Friday, August 29, 2014

Social Pressure

This past Monday was my first day back to work after vacation. I came in prepared for an overflowing inbox, an extra heavy work load as we come upon our fiscal year end and the final implementation date of major project that has been ongoing for more than 6 months. I was not prepared for a week of anxiety and sleepless nights. High pressure deadlines, long days and new assignments do not bother me, or keep me up at night. The problem this week? The ALS ice bucket challenge was making its way through the office.

Unless you live under a rock, you have likely heard of this challenge. Everyone from Kermit the Frog to Sir Patrick Stuart have posted their videos on line. There have been funny videos, cases of people getting hurt and even little kids telling off their mothers for dumping water on their head.

Dousing your friends and family with ice cold water is creating a media storm around North America, raising awareness for ALS. The ‪#IceBucketChallenge‬, inspired by Boston College baseball player Pete Frates, who is living with ALS, has placed the challenge to anyone who wants to get involved.   From the ALS website.
The Canadian ALS society has received more than $10 Million in donations with this campaign. And beyond the monetary donations, these challenges have raised awareness of a disease, that while not unheard of, was certainly not at the forefront of media attention like cancer, stroke or heart disease.

This all great stuff. So why was it causing me anxiety and sleepless nights? I had friends, family and co-workers all taking the challenge, having fun, posting videos on line and challenging each other to get involved. It seemed inevitable that someone would challenge me. And that is what kept me up at night.

You see, while I think it’s a great cause and I’m glad for all the publicity that it’s garnering, I do not want to participate.

I have reasons that I don’t want to participate, reasons that I don’t feel that I need to share with everyone or use to justify my choice.

But social pressure is strong.
  • EVERYONE is doing it! Why won’t you?
  • Why don’t you want to support his great cause?
  • What do you have against the ALS society?
  • Come on!!! Don’t be such a spoil sport.
  • You’re such a party-pooper.
  • Suck it up and just do it!

These were the thoughts swirling through my head as I fell asleep each night.

My concerns were also based on WHO might nominate me . What if my boss challenged our whole team and I was the only one who didn’t join in? How do I say no to something that is being touted as a “work” team building activity? Some people have shared stories about their family members who suffer from this debilitating disease. What if they challenge me? My answer will be “I’m sorry for their suffering, but I won’t be participating.” How will that person feel towards me after that? Will it cause a riff in our relationship?

I let my thoughts and fears get the better of me.

I did end up being challenged by someone from work. Unfortunately my name got sent out in an email announcing that I had been challenged and that a group of us would be doing the challenge the next day. I couldn’t just quietly say “No thank you” to the person who had put my name forward and leave it at that. Suddenly everyone was aware and I had to tell more people that I had hoped, that I would not be participating.

Luckily the social pressure hasn’t been as bad as I had built it up to be in my head. There were still a few “Awww come on... why won’t you do it?” or “But you were nominated, you have to do it now” comments and funny looks when I said that I wouldn’t be outside at 2:00 with everyone else. But overall I haven’t felt too pressured or singled out for my choice. It turns out that there were a couple of other folks in the office suffering from the same fears and anxieties. We've banded together and are supporting each other should someone come along and want to cajole one of us for not participating.

What are your thoughts on this type of social challenge?  Did you participate, or did you decline if you were challenged?
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