Yep, we are.
As humans, we all care about others. It’s indisputably in our nature and at our very core. Sometimes we don’t show it fully or properly, but it’s in us. Really. Deeply.
As most of you are well aware, our tendency to care about and for others has been witnessed in a viral way the past few weeks. If you have been one of those multiple millions of people who already have participated in helping raise nearly $100 million toward the devastating disease of ALS, you’re guilty of caring, too. You’re guilty of helping rid the world of another nasty, heart-wrenching, painful killer.
As expected in a world of smart, critical thinkers, there has been criticism of the infamous Ice Bucket Challenge: What about all of the other nasty diseases, syndromes and killers? What about the other causes that need and deserve funding? What about the way the millions of dollars will be used? What about wasted clean water? And related social questions: Are people participating and posting funny, ouch-worthy videos because they are narcissistic? Because they are mindlessly bowing to the social pressure to do what is trendy? Because they just want to get more “likes” on their video than the person before them?
Good questions. I don’t have all of the answers, but I can explain why I personally was among those happily doused with 20 gallons of icy water last week and donated funds to support the care of current ALS patients and their families: Our colleague Bruce Kramer, former dean of the College of Education, Leadership and Counseling, has the use of 0 limbs, 0 fingers and 0 toes because of ALS, and he can’t bounce his new granddaughter on his knee. Our family’s closest friend, Richard Johnson – grandfather to UST sophomore Janie Swingle – died last fall after his courageous battle with ALS.
Thanks, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, for giving me the chance to witness our friend end up with 0 use of his body while his mind was at 100 percent strength. Thanks for leaving us helpless and hopeless. Almost everyone I know has a story of _______ (fill in name and relationship) who is living with, has died from, is or has been affected by ALS. If you can’t fill in that blank yet, don’t worry; you will some day.
The UST community is guilty of caring, too. On Thursday (Sept. 4) at 3:30 p.m., hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alums and neighbors will gather on the quad with purple buckets filled with bone-chilling ice water. Why? Because we CARE! It’s not because we care about one particular disease more than others – but because we at St. Thomas care about reducing suffering of those we know and those we don’t know. We care about raising awareness about many diseases and the importance of ethical, life-saving research of all kinds … the very research skills we are teaching our graduate students and undergrads. We care about each other exactly the way our founder Archbishop John Ireland hoped and prayed we would when he founded St. Thomas 129 years ago this week.
We also care about teaching and learning. I see the lessons we are learning by watching a social and human campaign go so viral so quickly as an incredibly opportunity for studying how innovations, social change and messages can be effectively diffused across multiple populations, states, countries and even continents. Sounds like a great case study for a number of our courses and conversations in many corners of camps, eh? I for one will critically examine the nature of successful snowball messaging in my own communication courses; I’m confident we can learn much from the ALS Ice Bucket campaign to help us critically examine the power of social media to inspire (and/or thwart) multiple types of social action and change.
You might have objections to the Ice Bucket Challenge because some ALS research involves use of embryonic stem cells. The Catholic Church opposes such research, and the ALS association has agreed to UST’s request that funds raised in the Ice Bucket Challenge on campus will not be used for embryonic stem cell research.
If you still have objections, here’s a fact: You surely and absolutely care about many things that have to do with making life better for others, right? Yep, we’re all guilty as charged – of caring. Because we’re human, just the way we were designed to be.
See you on Thursday! Buckets, water, ice and towels will be provided, as will an inspiring message from President Julie Sullivan, who cares about humans and alleviating suffering.
And, seriously, how often do you get to see our president soaking wet? I, for one, am not going to miss the chance.