Biting My Tongue For A Good Cause
This past weekend, I had the tremendous pleasure of being the emcee and public address announcer for a charity beach volleyball tournament benefiting Crocs Cares and SolesUnitedsm. A charity to shoe the shoeless, all the proceeds will be used to provide shoes for children and adults in troubled parts of the world who can’t afford even the simplest form of footwear.
The tournament was held during the day on Halloween, and included a costume contest, a silent auction, raffles for a ton of cool prizes, and a “Buy the Pro” feature, whereby a team could purchase a professional beach volleyball player for the day to strengthen their team. And of course, all the money went into the charity hopper.
Players came dressed up and actually played in their Halloween costumes. The beer was flowing steadily all day, and the weather was a pristine 75 degrees and sunny. It was a complete blast and a resounding success. I couldn’t have been happierÂ to donate my time to an event like this, and will gladly do soÂ again in the future.
However, I have to share a little skeptical tidbit about the day with you all, because I know you’ll get it. Read more after the fold.
One of the professional players on hand Saturday works closely with Crocs Cares, and was actually sort of the figurehead for the tournament. I won’t mention his name, because it’s not important, but also because he really is a great guy, and I wouldn’t want to shine a negative light on him by virtue of this little story. I’m not trying to slam him. I just thought you guys would be interested in this.
Anyway, as the figurehead for the tournament, this particular pro player had some of his sponsors’ merchandise on hand to be auctioned and raffled off for the charity. Now, one of his sponsors is Power Balance, and the Power Balance folks sent along a couple dozen or so of their Power Balance silicone wristbands as raffle and auction prizes.
Now, if you’re not familiar, Power Balance wristbands are a simple band made of rubber that looks similar to a wristwatch. However, where the watch face would be on a wristwatch, there is instead a holographic disk â€”Â which is kind of a cool looking thing, from a purely visual standpoint. Of course, as you no doubt have guessed by now, Power Balance claims the holographic disk does way more than just look cool.
From their website:
Power BalanceÂ®, after years of research and development, has produced a system to safely restore and optimize the electro-magnetic balance within the human bodyâ€¦ IMMEDIATELY.
POWER BALANCEâ€™S Mylar Holographic Disk (the same substance used to keep static electricity from damaging electrical components) has been imbedded with an electrical frequency that restores your bodyâ€™s electrical balance, promoting a free exchange of positive and negative ions and align your bodyâ€™s energy pathways.
The high density Disk acts much like a switch, resonating within your system and turning on your energy field while it clears the pathways so the electro-chemical exchange functions like the well-tuned generator it was designed to be.
When the static Power Balance Hologram comes in contact with your bodyâ€™s energy field, it begins to resonate in accordance with each individualâ€™s biological, creating a harmonic loop that optimizes your energy field and maintains maximum energy flow while clearing the pathways so the electro-chemical exchange functions like the well-tuned generator it was meant to be.
At any rate, one of the tournament organizers came to me at one point during the day, and told me it was time to give away some of the raffle prizes and that I should announce the winners. I said okay, and asked what the prizes were. He told me the prizes were the Power Balance wrist bands.
Now this particular tournament organizer is a friend of mine named Ricky Sucgang. He’s a PhD in molecular biology working on the human genome project. He’s a good scientist, and a skeptic. He was even the guest speaker at one of the Houston Area Skeptics’ outings at the pub.
So I said, “Power Balance wristbands? Really?”
He said, “Yeah.”
And I said, “But these areâ€””
He said, “â€”I know.”
Then we just looked at each other, silently agreeing not to make aÂ stink about the wristbands. After all, they had raffled off 20 of them, and sold a couple more, and the take on those items was substantial. Even if the recipients â€”Â many of whom I found out later were hip to what they were getting â€”Â walked away with what amounts to just a trinket, the money goes to something good.
And at the end of the day, that’s whatÂ the eventÂ was all about.
So perhaps sometimes it’s okay if critical thinking and good science take a back seat to philanthropy.
Oh, Sam, I don’t know. That is a tough call, and I don’t know how I would have handled it.
On the one hand, they are just thirty bucks, and it’s for charity. And you don’t want to put down a sponsor, or the athlete they sponsor.
