eating can be seen in why people poured ice over their head online.
You could make the argument that nobody makes money off of going to a pancake breakfast; however, the number of people who make serious money on youtube are very small. So the idea that even celebrities are posting ice bucket videos to draw attention and make money for themselves and not the cause is pretty far fetched.
What about 5k runs that people participate in for a variety of reasons not just the cause? That’s still a good thing they are doing even if it isn’t a primary motivator. Would I be better off running by myself and donating in private? I don’t think so.
Some say they just want to show off how good of a person they are. Well, again given all of the ways people show off how bad a person they are is that such a bad thing? How pleasant was it for about a week to have TMZ and E! gawkers talking about something good and not rehabs, overdoses and fashion disasters.
I think it is also easy to call into question the motives of people we don’t know, especially if they are famous, while defending those we do. It’s the same reason why most people like and trust their local congressman or woman and yet are very cynical and critical of Congress as a whole. It’d be nice if we could give everyone the benefit of the doubt especially when what they are doing doesn’t hurt anyone or cost anyone anything.
To me it was very discouraging to look at videos and see tons of scathing comments full of criticisms of motives, wasting water and a million other flaws. Criticizing the movement as a whole is one thing but individuals who are trying in their mind to do something good it bums me out.
Charlie Sheen did a video where he dumped $10,000 over his head to show he was giving money vs just water. I am not a fan of Sheen but I thought it was cool but of course a million commenters (why I don’t normally read comments) said it wasn’t enough money or that he was a hypocrite, jerk, moron etc. Sigh…
So what does all this rambling mean? I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about this topic in my scripture study for weeks and have found evidence on both sides. Some scriptures seem to say to avoid large proclamations and others condemn those who hide their talents (or testimonies) under a bushel.
I certainly don’t think something is inherently less valuable because it is part of a movement or publicized. If that was the case no major religion would have value because they have always been part of large movements and publicized.
I guess in the end I prefer to be positive and assume the best of intentions. I choose to see the videos and smile and I would challenge you to as well. So what if a tiny minority is doing it solely for appearances. You can’t control others motivations. Look for the best in people and move on and even if it is for show it is something for show that did something good; whereas, a million other movements like gangnam style dance videos, were merely for fun (which has value).
And finally if you don’t like a movement nobody is forcing you to watch videos. Just make your donation in private and move on.
So that is my ramblings. What do you think? Is doing good publicly better or do you agree with my old college co-chair it is better to be private, anonymous and humbly serve?
And if you don’t think it did any actual good take a look at this
2 thoughts on “Good Deeds for Show?”
I have frequently been on the receiving end of both kinds of service, and while in both cases the material assistance was sorely needed, and I was grateful for it, it was the hug that came with the personal attendance of my benefactor that covered the gift with gold.
Is it worth it to go to that effort, only to hug yourself, alone, afterwards? That may be private and anonymous, but it’s hardly what I’d call humble.
I think you make a good point. Service is still service either way so it is always good. But the anonymous service does rob the receiver not just the giver of the human contact. Most of the memorable and impactful service I’ve been involved in hasnt been anonymous