No foolin’

Today is April Fools’ Day. It is a tradition that is so old that according to Wikipedia (which hopefully is not fooling us) its origins are lost in antiquity. Its origins may be so old that no one remembers how it began, but I wish we would kill it.

We have all been victims of April Fools’ Day at one time or another. Because it only happens once a year many of us, unless we are mindful of the approaching holiday, find it easy to succumb. At least today, most of them are easy to spot. Even I wasn’t fooled by Google’s Gmail Custom Time joke today. But hey, if anyone can invent an email Wayback machine, it is those wizards at Google.

So why do I loathe April Fools’ Day? I think I hate it because I hate being humiliated, thus I simply cannot find it within myself to debase others by humiliating them. That we are all gullible at times is hardly news. It is part of the human condition. Heck, even our president, who strikes me as a genuinely foolish man, once actually said, “Fool me once, shame on you. You can’t get fooled again.” I am more tolerant of self-humiliating fools. (I also know that we all have times when we are a bit incoherent. I think this is a condition of middle age.) The instigator of an April Fools joke though is really its unintended recipient. It says a lot about someone’s lack of character that he considers it fun to humiliate other people. It tells me that this is someone to avoid.

People who have been serially humiliated, and there are millions of them, suffer quite severe psychological damage. The primary damage is to their self-esteem. It builds a feeling of inadequacy and breeds a sense of paranoia that can last a lifetime and be truly disabling. Through events like April Fools’ Day, it is possible to reinforce opinions about someone they generally dislike anyhow. This can often be done in very cruel ways, such as by doing it in front of large groups of people. Anyone who laughs along in this humiliation is also slimed, because they are tacitly condoning such events.

Perhaps that is why most of us grown adults do not stoop to direct humiliation, but can find other less obvious ways of achieving the same goals. There are many ways to humiliate someone but they can all have a similar wounding effect. The accumulation of such events can result in lifelong problems, problems that never need to have happened.

Why do we do this? We do it to cover up our own inadequacies. By proving someone else as a fool, it is harder for others to see us as foolish. Some people instead may see the joker as clever, or popular, or a risk taker, or a practical jokester. I don’t. I know too many people, including tangentially myself, who have been the victims of such meanness. It is never funny to be the butt of a joke.

When I see someone using a joke to humiliate someone else, my dander is raised. I am not the type easily roused toward direct confrontation, but such events generally have me confronting the utterer. I will say things like, “Perhaps you meant to be funny, but I don’t think what you did is funny. I think it is hurtful.” I am probably one of a very few out there willing to say things like this. April Fools Day often gives me the opportunity. What I usually hear is, “Oh, I didn’t mean anything but it. It’s just a joke.” Yes, perhaps this is true, if humiliation is humorous. I do not believe that it is, but if it is then we can do without this kind of humor.

I do not know how we end something like April Fools’ Day. It is not an official national holiday so there is no law Congress can pass to make it go away. However, our leaders could show a little leadership on this issue. Perhaps it is nothing in the great confluence of world events with which they allegedly wrestle. Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be something if President Obama were to use the occasion of April Fools’ Day in 2009 to hold a press conference to simply proclaim the truth that there is nothing funny about making people look foolish. Perhaps as a token gesture, he could issue an executive order banning the exercise of any April Fools’ Jokes by federal civil servants. Perhaps he could include in his press conference some psychologists, who can testify to the damage that organized humiliation inflicts on human psyches.

I am probably something of a fool to think that my little blog entry will do anything to change this despicable holiday. Perhaps if I along with a thousand other bloggers use the occasion of this day to raise the visibility of this issue, it will be taken with the sobriety it deserves, even on this most dubious of days.

It may be April Fools’ Day, but no fooling; it is time to end this sick tradition.

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