Where are you from?
I was born in Washington, D.C., but I never lived there. For fifty years, I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and before that in Newark, New Jersey; Pasadena, California; Chicago; and New York City.
Which scientists have had the biggest influence on your thinking?
Darwin, and my mentor, the psychologist Silvan Tomkins
Which teacher had the biggest impact on your life?
The late Robert Berryman of Adelphi University
What is the question most commonly asked by your readers?
"What got you interested in facial expressions?"
What is the answer?
It was a largely uncharted, and yet obviously rich, area of research. After my field work in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s, I published my first book, Emotion in the Human Face. In it, I reviewed the twentieth-century scientific literature on the face, trying to understand why promising leads had been dropped and important findings had been neglected since Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.
How did you first meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
Originally, it was my daughter’s interest in Tibetan refugees that prompted me to seek and accept an invitation for a Mind and Life Institute conference between the Dalai Lama and western scientists. I wanted to bring her along so she could have the benefit of meeting him. I had no interest in meeting him for myself. But I was surprised to find him very engaging, and I felt a sense of déjà vu, as if I had known him all my life.
How did your meeting lead to your book together, Emotional Awareness?
From the Dalai Lama’s public talks and his books, it’s clear that emotion is very central to his worldview, but there are still many issues about emotion that neither Buddhists nor western psychologists have fully addressed. With the help of many people, we found time in the Dalai Lama’s very busy schedule for a series of longer conversations about emotion.
As we talked, we explored practical steps for improving emotional life that neither of us had before made explicit, and new understandings of emotion and compassion that neither of us had before developed, all of which are captured in the book.
Who are your favorite writers?
Bellow and Roth
What are your hobbies and outside interests?
Kayaking and harmonica
What is the single best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?
"Never take no for an answer."