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While I’m sure the intentions behind it are pure, I can’t help but see Facebook activism like the ALS ice bucket challenge and other activities geared toward “raising awareness” as a mirage of true service, a pernicious distraction from opportunities to really make a difference.

Other people’s charitable spirit is not for me to judge. I like what Jesus had to say on the subject of charity in Matthew 6:4, which was basically that service should be done, you know, kinda privately. In other words, “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

So, especially if I support the understated style of giving, it’s not for me to police anybody else’s giving or lack thereof – the point is, it’s not really my business. And that’s not what I’m trying to do. But what I want to say about social media awareness-raising is this: I don’t really think it’s charity at all, and I think conflating the occasional leading post about where you leave your bra when you take it off at night, for example, to “raise awareness” about breast cancer, with anything in the ballpark of actual giving of your time or money or skills for the benefit of others is risky business.

The real difference is made through action. Through fundraising. Through mentoring. Through Doctors Without Borders-ing. Through a lot of stuff. I reckon we all have an inborn desire to help other people. And I think, in a chronically busy and cash-strapped culture, it’s tough to find outlets for that impulse to give of ourselves, between getting to work and taking care of the people in our families and, you know, paying the water bill on time. So it’s tempting, when presented with the easy opportunity, to take a video of ourselves getting all wet in the yard (for charity!), dust our hands off and go, “There!” We get our giving itch scratched. And it hardly costs us anything. But how can you call it giving when you don’t really lose anything in the exchange?

I’m not saying that no one should do the ice bucket challenge, or any number of other viral social media awareness campaigns. Because awareness does matter. I am saying that we, all of us, should take care to make sure we don’t participate in these things to the exclusion of other gestures of service and sacrifice. Because the logical next step after awareness is action. Because the need to give is still in us. And the need for giving just seems to grow every day.

If we continue to treat talking about a problem in public as good work on the order of actively working to fix that problem, that need will go unmet and yet we’ll be blind to it, caught in an infinite loop of our dripping, smiling friends on Vine, sure that we’re changing the world.

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