Thinking Out Loud: What would happen if the world were like a community half-marathon?

(NOTE: THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JULY, 2009. I RECENTLY REREAD IT AND WAS REMINDED OF THE MESSAGE IN LIGHT OF MY EXPERIENCES IN THE PARADE.)

I recently ran in a half-marathon and was somewhat taken aback by the vocal support of hundreds of strangers. They cheered for me. They gave me high fives. They took time out of their weekends to wake up early just to make sure I was hydrated. These total strangers were encouraging, inspiring and motivating. They applauded for me as I went in search of my personal fitness goals. Not a single person questioned my motives, told me that my stride sucked, or chided me for running too slowly.

(Insert needle scratch here…)

We recently launched a new initiative  for a non-profit client, which is designed as a social media campaign to raise both awareness of the global sanitation crisis and funds to build eco-sanitation toilets. While we’ve had a tremendous amount of positive media coverage for our effort, as well as lots of love from the blogosphere and Twitterverse, I’m amazed by the number of people who have weighed in with wildly vocal criticism of our efforts. Even going so far as to question the fees we must be charging. (Which, for the record, are not only none, but we’re funding our own work on this.)

Let me back up for a moment, however, and explain myself a bit more. I don’t question anybody’s right to speak their opinion. Go nuts. If you don’t like our campaign because the language offends you. Fine. If you don’t like our style because it’s not targeting your demographic. Fine. If you don’t like what we’ve done because you don’t like me. Fine. But, what leaves me scratching my head is the fact that most of the loudest criticism came from the very people who claim to be supporters of a social agenda, which includes cleaning up the world’s water supplies.

In short, what confounds me is the fact that, while we may not be telling the same clean water or sanitation story as these people, we are, in fact, engaging people to become associated with this cause. We have raised the overall awareness about the global sanitation crisis. We have raised (to date) enough money to build three more eco-sanitation toilets (which will each provide a sustainable resource for up to 30 years and save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water). I don’t understand the need to rip the effort. Like I said – disagree with the premise, but why wouldn’t you at least applaud the fact that new people are donating to the cause of helping clean up the world’s water supply?

One of the critics of our project initiative went so far as to literally mock the amount of money that’s been raised and said something to the effect that it probably pales in comparison to the fees we are charging. As mentioned, we’re not being paid anything. Beyond that – we’re covering our own production costs. It’s not just a pro-bono account where we’re donating our time, we’re putting up dollars. (The blogger who questioned our fees wrote that if he knew we were doing this pro-bono, he would have taken a different stance. He did not, however, offer to correct his post.)

Again, please don’t misconstrue this for being upset about the criticism. No problems there. What amazes me is the utter delight that some people seem to take from ripping on…anything or anyone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schadenfreude). I wonder why it’s not possible to take the joy that is associated with those half-marathons and translate them into our every day lives. Why can’t we root, cheer and encourage the success of others? Moreover, why must we seemingly take great joy in the failure of others?

We have certainly taken a strange, direct and perhaps daring approach to the initiative. So? Don’t like it? Great. It’s not for you. But, stop and think that just maybe the initiative is doing some good. Stop and think that just maybe the $1300 donated has come from people who might otherwise never have thought about donating to a sanitation cause. Maybe those people had never even THOUGHT about the global sanitation crisis. Isn’t that a good thing?

There’s an amazing organization called Charity: Water. The work they have done and the money they have raised are unparalleled. Truly amazing. Do I like everything they’ve ever done? No. But, I applaud their success. I love their mission. And, I hope they continue to raise money. Raise awareness. Save lives.

I don’t expect that we can all just get along, but I’m a bit confused at this absolute glory that people feel from ripping on others. I guess everyone really is a critic. Too bad. I mean what would happen if we actually supported everyone in every day life the same way those people supported me during those races? That would be amazing.

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