But on the other hand, by not denouncing this sort of garbage, we can be seen as tacitly endorsing it. And, you miss out on an opportunity to explain why thinking should be a component of decision making.
Yikes. Again, I don’t know exactly how I would have handled it, but it would probably be described as “poorly”.
Finally…I just wanted to point out that this sentence:
“When the static Power Balance Hologram comes in contact with your bodyâ€™s energy field, it begins to resonate in accordance with each individualâ€™s biological, creating a harmonic loop that optimizes your energy field and maintains maximum energy flow while clearing the pathways so the electro-chemical exchange functions like the well-tuned generator it was meant to be.”
May be one of the stupidest things I have ever read. Ever. I suppose if someone can read that sentence and not snicker, they deserve to be out 30 bucks.
My body’s energy field, indeed. *Snicker*
Well, the bands were raffled, and each chance in the raffle was I think 3 bucks, so there’s a chance the winners weren’t out much at all. And as I mentioned, some of the people I talked to that actually won, knew the score going in, but bought a chance anyway. Just like someone put a thousand dollar silent bid on a 200 dollar set of golf clubs. The prizes aren’t the thing at an event like this.
I’m confident Ricky and I did the right thing by keeping the focus solely on the charity.
Hmm, really hard to figure out a way to turn that into a positive thing. Best I can come up with is, “These wrist bands are durable, stylish and an excellent example of the placebo effect.”
These sound like those necklaces some baseball players are wearing that I think you covered a few months back, which I seem to recall seeing a couple of so far in the “World” Series.
Is there something about sports stars that makes them susceptible to this sort of thing? I know Michael Shermer is quite open about all the crap he fell for whilst he was a competitive cyclist.
Well, I’ve done no practical research, but I do hang out with a lot of athletes, and those that are still competetive in their sport are always looking for ways to gain an edge. And desperation often clouds sound reasoning, if they have it to begin with.
And as Steve points out, there can be a placebo effect at play. If they really think it’s helping, it is.
@Andrew Nixon: Are you talking about the weird braided thing Burnett and some of the others wear? My daughter and husband and I were talking about that just last night. What the heck are those things? I must have missed the original post. Could we have a link, please?
I talked about those a little bit. Take a look:
I think that the decision was wrong but that your reasons are right. Therefore, I think the best way to be fully coherent in one such situation is be crystal-clear and put all the cards on the table. You could have simply told whoever wanted to buy the product, “Hey, look, what the ad says is pure bullshit and you’re not going to get anything resembling holographic energy, but if you buy you will be helping us do X, Y and Z, which is actually much better”.
I think people would appreciate your honesty and being treated as adults, as well as the fact of learning something new, and would value you as a source from then on, while at the same time giving you the money you need.
That would be the best solution I can think of. Personally, I would certainly like being told the truth, because your reasons to sell those items are valid reasons on their own and should be so also for the other people to buy them, regardless of the items themselves.
I’d have done the same thing–Sucked it up for a Good Cause ™.
Andrew Nixon asked if there was something special about sports that makes one woo-susceptible. I’m not sure about sports in general, but baseball is rife with magic. Here’s a link to an anthropologist’s take on it:
Well, I disagree.
In my view, the event was completely the wrong event, and my position was completely the wrong position for that conversation. Had someone asked, I certainly would have imparted my knowledge and opinions. But it was not the place to be actively volunteering them.
Yep. Don’t piss in people’s Cheerios on their own time. If you were asked, however…shower away, I suppose.
@CatFurniture: Thanks for a fascinating article – it’s quite amazing really that cricket players seem to have many of the same superstitions that baseball players do – perhaps an example of convergent evolution!
I’m with Sam on this one. If you want to function in the world as well as keep a few friends you have to be judicious with truth sometimes. With family and other loved ones I’ll even lie if I have to before quickly changing the subject.
My own regular contact with this is our poetry group. All kinds of woo going on there, but one thing I learned while biting my tongue is that frequently the ideas themselves are pretty cool. One guy read some Sufi poetry last time which led to a fascinating discussion on ethics that most skeptics would be happy to participate in.
