April First rolls around every year and, in this country at least, the humorously minded roll out the mischief. This ranges from announcements of extraterrestrials, ‘buses’ that appear overnight half buried in the sidewalk, saran wrapped cars, and offices in which every inch of surface is covered in post-it notes. My Facebook feed was no exception. One friend was moving to the Netherlands, another got engaged, and half of a lesbian couple got accidentally pregnant and adamantly insisted the baby was her partner’s child, all in good cheer. I decided to join in the fun and posted the silliest status I could dream up. The comments rolled in and by midday, the myth had grown to include Cylons, a job description, a “handler” (in the best traditions of undercover agent fiction), secret ‘konversion’ plots, bomb threats, and extreme tests involving ducks. April First rolled over into April Second and I thought no more about it. Then, a few days later, a nun caught me in the hall.
“Oh, Monica, hello. You know, you put something on Facebook about not being a Buddhist.”
“Oh yeah, for April Fool’s.”
“Yes, yes. Well, some people, they come ask me about it. Some of the Chinese and Korean students were very scared.”
My jaw dropped. “You mean they BELIEVED it?!”
“Yes, yes. I ask them if this was on April 1 and told them it was probably joke. But we don’t have this in China, so they didn’t know.”
To make matters worse, rumors had begun to explain certain of my behaviors (such as missing a meditation lecture and who paid my tuition) based on the idea that I was an undercover Christian with an anti-Buddhist agenda. I was flabbergasted. For Krickie’s sake, I pointed out, the acronyms used even spelled rude words. Many of the commentors who’d played along were fellow students, almost all Buddhist, and two of them monks. I’m in the one program at our University that sort of requires a religious affiliation. There are a number of non-Buddhist students at our school, so I don’t believe it was the change of religious affiliation that was worrisome. But the declaration of a secret anti-Buddhist agenda seems to have sent the rumor mill spinning. I tried to laugh about it, but I was really very surprised. I am also very grateful to the nun for bringing it to my attention.
A professor who came upon myself and the nun talking in the hall pointed out “Well, the best April Fool’s prank is the one people believe. So congratulations!”
Now it leaves me wondering: Where in Right Speech is April Fool’s Day covered? Is it still a lie to say something that is untrue with the knowledge that the people to whom you say it know it is untrue? What about sarcasm? What about the witticisms that ease tension in a tough room or the white lies that save you from upsetting grandma at a family dinner? These are so much a part of Western culture, that even as a practicing Buddhist actively dedicated to honesty and compassionate speech, I have never thought much about them. And what about the gossip and speculation that started as a result of this little fiction? Is that merely karma, or should I not be the only one pondering the application of Right Speech?
The best I could do is post a retraction in the Facebook status a few days later and hope the frightened students would take it in the spirit it was intended. So far the confused students have not come forward, so I do hope they got the message. I don’t mind shaking things up from time to time, but it was never my intention to scare people. On that note, welcome to America and Happy April Fool’s Day!