So, apparently there’s a Tide Pod eating challenge tearing through social media. And alongside it, many counter-memes both dismissing those injured in the process and sarcastically suggesting other poisonous challenges for participants to try. Both sides are ridiculous, if you ask me. But the group psychology behind the whole thing both fascinates and terrifies me, so I think it’s worth taking a moment to consider.
Frankly, it took me a good two weeks of news coverage before I finally believed it to be an actual, occurring problem, and not some Saturday Night Live skit blown up into a viral joke of sorts. Because seriously…who would do such a thing?? Clearly there’s a serious disconnect when members of the population think it’s a good idea to eat potentially deadly chemicals for fun and bragging rights. But sharing callous graphics about other ways to die isn’t exactly a glowing recommendation for the state of the population either.
That said, I take issue with how the whole thing is being handled on several levels. From the way the media has sensationalized the whole thing (giving these kids the exact viral status they were aiming for, and thereby rewarding their ridiculous behavior) to the way people are panicking and demanding laws and safe guards put in place by the government to “protect the kids”…as though the kids in these challenges aren’t teenagers perfectly capable of knowing that eating a plastic ball of toxic liquid to garner internet fame isn’t a winning idea.
Why are people rushing for laws to have Tide Pods reengineered and/or locked up at grocery stores? Why does Tide have to run a commercial telling people to not eat detergent? This isn’t rocket science. And I don’t recall cinnamon getting locked up after the Cinnamon Challenge craze a couple of years ago…and more than a few people ended up at the hospital after that…including, tragically, one little boy who died.
Personally, I think this rush for legislation obsession and “for their own good” mentality is a major part of what’s wrong in our culture today. A standing government doesn’t absolve us from having to consider our options and make appropriate choices for ourselves. You can’t just legislate morals and values into people. But I feel like that’s exactly what we’re trying to do these days.
Take the New York City legislation banning sugary drinks over a certain size a few years ago, for example (which has since been overturned by the courts, thankfully). I imagine there were a lot of well-intentioned people behind the creation of that law…people that just wanted everyone to be healthy and live a quality life. But, seriously? How did that law make it that far? How is it anyone else’s business if I order a large frappaccino on my way to work?
And aside from my own personal distaste for being told what to drink or how to shop by people who’ve never met me…where does it all end?
When you allow others to create laws dictating the minutiae of people’s lives (how they buy detergent, what they drink with lunch, etc.), to address a symptom…instead of the individual, or family unit, or community coming together to address a root cause…you end up with a society dependent on the government to make “good” decisions. (Mind you, the definition of “good” is likely to vary, based on who happens to be in office.) And that kind of power can become an ever-expanding sort of thing.
Personally, I think we could probably sit down and figure out why kids are feeling so attention-starved that eating a Tide Pod for “likes” sounds like a good idea…and figure out how to get them the support they need in order to feel whole, even when they don’t have thousands of followers hanging on their every word…all without adding a single additional law to the books, or adding another key to the manager-on-duty’s key ring at the grocery store.
Morals, values, and common sense are learned and over a lifetime of decisions and consequences. When you know better, you do better…that’s the deal. But when you take that onus off the individual (whether we’re talking about the kid who should know better, the parent who should’ve taught them better, or anyone else in the equation), you separate the decision from the consequence, and subsequently remove the weight of the responsibility from one’s choices.
Can’t we all agree that if we can’t sustain the health and well-being of teenagers without putting laundry detergent in a locked case, we’re probably doing something wrong as a society? Can we all come to the conclusion that we can do a better job, even without a law that tells us to?
We need to do a lot more work on instilling a sense of personal responsibility through parenting, family dynamics, and building strong communities. And we need to do a whole lot less leaning on outrage to incite legislation when something bad happens. We all need to do the hard work of looking inside ourselves to see how we can contribute to the solution instead of the problem.