@Sam Ogden: don’t get me wrong, I too am confident you guys did the right thing. It is just that I am equally confident I would have done the wrong thing :)
I hear ya. That’s usually where I live, too.
I think the people claiming Sam ought to have said something might be underestimating the recipients of these bracelets. Do we know for certain all the raffle winners are uncritical thinkers? I’m willing to bet most people who wound up with one could do their own due diligence on the silliness of the claims.
And would Sam have changed the mind of anyone who specifically donated for one of these if he’d gone after them about it? This time I’m willing to bet no.
I completely agree this wasn’t the time, place, or audience. Well done, although it couldn’t have been easy.
Just out of interest Sam, is there anything that you wouldn’t have given away?
Let’s say that instead of the wrist band, the give away was a free consult with a chiropractor, personalised astrological reading, or any other bit of woo. Is there a point at which you’d have said, “Hang on, I’m not getting involved with this crap”?
@Andrew Nixon: Excellent question! For me, anything to do with creationism or homeopathy would be right out. If I felt I couldn’t speak out against them, I would leave.
Hell, if I could speak out against them, I would still probably leave. And never return.
As long as those things were as small a part of the event as the wristbands, I doubt I would have cared much.
I don’t want you guys to get the wrong idea. The wristbands were perhaps the smallest portion, the most insignificant items to be raffled off. They weren’t the only items, and Power Balance wasn’t the only sponsor. Captain Morgan was a sponsor, and donated a ton of T-shirts, caps, and even bottles of rum. There were Calloway golf clubs up for auction. There were nice Poloroid athletic sunglasses as prizes. There was a guided off-shore fishing trip. There was something called ZipFizz, which I believe is an energy drink. So the wristbands were really swallowed in a sea of other, quality prizes.
And I suppose, if the items you mentioned were likewise a minute part of the collective, I would have no problem being a part of such an event.
Of course, if they came to me and said, the title sponsor is a chiropractor, everyone at the event will have their aura read before play begins, the prizes are solely holistic cures, and we’re all going to pray to Jesus before every match, I would balk at that.
But again, the players I talked to were hip to what was going on. It seemed a good portion of them had allotted a certain amount of money to go to the charity, and they’d have been happy just playing in the tournament. That there was a prize for some of the cash they threw in was secondary. One girl that won a wristband told me she was going to put the holographic disk on her dog’s collar because she thought it looked neat. She knew it was nonsense, but was glad her money went to a good cause.
@Sam Ogden: ‘””In my view, the event was completely the wrong event, and my position was completely the wrong position for that conversation.”””
“””@Sam Ogden: “””One girl (…) knew it was nonsense, but was glad her money went to a good cause.'””
I guess the event was not “completely the wrong event” for that girl. And that her position was “completely right”.
Why could she tell the truth and not you? After her comment, did you tell her “this is not the right event”, as you have told here? Or did you bite your tongue twice?
@Andrew Nixon: I don’t think it is sports stars alone. Any cohort of desperate people is susceptible to woo if it offers a way out of their predicament that the rational world has failed to provide. Terminally ill people are susceptible to homeopathic woo. Failing english majors are susceptible to Cliff Notes. The list is endless.
@Skepthink: There is such a thing as sharing your beliefs and there is such a thing as cramming it down the throat of everyone you meet. I believe the latter are called Jehovah’s Witnesses. Perhaps Sam could have done a little better investigation into the sponsorship of the event before becoming involved, but finding himself where he was, the best result was the one he created. Tread lightly and reconsider next time.
@CatFurniture: I couldn’t have said it better.
I think you’re making a mountain out of a mole hill here, Skepthink.
They weren’t selling homeopathic pills to cancer patients. Living in the real world means picking your battles. A charity volleyball tournament is probably not the most useful place to make your stand.
I agree that it was a tough call to make, but I can think of far worse things. I’m happier knowing that someone might have only paid a tenth of the retail price for woo, but in the end it’s the donations that mattered, nothing else.
Sam, I think that what you did wrong here was to post the product advertisement blurb. Yes, it’s good to have the pertinent background information, but I think that my brain is now bleeding.
