I must confess that I’m a total killjoy about April Fool’s day. I’m haunted by the memory of one of my primary teachers sending a hapless boy down the corridor to ask another teacher for a ‘long stand’; and I still go red remembering being jeered at in the playground for falling for something foolish. But of course I see the point of it all. It’s one of the few non-religious festivals that seems to crop up all over Europe and beyond, so today we join many other countries around the world in pranking our friends and neighbours. Dennis the Menace is Scotland’s Patron Saint of pranking, and he’d be in his element today.
Fooling has a noble lineage, and we’re familiar with the jester’s famous red and yellow costume, with the hat and bells. Court Jesters were a vital source of entertainment and levity, because only they could poke fun at the King. This function of speaking truth to power is key, because the problem about any power and privilege is that people stop fooling with you. For the jester, comedy is about naming things. We’ve all winced a bit, listening to stand-up, when we realise that we’re that person who tuts loudly when someone jumps the queue, or burbles about the weather to strangers, or apologises when we bump into a lamppost.
It was Robert Burns who said: O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as others see us! It’s no accident that these lines come at the end of his poem To a Louse, about a rather grand lady in church who’s obviously got nits. Maybe we need to bring our jesters back – to work, in the churches, and in politics. Maybe some judicious calling out of lice on bonnets would give everyone a laugh, but make a serious point.
The newspaper cartoonists, and the satirical press do it all the time, and I imagine if you’re a very grand and important person it can sting a bit, and feel a bit humiliating. But that’s entirely the point of jesting – humiliation hurts because it humbles us; and humility’s one of the virtues for good reason, because it offsets the sin of pride.
So if you’re fooled today, you can console yourself that it’s actually a moral workout, even if it does feel a bit uncomfortable.
I have been delivering “Thought For The Day” pieces on BBC Radio Scotland since November 2016. By kind permission these pieces are reproduced in blog posts here on my website. To find my other pieces click here go to my Thought For The Day index page.