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April 1, 2019

In Defense of April Fool’s Day, vs. our Culture of Offense.

I know it’s “cool” to hate on April Fools, these days, but it’s wise to be foolish—& gosh knows the world needs one uncancelable day.

A Buddhist defense of April Fool’s Day.

Today, a friend—who’s sharp, hip, funny, ironic, well-informed, caring—told me I couldn’t say the word “ghetto.”

It’s important to be sensitive, and to consider the effect our speech and actions can have on others. It’s important to understand history, and oppression.

So I, as a white man, should not say “ghetto”?

Well…I’m half-Jewish. And the word ghetto has its origins in Eastern European Jewish communities, so the shoe may be on the other foot.

The culture of offense, the culture of outrage…is hungry. That’s how it survives. It grows. It feeds. It looks for offense—on twitter, in movies, anywhere. It loves screens and armchairs.

It’s not the same thing as empathy, or knowing historical context. It’s what it is: a culture of outrage, by, of, and for itself. It’s on the left, and it’s on the right.

And then, once a year, comes April Fool’s Day—a wink and a spear in the face of the Culture of Outrage. But April Fool’s is less, and more, than a retort. It’s a tradition that goes back to the foolhardy jester, the only one allowed to make fun of the self-serious all-powerful King in his Court.

It’s a favorite day for we Buddhists—a day when our solid preconceptions get popped—through laughter, or through a rude slap.

April Fool’s is about making fun of sacred cows.

Just as with the craft of comedy, it doesn’t overly respect boundaries. Larry David makes fun of the holocaust. That’s the power of humor: to prant the seemingly-solid nature of our reality. It’s not about playful ribbing. It’s not jokey—it’s pranky. That can feel harsh. So can wakefulness, in the Buddhist tradition—it’s not a happy easy thing, always. There’s countless stories of teachers outraging their students—not out of abusiveness, but out of fearless humor and caring.

Besides: it’s not fundamentally about making fun of others’ experiences. It’s more about making fun of their expectations, and/or oneself.

So: Cheerful Lack of Solidity Day! Here’s a Buddhist view of April Fool’s Day, by my sweet mommy.

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