If you’re connected to social media in any way, you’ve no doubt spent a good deal of time in recent weeks watching people get wet. Like flagpole sitting, goldfish swallowing, and stuffing as many college kids into a VW bug as possible, it’s something of a fad. Most commonly referred to as the “ice bucket challenge,” this ridiculous excuse for personal exhibitionism actually has roots in a noble cause.
Roots are one thing. Where the branches go is something else.
Who started all this foolishness? That’s up for debate.
What’s not in dispute is that the ALS Association has raised a staggering amount of money recently, largely as a result of the shenanigans of people who have found a fun, slightly crazy method of feeling connected to a cause.
The money being raised will be used for a variety of purposes, ranging from administrative costs (7%), to fundraising costs (14%), with the majority of the money going to more satisfying aspects like research (28%), patient and community services (19%) as well as public and professional education (32%). The total effort is focused on the goal of wiping out ALS, a fatal condition more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
I’d like to think we could do that. Perhaps if we work together, we can.
Aviation enthusiasts, like baseball players, are human beings. A percentage of our population suffers from ALS.
The number of individuals touched by the disease grows when we expand the circle to include friends, family, co-workers, and old high school chums we haven’t seen in far too long. In a nutshell, ALS affects us all somehow. Perhaps we suffer from it, perhaps we know somebody who has been diagnosed, and maybe we’re simply compassionate people who know the dollar we send in will help someone, someday, somehow. Maybe that’s enough.
What is amazing about this recent round of ice bucket challenges is how astoundingly successful and far reaching it has been. This isn’t just Aunt Sally and Uncle Bill sitting around on the porch taking turns drenching each other for charity and posting the video to Facebook. Sports stars are involved. Actors, musicians, comedians, even Steven freakin’ Spielberg have allowed — even encouraged — the dumping of ice water on their heads for a good cause. And they’re using social media to deliver the message.
Think about that for a moment. The point of the exercise is to raise public awareness about a horrible disease, and raise funds to combat it and potentially prevent it. The whole ice-water on the head thing is nothing more than the entertainment component that gets people motivated. Sure, some miss the point and don’t contribute, I’m sure.
But the numbers don’t lie. The ALS Association is raking in money at an unprecedented rate, while social media users from all over the globe participate in a meaningful, personal way. Millions of people have engaged in spreading the word, and the word is this. “Hey, watch me do something stupid, and uncomfortable, and funny – but I’m doing it for a good cause. Now I challenge Joey, and Malik, and Brittany to do it too.”
The movement continues to grow.
There are parallels to this in aviation, of course. Most notably, AirVenture and SUN ‘n FUN. Both are massive events that require and routinely benefit from the efforts of thousands of volunteers. Who knows how many smaller events exist around the planet that are similarly driven by good will, hard work, and smiling contributors? Do-gooders in action. We could use a few more of them, and a bit of organization wouldn’t hurt either.
Your third grade teacher was right: There is power in numbers. So without taking anything away from the ALS fundraising machine, I’d like you to consider how you might apply this same principle to the challenge of raising public awareness and appreciation for aviation.
Could you imagine yourself staring into your smartphone while standing on the ramp of your local airport and saying, “I’m taking my co-worker Ronnie on her first airplane ride today. I challenge Arnold, and Ben, and Janet to each introduce one person to a first-person experience with aviation in any form. Take ’em on a hot air balloon ride. Buzz around the patch in a helicopter. Go skydiving. Fly a powered paraglider. I don’t care. Just get airborne and show somebody who’s never been at the controls of a flying machine how amazing it is to get your feet off the ground with general aviation.”
No matter how nervous your friends and co-workers might be about strapping into an aircraft they perceive to be small, fragile, and at least a little iffy – you can always point out that flying with you is a lot more comfortable than getting a bucket of ice water dumped over their head.