The real challenge with the #IceBucketChallenge.

In Editorial, Opinion by Edmund KwokLeave a Comment

Social media went a little bit nuts recently. Newsfeeds on multiple platforms were flooded with short video clips of individuals dunking ice-cold water onto themselves (or variations of), all in the name of raising awareness and funding for ALS, under the label of #IceBucketChallenge

And like all viral trends, the skeptics and critics weren’t far behind. Check out this opinion article published in the Canadian national magazine Maclean’s, where the author questions the wisdom of such sudden generosity given to a disease that affects so few people. Or more drastically, see here for the first mortality linked with performing the ice bucket challenge.


Unsurprisingly, a counter-criticism of sorts has since started in response, accusing the naysayers of being bitter whiners who complain for the sake of complaining, and that anything that helps ALS awareness and research is worthy of praise.

My thoughts on the #IceBucketChallenge

But what both sides seem to misunderstand is that the #IceBucketChallenge is not about ALS at all. Not the disease, not the charity, not the so-called awareness campaign. It is about serendipitously stumbling onto a phenomenon around social interaction and a human desire to connect via demonstration and declaration of selflessness to others.

Focus should not be put on whether ALS is truly a worthy cause versus heart disease, or whether we’re wasting clean water, or why some people do the challenge without donating … instead we should be figuring out why we love seeing friends, family, even strangers, get soaked – and, even more so, why we love showcasing our wet selves to others in open declaration to the world our good deed of the day.

There is a powerful mechanism at work here that transcends specific diseases and charities. Imagine what we can do for healthcare overall if we spent less time bickering and more time understanding (and perhaps replicating?) what drives ordinary people past the tipping point to not only support any cause, but to also self-propagate such behavior.

Edmund Kwok

Edmund Kwok

Emergency Medicine. Quality Improvement. Patient Safety. Change Management. Healthcare Administration.

Frontdoor 2 Healthcare

Frontdoor2Healthcare, founded by Dr. Edmund Kwok in 2012, provides editorial and commentary on issues affecting Canadian healthcare from the emergency department’s “front door” perspective. Frontdoor posts allow for open sharing of the diverse opinions and perspectives of emergency physicians from across the country.

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