We’ve all seen the videos, from your neighbor to Gwen Stefani dousing themselves in a bucket of ice water to raise money for ALS. And with the success of this grassroots campaign, some are crying foul or, rather, “Slacktivists!”
The idea behind “slacktivism” is that people make a minimal effort for a good cause and feel like they are doing something grand, while all they are really doing is lazily posting a link or promoting their own abs in a wet T-shirt contest parading as charity.
As a writer for a non-profit, I think a lot about the best ways we can motivate people to generosity. I genuinely dislike the term and concept of “slacktivism” for many reasons.
1. It is inherently judgmental. When we call someone a slacktivist, we judge their hearts (with no real insight into their heart other than a click of a mouse) and elevate ourselves above them. I notice that those calling others “slacktivists” are rarely doctors treating those with Ebola in West Africa. It’s OK for acts of generosity to be small. If our bar for generosity is whole-hearted devotion and self-sacrifice to a cause, then we ought to look to the plank in our own eye before we pluck out the speck of dust in someone else’s eye.
2. The term operates in a vacuum. We never know the whole story of someone’s activism or care for others. Even if it were my place, I can’t judge someone’s generosity based on one act because I have no idea what else they have done.
3. Everyone takes a first step. Perhaps the ice bucket challenge is the first thing a person has ever done to be generous to others (which is unlikely). But even so, that’s wonderful! That is a first step in the right direction. Everyone who is generous took a first step, and God forbid they were shamed for that first step.
4. Generosity is viral. The fear of slacktivism seems to be that after one click, our guilt will be assuaged and we will feel absolved from any other acts of generosity. Maybe that will happen for some. But I find that generosity is viral. It spreads. One act leads to another. It opens the doors to something larger than your own life and your own problems. We feel good when we do something to help others. Perhaps partly because we think we’re so awesome, as many criticize. But also because that is what we were created to do. When we experience the joy of generosity it can cause a domino effect.
5. If we wait for pure motivation, we will be waiting a long time. Most likely, some people posting videos of themselves had some selfish motivations, perhaps to showcase their benevolence, to be one of the cool kids or to show off their abs (cough, cough, Tom Hiddleston, cough, cough.) But I find that often our motivations are muddled. I’m a human. I can be selfish and prideful. Even when I am doing the best of things, my selfish pride can enter. That does not mean that I abstain from doing good and helping others until I am perfect. Because I will be dead before that happens.
6. Different causes have different ways of raising money. Different charities have different goals. Compassion, the organization I work for, seeks engaged sponsors who will write letters and encourage children and pray for them. This is central to our work of helping children in poverty change their circumstances. So a viral ice bucket challenge wouldn’t ultimately fulfill our goals. But those researching cures for ALS don’t need encouraging letters. They need funding. So a one-off donation from thousands of people meets their goal quite well – at last check raising more than $15 million.
When something like the ice bucket challenge comes along, let’s not use it as an opportunity to judge other people. Let’s use it as an opportunity to spur people on to even more acts of kindness. Maybe it’s just the first domino in a long line of generosity.