Be ignited, or be gone

Thursday, 7 May 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Delving deeper into the ALS challenge, the heady buzz simmered down after a month and, at its height, was only kept buoyant with frequent spells of celebrity participation One look at social media and society would seem blessed with knights clamouring for battle against humanity’s many problems. Last summer, our jowls drooped in disbelief at the sight of the world’s glitterati – from President Bush to even local cricketing stars – being doused in ice-cold water, all in the name of ALS. Thanksgiving or not, November is now associated with fertility – the season when chaps muster their strength to grow moustaches in exchange for good health. And, earlier last year, we were all struck by the wondrous effects of make-up when the fairer sex came clean on selfies in aid of cancer. No one disputes the runaway success of these social media campaigns. In fact, these self-deprecating acts have set cash registers ringing hysterically at the charities in question. The ice-bucket challenge, for instance, gushed out more than $100 million, an increase of 35 times compared to the year before. Brawn at its finest, Movember reaped $120 million in 2013, is now an annual ritual, and has received over five million Twitter mentions. Second to none, the #NoMakeupSelfie campaign raised over $12 million in just 6 days for Cancer Research UK. Does this surge in likes and tweets mean that we are now in sync with the issues that plague our communities? Are we now more passionate about making an impact in our own little way? Transient armchair passion Ironically, for all its financial success, the armchair passion that surrounds such social media activity is transient. Delving deeper into the ALS challenge, the heady buzz simmered down after a month and, at its height, was only kept buoyant with frequent spells of celebrity participation. Just like sliding down a giant snake in a snakes-and-ladders game, donations gradually tailed off to $30 per person (from a peak of $100) and Google searches for ALS are now back to pre-bucket levels. Given the strong element of self-publicity involved, it is also hard to dismiss claims that such campaigns pander to the attention-seeking and don’t necessarily foster long-term goodwill. There is no doubt that these marketing ploys have contributed immensely towards funding vital research. But is this the only support that we should expect from the general public? Are donations the be-all and end-all of everything? Although tapping a button online or uploading a picture on Instagram can raise awareness, it certainly does not ensure the continued survival of the charity’s vision. It doesn’t provide the necessary grey cells to determine future strategy; it doesn’t provide manpower to reach out to the down-trodden; and it certainly doesn’t provide the hearts to bring a cheer to the disadvantaged. Effort is key It may sound obvious. It may even sound preachy. But here’s the deal: the effort that you put in defines your passion towards a cause. No hurdle was ever struck down without its fair share of struggle, anguish, or danger. Mother Theresa, for instance, could not have made such a huge difference had she not roamed grubby areas of Calcutta in search of the poor, caressed the diseased, and lived a life devoid of comfort. Whilst this is certainly an extreme example, the case for toil could be made for every single person who has left an indelible mark on some social cause or another, be it Florence Nightingale, Muhammad Yunus, or Martin Luther King. Shouldn’t we be doing more? A Gallup poll calls us, Sri Lankans, one of the most generous people on earth. But, for a country beset with so many issues at so many different levels, shouldn’t we all be doing a tad more? Since there is no progress without sustained effort, it is important to pick causes that fire your belly and for which you can actively allocate time and energy to, ideally for the long-term. Such commitment could be as simple as penning an op-ed column, helping organise an event, or volunteering at a related lab or business venture. Not only would you make a tangible difference to the charitable foundation but you would also add key transferable skills to your own tool-kit. No one belittles the change that clicks and tweets can bring about; by all means, do help spread the word about nasty diseases. But, on its own, it would only make a teensy scratch in the universe. With the internet bringing us closer than ever before, the whole world is yours to contribute, make an impact and, hopefully, leave a lasting legacy. Movember or not, it is time to man up to some harsh realities! (The writer can be followed on www.nandu-rajagopala.com.)

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