Politics and the Ice Bucket Challenge

(Water buckets in Kenya / Chris Pillsbury)

(Water buckets in Kenya / Chris Pillsbury)

People say they don’t like politics because “both sides can never agree on anything.” But is there anything that can ever achieve universal agreement?

Take, for example, the now-infamous ice bucket challenge sponsored by the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association. For the last few weeks, the Internet has been completely consumed by videos of people (including many prominent celebrities, sports players, and politicians) dumping buckets of water over their heads in an effort to raise awareness about ALS, a tragic disease that is still incurable.

Clearly, everyone wants to find a way to prevent ALS. So one might think that something so seemingly uncontroversial would be universally embraced. And yet, mixed in between the videos of those completing the ice bucket challenge are posts by those who take a stand against the practice. Some claim that those who accept the challenge should have donated instead. Others claim that those who embrace the challenge don’t understand what ALS really is.

Columnists have written about the ineffectiveness of the effort, only to be deemed “ice bucket challenge haters” by supporters who respond with their own columns (for example, Caitlin Dewey’s Washington Post column entitled “Stop hating on the ice bucket challenge”).

The ice bucket challenge has actually injured people too. A CNN headline from last Friday reported “4 firefighters injured when ice bucket challenge goes wrong.” Buzzfeed has compiled numerous lists of Ice Bucket Challenge “fails.”

Then there was the moral objection. Many Catholic leaders spoke out publicly against donating to the ALS Association because of its use of embryonic stem cell research, leading many religious people to donate to other organizations that refrain from this research. (To its credit, a representative of the ALS Association told The Blaze that donors were free to stipulate that their money not be used for embryonic stem cells).

Clearly, we live in a messy world. People disagree about everything, including how to fight ALS, and politics is no different.

Look at the goal of reducing poverty. Generally everyone agrees that poverty is bad, right? The problem comes when we try to agree on how to achieve that goal.

Democrats claim that Republicans don’t care about the poor because they want to cut funding for existing government programs. Republicans claim that the programs in question are outdated and ineffective at preventing poverty, accusing Democrats of supporting them only to win votes.

When Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced an innovative new anti-poverty plan this summer, the battle lines were drawn within the hour. His ideas were criticized as “obsolete,” “scary,” and “paternalistic” by opponents, and lauded as “promising” and “impressive” by supporters.

There are always people that will take sides, and many will have valid reasoning. So when faced with a divisive issue (whether a political topic or the ice bucket challenge), we have two choices. We can run from controversy and hide our opinion, or we can jump in to the discussion and defend our beliefs, ideally in a respectful way.

For some reason, most people have chosen the latter response for the ice bucket challenge – almost everyone has offered their opinion on the matter to some degree. But in politics, we are much more likely to choose the first option – staying silent and avoiding the important discussions.

This year, try to approach politics like the ice bucket challenge and engage it. Yes, people will disagree. Yes, you may sometimes be annoying. Yes, it may take time and research to be good at defending what you believe in.

But these costs are small compared to the rude awakening of the real world’s equivalent of a bucket full of ice water when you realize that you are not invested in the important issues facing our country.

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2 responses to “Politics and the Ice Bucket Challenge

  1. I completely agree with your thoughts. We live in a world challenging us to ‘pick a side,’ yet the truth lies somewhere between the black and white options – in the thickness of grey. I believe in the midst of the grey lies conversation, compromise and a give and take for the betterment of all. Such discussions also require mutual respect (not passive aggressive politeness) and maturity – two things that are quite lacking in the political arena.

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