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Call Me, Tweet Me: Lessons learned from Finkeldad: Chutzpah and humor are simply the best

Published: November 30, 2012
Section: Opinions

If I was confronted by hate speech from a Neo-Nazi group, the Westboro Baptist Church or any other hate–filled organization, I’m not entirely sure what I would do. I support everyone’s First Amendment rights too much to stop them, and I’m too jaded or sensible to think that arguing with them will be anything but a waste of time.

I know for a fact that I don’t have the same kind of ingenuity and chutzpah that you’d find if you walked into the Latin American Coalición of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Not a place you would typically describe as having chutzpah, right? (According to every Hebrew School teacher I’ve ever had, “chutzpah” is Yiddish for “insolence” or “audacity”—circumstantially good or bad.)

Let me tell you, this is one of the best examples of using chutzpah for good with a big pay-off.

A few weeks ago, the people at the Coalición heard that the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the National Socialist Movement (NSM), a neo-Nazi group, were planning to host an anti-immigration rally. Knowing that the KKK and NSM were within their constitutional rights to free speech, the Coalición organized a counter-protest.

This counter-protest was unlike anything I’ve ever heard of. Instead of a group of people with signs displaying pro-immigration reform messages and peppered with a few joke and wordplay signs, the Coalición took the use of humor as a defense mechanism to a whole new level.

I don’t want to hype this up too much, but it was incredible.

The counter-protesters were clowns.

Coalición youth coordinator Lacey Williams spoke with NBC Charlotte about the protest: “The message from us is, you look silly … We’re dressed like clowns and you’re the ones that look funny … I think it’s really important to have a sense of humor. What they want is for us to fight them. They want us to hit them with hate. We can’t become them.”

Williams and her fellow counter-protesters dressed as clowns, many decked out in red noses and wigs, complete with toys and whistles.

One man dressed as a banana and carried a sign that said, “Racism isn’t a-PEEL-ing.”

A woman in oversized glasses carried a sign asking, “Who’s the real clown?”

Each time protesters said anything about white power, the clowns sprinkled white flour in the air and held up pictures of the Pillsbury Doughboy.

“Humor is just another defense against the universe,” Mel Brooks said.

There’s always going to be a time when you’re consoling a friend and you make a less-than-tasteful or poorly-timed joke. Jokes aren’t always appropriate or appreciated, but overall I find humor to be the best coping mechanism.

Finkeldad is the king of humor. He cracks jokes 90 percent of the time and I don’t want to brag, but I think I got a little bit of my sense of humor from him. If you ask my sister or Finkelmom, they’ll gladly confirm that I share more with him than with either of them.

He’s been through a lot in his life and while there are certain things he won’t joke about, he’s gotten pretty good at using humor as a coping mechanism—both to see the bright side and to distract himself and others from painful situations.

When faced with challenges, we shouldn’t laugh at them so much that we are left unable to deal with them, but there is no harm in using jokes and laughter to lift our spirits. We can turn ridicule into ridiculous, as the members of the Latin American Coalición did, and we can pull ourselves back onto our feet with the understanding that in 10 years we will remember laughing with our friends (maybe not the specific jokes), knowing that those exam grades won’t affect us in the long run.

From what I understand of the science behind laughter (which isn’t much, but that’s why I’m an American studies major), laughing releases endorphins, those feel-good things that make people like to exercise and eat spicy food. I’m not a fan of either of those things, so my endorphin indicator could be broken, but I do know that when I laugh, I feel good, and when I make other people laugh, I feel even better.

I haven’t yet encountered a problem I couldn’t get out of with a little sass, a joke or two and some Finkelfam chutzpah.

As nineteenth century American writer Elbert Hubbard pointed out, we shouldn’t take life too seriously. None of us are going to get out of it alive.