What I really need now is some way to harmonically reinforce my biologicals… Oh, s**t, they got me…
Exactly! Now you’re catching on.
Whoops. I spoke too soon. Maybe you’re not catching on.
Seriously? You need me to explain this to you?
Okay, I’ll give it a shot, but considering you haven’t grasped this simple concept yet, I have a feeling I might just be sawing sawdust here. But here goes:
She was a player in the tournament. She paid an entry fee. She bought raffle chances. She had invested more than just time in an event that was geared for her enjoyment. She was a person who, were anyone to feel cheated by a prize or disagree about its efficacy, would have a cause to offer an opinion about that prize.
That she was not upset about it, and that she didn’t feel a need to scream from the mountain tops that Power Balance wristbands are bunk, and that she merely offered a creative use for her prize instead, indicated to me that she, like most of the players, was having a good time, and that she was aware that the charity was more important than slamming one of the sponsors, even though she didn’t buy into their claims.
And as for me, I could tell the truth, but was not going to actively volunteer my opinion on the prizes, because I was there to be a part of making the event fun for everyone. Had I gone off on an unsolicited screed about the prizes, I would have no doubt alienated a good portion of the players and attendees, the pro player who had been the driving force behind the event and who had asked me to be the emcee, not to mention the sponsors who had donated a lot of time and money for the event. It simply wasn’t the time or the place to be an activist.
No. I simply chuckled and said I thought that would be a good use for the disk, and then went about my duties as announcer.
@Sam Ogden: Clear? Not really. Look:
“””She was a player in the tournament. She paid an entry fee. She bought raffle chances. She had invested more than just time in an event that was geared for her enjoyment. She was a person who, were anyone to feel cheated by a prize or disagree about its efficacy, would have a cause to offer an opinion about that prize.”””
You mention a series of not particularly relevant circumstances and you still miss the most basic point, namely, that she already knew you were selling crap. And if she was an average attendee, then probably she wasn’t the only one thinking the same, which means that you simply avoided a non-existing problem. Basically, it seems that the only person whose opinions on the subject are known to you, agreed with you, and that in all other cases you assumed disagreement and refrained from acting just because YOU THOUGHT the buyers did believe in magic crap, which they actually didn’t.
For what you told, you certainly were not at a woo satanic ritual. It just seems that you were at a place were some nice people were playing sports, and who were sufficiently outgoing so that you could have spoken your mind just for the sake of feeling good about yourself. I don’t think you would have faced any major reprisals, and if you’re kind enough, people will surely enjoy your explanation of why this and that and so on and so forth. And maybe even buy more.
But probably there is something I don’t grasp. Anyway, there’s no need to feel angry about that. If anything, you should feel angry about yourself.
I don’t feel angry about anything. I’m quite happy with the entire weekend, and everything that has followed.
But I knew I was sawing sawdust.
Sam, this reminds me of some of my experiences at work.
The most recent and audacious being a guest I served, at the chain restaurant I work for. Our pleasant conversation turned into her very detailed speech about how she doesn’t drink the tap water because it is poisonous, because of the fluoride and “otherstuff.” She did drink a diet soda, though… I kept my mouth shut.
Unlike you, my motivation for turning the other cheek, and promising to avoid municipal water sources, was definitely for personal gain.
Sam, it seems to me the lesson is to know all about what you’re attaching yourself to. If you would have known beforehand about the bracelets, would that have affected your decision to participate?
I think you acted appropriately in the context you were in. I may have commented about my lack of endorsement for them, I suppose. Perhaps give an invitation to answer questions in private after the event.
@Skepthink: You are being a grumpy gus.
The amount of comfort that can be provided to people who really need it through the charity, as well as the personal enjoyment I get from doing these kinds of gigs, far outweighs any hang-ups I might have about such a minor point of the proceedings.
I don’t think I’d like myself much if I were that militant about skepticism.
Did it pay off in the form of a big juicy tip?
@Sam Ogden: If you were that militant, you wouldn’t have any friends and your family would likely hate you.
I mean, something tells me Skepdick chooses his battles, just as we all do.
I thought I felt my body’s energy field once.
Turns out it was just gas.
Sure do. Tilting at windmills is often pointless, no?
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