Poet and master of the American colloquialism, Robert Frost, said of humor, “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” While I will not go as far as to agree with such a clamorous assertion, I can declare my staunch belief that a sense of humor and the ability to laugh are vital towards enhancing one’s well being and mental fitness. About laughter, actress, Audrey Hepburn, noted “It’s probably the most important thing in a person.’ This is an observation I could not endorse more.
From my experience, nothing can diffuse a tense situation quicker and with more certitude than humor or a good laugh. Usually laughter is the perfect extract to cure a sour disposition; a reliable tonic to sooth bruised feelings; an appropriate bandage to mend relationship fissures. Now, this is not to say mirth and whimsy are a tandem panacea that can cure all ills, but, more times than not, they represent an effective first step worth taking. As Danish pianist, Børge Rosenbaum, correctly surmised, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” And, when in doubt, defer to English bard, Lord Byron, who advised “Always laugh when you can; it is cheap medicine.”
I love to laugh. I love to be around people who make me laugh. (My sister-in-law, Judi Chisholm Welch, comes hilariously to mind here.) I love to have people around who I can make laugh. (The latter need is keenly important as I am far from the most humorous person in any group.) The 19th Century English author, Charles Dickens said it best: “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”
This has certainly been true in my personal life as everyone in my immediate family shares a profound appreciation for tomfoolery and playfulness. The Reynolds clan is at its best when levity is the overriding atmospheric and witty and clowning banter, the prevailing acoustic in our engagements with each other. Looking back, our best times have always involved laughter and humor. As British novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray, noted, “A good laugh is sunshine in the house.”
Laughter and humor have also been very important in my professional endeavors. Drawing on my own painful experiences, there are few things more stifling in an organization than staid and humorless leadership just as there are few things more stagnant than dreary and somber workmates. Herman Melville wrote in his epic novel, “Moby Dick”, “A good laugh is a mighty good thing, a rather too scarce a good thing.” Unfortunately, the latter sentence fragment a truism found in all too many workplaces.
When building my own work teams I won’t say sense of humor or propensity to laugh are criteria I use in choosing subordinates, but I can say without hesitation, selecting qualified people and finding out after the fact they possess these attributes is a very welcome discovery. And while I won’t go as far to say I fully embrace the late Maya Angelou’s admission “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh”, I will admit some of my worse subordinates sadly had that shortcoming.
My own elevated sense of humor and proclivity for laughter has also proven useful in my career spent serving in many countries and engaging with people of varied cultures. Ukrainian-American humorist, Yakov Smirnoff, posited “Everybody laughs the same in every language because laughter is a universal connection.” An observation I have found shrewdly accurate.
I once served four years in Afghanistan advising senior Ministry of Defense and Interior leaders. Though always serious, laughter was also a part of our daily routine and a crucial aspect of our mutual rapport building. One Afghan general underscored the importance of humor in a relationship quoting to me a verse from The Holy Qur’an, “He deserves Paradise who makes his companions laugh.” In a nod of deference, he quickly pointed out there was also a Holy Bible quotation that said essentially the same thing. All I had to offer was a Hebrew proverb I read once, “As soap is to the body, so laughter is to the soul.” But as they say, point well taken.
In her book, “Anne of Green Gables”, Canadian author, L.M. Montgomery, wrote “Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.” Again, as with the earlier Frost comment, I am not prepared to accept this statement as a literal imperative, but I will bellow my strong conviction that life is better with laughter and humor in it. Irish dramatist, Seán O’Casey, best captured the essence of my belief noting “Laughter is wine for the soul – laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness – the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.”
Writing in “The Magic Mountain”, Thomas Mann, author and social critic, beautifully stated “Laughter is the sunbeam of the soul.” Some of the most grounded people I have ever met were those who laughed; especially at themselves. Laughing at the foibles of others; a blemish. Finding humor is the failings of oneself; refreshing, and, quite admirable. I always strive to be amongst the latter.
According to the time-worn adage, “it takes more muscles to frown than to smile.” (43 to 17 I have read.) That, despite Mauritian writer, the late Malcolm de Chazal’s, claim that “Laughter is regional: a smile extends over the whole face.” As such, if for no other reason than to expend less physical energy, we should all strive to embrace more gaiety and less dolor in our lives. And if that is not reason enough, hearken to a comment by one of America’s leading pragmatic philosophers, the late William James, who offered “We don’t laugh because we’re happy – we’re happy because we laugh.”
Over a hundred years ago, the typically mordant American satirist, Mark Twain, wrote “The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.” In the Second Millennia, this statement is even more apt. So, my friends, if you have not already, I encourage you to arm yourself with a holster full of laughter, a bandoleer of smiles and a shield of humor. And when a situation arises and you want to frown, instead try to laugh remembering the words of writer, Mary H. Waldrip, “A laugh is a smile that bursts.” This is my goal in the Second Fifty.
If you did not recognize the title of this blog entry as lyrics from singer songwriter legend, Billy Joel’s, 1977 hit song, “Only the Good Die Young”, then you are probably not in your Second Fifty. If you did make the connection upon reading the title, how many of you starting subconsciously signing the lyrics as you read the words? “Come out Virginia, don’t make me wait, you Catholic girls start much too late…”