My family joined a new health club (it bills itself as a resort, and Taj Mahal would be a better description) this week. One of the attractions for me was the presence of a sauna. One able to hold maybe 15 or so persons comfortably. When I entered it this morning (to try it out), it was the first time I had been in a sauna since before I was married. That's a while back. My interest in saunas began when I was a resident in Minneapolis. Part of my residency included completing the Master's in Public Health program at the U of M. Kristen was one of my classmates. Shortly after Thanksgiving that first year in the Twin Cities, Kristen and her husband threw a party to which many of my classmates and I were invited. The party was at their house, sitting on one of the 10,000 lakes in Minnesota. (Fortunately, in December, there were no signs of the 10 trillion mosquitos that go along with the 10,000 lakes.) In the basement of their house, they had a sauna, and Kristen's husband, Rob, suggested I might want to try 20 minutes in it. It would be invigorating, he said.

The rule of the house was that no textiles were allowed in the sauna–no towels, no bathing suits, no nothing. The cedar wood inside was maintained in immaculate condition–I've built furniture that I'd given to friends as gifts that weren't as smooth as those cedar planks. It didn't much matter to me, though, since it was just Rob and me in the room. He wasn't much older than me, having completed his residency in anesthesiology barely 3 years before. (The house was 6,000 sq ft, with a pool house and a pool.) We were sitting in the sauna talking about something medical when in walks Kristen. Think Heidi Klum at 25 with platinum blonde hair. Suffice it to say, I left the party with a very positive image of saunas–so much so that when the renovation of our house is finished, it will have a 10 person sauna inside. But I digress.

I'm sitting in the sauna when an elderly gentleman comes in and on the bench opposite me. We exchanged pleasantries, and then after about 15 or so seconds of silence, he looked at me and asked if I had seen some article in the Union-Tribune that morning. I replied that I didn't read the Trib, just the NY Times. He grimaced and said that I must be voting for Obama. After so acknowledging, I and he had a fairly animated discussion over the next 20 or so minutes talking about the state of the country and related matters. It was a heated discussion (at least as heated as one can be in a sauna)–we both have, as it turns out, some strongly held views. But our discourse was civilized. No lost tempers, no shrieks or yells, just civilized. I guess in a sauna one doesn't have much choice–if you get too worked up about anything, your body temperature will skyrocket. In fact, it was so enjoyable a discussion that we agreed to meet again in the sauna in a few days, and exchanged contact info when we got back to our lockers.

Civilized discourse seems to be a dying art in our society. I've commented before on how we have become the iPod/iPhone society, and therefore have no interest in such discourse. Why bother, when you can hear exactly what you want to on tv or your iPod? As I noted, in a sauna is one of those place where losing one's temper can be dangerous. Even if one is inclined to be short-tempered, in the sauna, other behaviors must be present. Not only does one think and behave more rationally when one does not lose one's temper, one's ability for social intercourse is enhanced and one can avoid dangerous outcomes can be avoided.

As has been noted before, there are so many benefits to not losing one's temper, it makes me wonder why we have them in the first place. Are they simply vestigial behaviors from the neanderthal period? If not, there must be some evolutionary benefit to having one (or not, as the case may be).


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