Former Senator Bob Dole’s passing has been a real learning experience. Sure, I knew the basic facts about one of the political icons of his time, but I had no idea that he had a famous sense of humor. Hearing so many funny one-liners from the Kansas Republican and former presidential nominee has changed my view of him, but it has also given me one more thing to miss about the way our politics used to be.
Ronald G. Shafer wrote for the Wall Street Journal about these comments the late senator made to reporters after he lost the 1980 New Hampshire primary: “I went home and slept like a baby. Every two hours I woke up and cried.’’
Imagine a losing candidate saying that after the 2020 election. Any one of them. That would be refreshing.
This kind of talk is not just cute or valueless amusement. It is tone setting, and it matters. Laughing is actually good for us.
The Mayo Clinic reports there are clear short term benefits to a good laugh, none of which should surprise us. It stimulates specific organs, most obviously in our cardiovascular system. Even a forgettable chuckle can change breathing patterns and heart rates, but if it were possible to just take a good dose of that kind of laugh that has us gasping for air, we might be able to spend less time on treadmills. The health and fitness market needs to develop the “laughing workout.” As the pandemic drove health conscious people away from gyms, this one could permanently close them.
The stress reduction and muscle relaxation that laughter brings also helps reduce the physical impacts of stress. Again, that’s just in the short term. But consider adding a free and natural stress reducer to your daily routine because the long term impacts are even more valuable. “Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses,” the Mayo Clinic goes on to conclude. Further, laughter can help ease the burdens of anxiety, depression and self-esteem challenges as anyone could have predicted, but the process in our body can actually provoke natural painkillers as well.
Laughing doesn’t stand alone in this category. Crying has similar health benefits. Leo Newhouse published a good article on the upside of sobbing for the Harvard Medical School blog on March 1, 2021. But it appears Americans cry even less than we laugh, with women only crying 3.5 times a month on average, and men predictably crying less at only 1.9 times in the same period. Maybe this contributes to why women are happier, or more satisfied with life than men, at least according to them.
Some cities in Japan now have “crying clubs” that have been organized to tap into these specific benefits. Interesting, but I think I will stick with the comedy clubs. Plus, I look for opportunities to get my monthly crying regimen simultaneously with my laughter dosage anyway.
As a communication tool, finding a way to laugh together is one of the best ways to form meaningful connections with those you are trying to reach. Bob Dole’s witty little quips were not spoken in an attempt to hurt or put distance between himself and his political opponents. Their value was that they were clearly intended to help him connect with anyone within earshot. And that is where the other most endearing characteristic of the late senator comes in: his warmth.
Dole’s stoic, cold image did not help him succeed in his presidential campaigns, and limiting his humor on that stage has been pointed to as a primary reason why he failed to connect with voters more broadly. Shafer included some of that irony in his Journal piece as well. He wrote, “Vice President Al Gore once joked during a particularly cold Washington winter that it was so cold, people were ‘huddling around Bob Dole for warmth.'”
I was no fan of Senator Dole when he was leading the body, or in his active years following his retirement. But I never thought of him as dangerous or questioned his intentions either. Sadly, I was unaware of his wit and warmth, both of which were not the first words that came to my mind when I heard news of his passing this week.
Dole’s life is certainly an example of one that was absolutely well lived. But his humor and humanity are the things I now appreciate about him that truly make any life worth living.