An Interview with Robert Thurman, The West's First Buddhist Monk
For more articles like this, read Guernica Magazine.
Robert Thurman’s journey toward his own inner peace—which he admits he hasn’t “fully mastered, of course” —began in 1961 when he lost his left eye in an accident. His becoming one of Time’s Twenty-Five Most Influential Americans also likely followed from this accident—as a result of which, Thurman dropped out of Harvard, divorced his wife—an heiress unsupportive of his new zeal—and wandered, quite literally, through India, Iran, and Turkey. While wandering in 1964, Thurman met the Dalai Lama (a.k.a. His Holiness), and thus began the remarkable friendship that thrives today. The Dalai Lama invited Thurman, who had become fluent in Tibetan in ten weeks, to Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan exile community, and arranged for him to study Buddhism with his own senior tutor. The following year, Thurman was ordained by His Holiness himself—taking 252 vows that focused on a philosophy of nonviolence, compassion, and selflessness—making him the first Tibetan Buddhist monk born in the West.
Eventually, Thurman became homesick and returned to the States. An outsider now with his shaved head and maroon robes, his desire to help others was thwarted by his skepticism over “the usefulness in American society of trying to help others as a monk (as opposed to a layperson in a university).”
Convinced he would be of more benefit as a teacher, he resigned his vows, returned to Harvard, earned three degrees, and embarked upon academic life, all without giving up his rigorous daily Buddhist practices. He married Nena von Schlebrugge, a model and Timothy Leary’s former wife; they had four children, one of whom starred in the ultra violent films Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Uma.
Born and raised in New York City, where he still lives, Thurman “was the middle son of three boys and tended to try to reconcile conflicts and negotiate peace in an emotionally turbulent family.” Now sixty-eight, reconciling conflicts and negotiating peace are still top concerns. Tall and handsome in a rumpled sort of way, with that unblinking glass eye, Thurman’s booming intellect, thunderous voice, and penchant for rolling with an answer until the proverbial cows come home is enough to leave one, well, scared of him. But in truth, he couldn’t be a nicer guy. Hobnobber with Washington, Hollywood, and the academic elite, at the end of the day he just wants you to call him Bob.
Currently, Thurman is a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies at Columbia University; not only is he one of Time magazine’s Twenty-Five Most Influential Americans (and one of New York Magazine’s The Influentials); the New York Times also dubbed him “the leading American expert of Tibetan Buddhism.” He is an outspoken advocate for the liberation of Tibet and co-founder (along with Richard Gere) of Tibet House; and he is tireless in his efforts to awaken others to the teachings of the Buddha. As translator of countless complex Tibetan Buddhist texts into easy-ish to follow English ones, Thurman has quite possibly done more to heighten awareness of Tibetan Buddhism in the West than anyone outside of the Dalai Lama. His most recent book, Why the Dalai Lama Matters: His Act of Truth as the Solution for China, Tibet, and the World, lays out a game plan for peace between China and Tibet.
Like the Dalai Lama, Thurman believes in a human religion of kindness; he believes, too, we can all have happiness—true happiness, not the fleeting sort of thing that shiny new objects or a night of passion brings. Happiness, rather, that grows from helping others; help that grows from compassion and kindness and generosity; all of which grow from a philosophy of nonviolence. But as violence across the globe appears to be on the rise, it begs the question whether this sort of talk is responsible, let alone feasible. I recently spoke with Thurman by phone from his home in Woodstock.
—Jane Ratcliffe for Guernica
Guernica: You write and speak a lot about nonviolence, but it’s often in broad terms such as engaging in “kindness” and “generosity.” But how do we apply these concepts in a concrete manner? For instance, what do you do if somebody breaks into your house while you’re home and they’re armed?
Robert Thurman: You have to oppose whoever it is. You have a right to defend yourself and you should try. But you should try to do it with minimal violence. For example, if you’re in a place where the breaking in is very, very likely, I guess you should be well trained in martial arts. You should be well armed and well trained about the arm, then hopefully not use it. Or if you have to use it, shoot for the legs. Be like Grasshopper, if you remember the old Carradine show Kung Fu. You should be forceful in opposing and defending, but without hatred.
Guernica: So there are circumstances where violence is acceptable?
Robert Thurman: Yes, of course. If someone has broken in and they’re going to kill you and everyone else, then you’re letting violence happen by being passive. Nonviolence, it should be understood, is a forceful method of accomplishing things and diffusing conflict. It is not a surrender to conflict, or a surrender to others’ violence at all. Even when they used the word “passive” in the old Gandhi days, they called it passive resistance. Which means resistance.
Guernica: [I was] listening to NPR today, [and] they were talking about how many children these days are bullied in school. What would you teach your children if you were trying to teach them about nonviolent practices, but you want them to be safe?
Robert Thurman: If you bring your children up to defend themselves and also to have some of what is called “emotional intelligence,” the likelihood of being bullied is lessened because they will be making less waves and will be less aggressive with people. If you’re in a situation where your child is being bullied, you go to the school administrators and see what you can do about it. Go find your local Tai Kwon Do or Judo or Karate or whatever it is so they can develop more physical self-confidence. Then if that doesn’t work, you change schools, of course. There is no general rule. But again, they have a right to defend themselves. If they are defending themselves against violence, it’s not violence, actually. It is minimizing violence, because the other person doing it, if they’re bullying you, they’re bullying other people.
Guernica: So why wouldn’t that same rule of thumb apply to a situation like Tibet? Why can’t the Tibetans fight to get their country back?
