This weekend I participated in one of the many walks going on in the city.  It seemed like everywhere I looked there were clusters of people in coordinated t-shirts or wearing numbers pinned to their windbreakers.  It was like walking the floor of a convention hall only outside and scattered across the lakefront.  The reason for this madness?  Everyone was out walking for one cause or another. 

I’m not sure when this started (it sure seems to have the fingerprints of the 1990s all over it though) but it seems that every charity feels the need to give people something to do for their cause.  When it’s all said and done charities want your money.  I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing necessarily as often times it’s put towards a very good cause, but more often than not, unless you know your way around a laboratory or clinic your cash is about all you can add to the equation in resolving their particular cause.  It’s nothing personal; it’s just the way it is.

The whole thing reminds me of one of my favorite articles from The Onion in the issue just after September 11, 2001: Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American Flag CakeThe article is brilliant and I think a spot-on portrayal of human nature.  Somewhere inside all of us is a desire to “do something” when the mood strikes us.  There’s something hollow about just sending money off into the great unknown even when it’s intended for the best of causes.  God damn it, we want to be involved and get our hands dirty to really feel like we’re playing an active role in conquering the challenge before us.  So what was the solution that made all parties happy?  The charities still wanted the money but the people who gave it back wanted some way to immerse themselves in the cause.  Somewhere along the line some big wig at a fancy charity must have raised his hand and said, “what if we just let them walk around in a big circle?”

So now every weekend in what I assume every city in America people are walking for a cause that has absolutely nothing to do with walking.  Whether they’re lapping a track for donations or having already paid for registration they just show up and walk around for a little while until they all decide to go home.  If the charity can throw in a stage with a local celebrity MC-ing, a team of high school cheerleaders, and if you’re lucky a bouncy castle, then all the better.  There’s really no good reason that this happens aside from the fact that a capitalist society likes to see some return on their investment.

I know there will be those who argue that the whole point of these coordinated herding exercises is to both show those dealing with the affliction in some degree that they are not alone in their fight.  Similarly those same people would take the power in numbers approach in that if there’s a big gathering others will inevitably inquire as to their purpose and in turn raise awareness for the cause.  While well intended I don’t think getting a couple hundred if not thousand(s) of people to stroll through a 5K are the only ways to accomplish that goal. 

I say all this and admit that I do several walks or runs of this nature for these purposes each and every year.  I’m a big fan of charity and am happy to help out with most causes that have personal or sentimental value to those close to me.  I just found myself inching along the lakeshore path on Saturday at a snail’s pace (while scenic it definitely was not built to handle a few thousand people being funneled through it) and wondered to myself, what the hell am I doing?  How is my being here, packed in like a sardine on a chilly damp morning, helping cure ALS?  The answer was that it wasn’t.  If anything the particular charity hosting the event had to incur costs to reserve the space, hire security, and the entertainment (yes – they did have a bouncy castle) that more than likely could have been better purposed.  The whole thing just struck me as odd.

When it’s all said and done I’m sure there will continue to be walks and I’ll continue to participate in them.  Sometimes I just wonder why the ol’ money-in-an-envelope approach can’t bring the same level of satisfaction that livestock must feel every day as they’re funneled through the paddock?