October 2, 2013

BagelGate (or, How I Offended Everyone on Facebook). ~ Ann Nichols

The Buddhist walks up to the hot dog vendor and tells him to “make me one with everything.”

…The vendor gives him a hot dog and the Buddhist gives him a twenty dollar bill. After a moment of waiting, the Buddhist asks, “Where’s my change?” The vendor smiles and says, “Ahh, change must come from within.”

~ Source Unknown 

I’m funny. No, seriously, I am pretty damned hilarious.

I’m also deeply spiritual, a real (as opposed to faux) Buddhist who actually meditates, uses her mala for prayers, and tries to help others to see that there is a path out of suffering and a startling joy in mindfulness. I’m also, in general, a fairly kind person.

I never thought there was a conflict between the two, but then there was this:

I posted on Facebook that every time someone ate a caramel apple bagel from Tim Horton’s, a Jew died.

In my defense, I was ripping off Milton Berle’s old Borscht Belt shtick that “anytime somebody orders a corned beef sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise, somewhere in the world, a Jew dies.”

Also in my defense, I’m Jewish. I’m a Buddhist by choice and practice, but my mother was Jewish, half of my extended family is Jewish; and, well, I know from Jews.

So I posted my status about the bagels and immediately received comments indicating that I had offended people. My friends who are Jewish, or familiar with the culture liked it, but others assumed, I guess, that I was slamming Jews, or in some way saying that their death-by-bagel was a desirable outcome.

I felt terrible.

I explained—both my own heritage and the fact that, if anything, the joke was not criticizing Jews in any way, but making fun of non-Jews co-opting Jewish culinary traditions and destroying their inherent perfection.

Still, I came to understand why Milton Berle told his corned beef sandwich joke to other Jews, in the Borscht Belt.

I’ve been thinking about all of this for days and I guess there are two issues that caused my attempt at humor to turn into BagelGate.

The first is the fact that many of my virtual friends don’t know me.

They became my friends after reading my pieces on elephant journal and joined a Buddhist-centric group I started on Facebook. A wise friend suggested that it confuses those people if I’m “The Grossinger’s Guru” writing about meditation one minute and cracking insider Jewish jokes the next.

This makes sense, but it bothers me in a profound way. I am both of those things, really, all the time, and they aren’t irreconcilable. I practice compassion, but I also see the things of the world as impermanent and not as objects of worship. This includes institutions, dogmas and reflexive political correctness.

And that was the second issue that caused trouble:

The appearance of political incorrectness.

I’m pretty sure that the reason the joke bothered people who didn’t actually know me, or know Jewish culture was the suspicion that any status update including the word jew and the word die was not only politically incorrect but probably defamatory and cruel.

So I was fighting two entirely perception-based misconceptions. I had failed to be serious enough to keep my Spiritual Person card and I had triggered the unthinking, knee-jerk reaction that comes from any reference to ethnicity, color, religion or any other dangerous topic. To the many people who don’t actually know me in any meaningful way, I appeared to be shockingly out of line with the expectations I myself had created.

Feeling pretty misunderstood, I ran the whole thing through my most fundamental test:

Did I act with compassion and did I act with wisdom?

On compassion, I came through with flying colors. I meant no harm and in fact I was in the midst of missing my mother a lot and thinking about how much I also missed the Seders, the chopped liver, and the warm circle of her family. I was feeling all Jewish I guess and if anything I was trying to express where I belonged and what I cherished. Maybe, also, I was hoping to connect with other people who got it and to feel like I hadn’t completely lost my place in The Tribe.

On wisdom, not so much. I still think it’s okay to be a funny Buddhist. Koans and the stories surrounding them are often funny. The Dalai Lama has a fine sense of humor. Teachers like Pema Chodron and Tara Brach are often both funny and completely irreverent. I also think that the most deeply dark and serious moments present the perfect opportunity to turn things upside down with humor.

On the other hand, a public forum with literally hundreds of people who do not actually know me is not the best place to make jokes that might be interpreted as insensitive. Had I been uttering some critical truth that needed to be spoken no matter what anyone thought of me, it would have been worth it. I wasn’t proving a point, though, or changing the world or challenging folks to abandon cherished misconceptions of some sort. I was goofing around.

Because I chose to goof around in a public forum, I was misunderstood, I offended people and I had to ruin a perfectly good joke by explaining why it was funny. I can’t assume that everyone knows (or cares) that I mean no harm, that I carry bugs outside instead of killing them and that I felt free to joke about Jews only because I am one. I should have changed my privacy settings, or kept my hands off the keyboard until the wave of inspiration passed.

I did not act wisely and I won’t make the same mistake again.

But I’m always going to be funny, and maybe not very PC and I’m going to revel in it.

Because otherwise, life is like corned beef on white bread with mayo.

Like elephant journal on Facebook.

Assist Ed: Sanja Cloete-Jones/Ed: Sara Crolick

{Morning Bagel Image from Flickr by Leann_b}


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