April 5, 2011

April Fools' Day and Wrong Speech

This year’s April Fools’ Day hoax was set up to be as believable as possible. I posted at the end of April 1 (11:59pm PDT), I provided an emotional context and I resisted extending the post’s arguments to reveal their flaws. It turned out to be a much more convincing prank than last year’s. In at least one case, it was even more hurtful.

One loyal reader’s feedback was both flattering and intensely humbling. She expressed her appreciation for this blog’s discussion of issues relating to Western Buddhists of Asian heritage. Unlike most Buddhist blogs, this blog does not hesitate to write about instances where these Buddhists are ignored and marginalized in Western Buddhism, particularly in North America. But my April Fools’ Day post celebrated arguments that denounce the discussion of race issues in the Buddhist community—the very sort of argument that this blog normally challenges. As a result, the hoax felt like a betrayal, a sentiment which lingered even after the ruse was unveiled. Repeating this prank another year didn’t help.

There are two main reasons why I regret my April Fools’ Day posts. First, I unintentionally hurt a reader from the very community that this blog aims to speak out for. There are few blogs that discuss the issues that Asian American Buddhists face in Western Buddhism, and I made it seem as though I had withdrawn my support. It’s a cruel game to toy with loyalty and support.

Second, I regret the fact that these posts were stitched together from completely intentional falsehoods. As I’ve discussed before, sarcasm and verbal irony are by definition both deliberate deviations from the truth for the sake of humor. As Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes: “Especially here in America, we’re used to getting laughs with exaggeration, sarcasm, group stereotypes, and pure silliness — all classic examples of wrong speech. If people get used to these sorts of careless humor, they stop listening carefully to what we say. In this way, we cheapen our own discourse.”

To be entirely clear, I have in no way changed my opinion as I otherwise suggested. The prank was to sincerely explore three basic arguments that are repeatedly used to shut down the discussion of race in Western Buddhism. I’ll hopefully find the time over the next few days to write exactly why each of the issues I brought up is a not a good enough reason to avoid this discussion. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to keep my snark on a leash.

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