Robert Thurman: They did defend themselves. They tried. The Buddhist rule is if someone invades your country and you have the capability of repelling the invasion, you should. Then you should not pursue them back into their country. When they see that you can push them out, and that you’re stronger than them, then they see that you could invade them. And then you don’t, and you try to create a treaty so they don’t do that another time. If you can’t resist them because their force is overwhelming, you should not. Because if by resisting them, you’ll kill some of them on the way in, they’ll be more violent and angry when they occupy you, and they’ll cause more violence and destruction. You should just surrender if you don’t have the effective means of self-defense. And then you should try to resist their domination nonviolently.
If someone successfully defends something with violence, then they’ll start being violent with each other and they will end up having a violent regime.
The basic principle is to always minimize the violence. Like if someone is about to kill twenty people, you should try to stop them. If you can only stop that person by killing that person, because let’s say they’re far away and you go to shoot and you can’t shoot accurately enough to wound them exactly and you risk killing them, then you have to do it anyway because you’re saving the lives of the twenty. And also, by using this surgical violence, you’re saving the person the bad karma of killing twenty people.
Guernica: Couldn’t it be argued then that the Dalai Lama by engaging in nonviolent practices in a sense is breeding violence within Tibet? There are so many people there who are still being tortured, imprisoned...
Robert Thurman: It could be argued and it is argued, but I don’t think that argument will win. For example, look at the case of Tibet and look at the case of Afghanistan. Tibet has been invaded for sixty years by China and they’re doing a genocide slowly: killing and imprisoning and working to death in labor camps hundreds of thousands of people. And killing another half a million or so with famine by disrupting the environment, making them plant the wrong crops and generally really screwing up. I mean, it’s really bad what they’re doing. But the Tibetans will weather this. They showed in the eighties, after several generations from 1950 to 1980, that they still had their Buddhist culture in their hearts and they began rebuilding their own monasteries. Many became monks and nuns. They kind of got back into their way of life for about four or five years and then there was another fifteen or twenty years of crackdown.
Compare that with Afghanistan where the entire country is destroyed. When they had a brief period without the Russians, they killed each other. Then they got the insane Taliban backed by the religious fanatics in Pakistan. Their violence has simply accelerated. The point is, if someone successfully defends something with violence, then they’ll start being violent with each other and they will end up having a violent regime. That’s what we see: it’s like the Communist Revolution. Mao said that Chiang Kai-shek and the old feudal landlords were too violent. Lenin said the Tsar and the old Russian aristocrats were too violent. Then they [Mao and Lenin] killed people much more hugely because they got their power through violence and they didn’t know how to stop.
So coming back to the Dalai Lama, his thing is terribly slow. The poor guy is going to have to live to a hundred practically, the way it’s going, but the yet the place is not a total wreck. There’s still some fabric. There are still six million Tibetans there. He’s kept the culture alive in exile, and he’s gaining more and more friends amongst the Chinese people, the intellectuals, the ordinary people, the Buddhists. He’s extremely popular in Taiwan and all overseas Chinese communities as a Buddhist leader. And the PRC—clearly shown by the behavior of their oligarchy that runs the Communist Party—no longer holds the Communist ideology; they’re actually capitalists. Their people are mad with them; they don’t dare have a real election. They have huge police suppression, eighty or ninety thousand demonstrations per year that they have to suppress with police power.
The Dalai Lama is there for the long-term success and according to a way.
Guernica: So as the world transitions to a nonviolent way of being, there is an inevitable cost of lives to the transition, yes? People are going to die who might have lived had we gone in with armed forces.
Robert Thurman: This is the thing that Gandhi faced when he said to the British that the way of dealing with the fascists was to resist them nonviolently and non-cooperatively. England got all in an uproar and an outrage. He said, “you people misunderstood me. There are three ways of responding to evil. You resist it nonviolently, which is the most powerful way. That’s difficult but the most powerful. You resist it violently, which is also definitely difficult and a lot of people are killed and doesn’t actually solve it because you become as violent as your enemy. And three, you surrender to it. So people are confusing my method of nonviolence, non-cooperation, and resistance with surrendering, which it isn’t. You put your body out there and say, no I won’t cooperate, but I won’t kill you back, either.”
He said that’s the ultimate way because first Hitler will tell his soldiers to run over you with their tanks and they will run over some people, but it won’t be long before the tank drivers say, wait a minute, they’re not firing back, why are we running over them? Who is this lunatic person screaming and shouting and twirling his mustache, this little scrimpy guy screeching and punching the air, telling us that everyone is our enemy and everyone wants to destroy us, making us all paranoid? These people don’t want to destroy us, but clearly they don’t like what we’re doing. And then they will stop.
Guernica: Do you really think Hitler and Hirohito could have been defeated through nonviolent resistance?
Robert Thurman: Yes, probably. Sure. By the way, fighting Hitler violently didn’t save the six million Jews who were gassed and the fourteen million Russian, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals, and the other fourteen million that they killed. People point to the Holocaust, but the Holocaust went on in the middle of the war and the war was not stopping it. And then you never know had there been nonviolent resistance what would have happened. Had the Germans killed a couple million in France and England and here and there before realizing there was no point in occupying any country because people in the country simply would not feed them, they wouldn’t work for them, they wouldn’t do anything even if they killed them, that might have saved how many total million that did die in the World War, maybe forty or fifty million. I don’t know the number. But a lot.
What’s being advocated is a genuine slow process of disarmament. It means switching from Mutual Assured Destruction to Mutual Unilateral Disarmament.
The point is one cannot point triumphantly and say that was a great war and this really was good and that was good, because if you look more holistically at the subsequent events that take place, there may be more disaster looming. Like what do you think is going to be the result of this Iraq business that those insane Neocons pushed us into? Is America dominating the twenty-first century do you think, as they claim? Instead of seeking peace, Cheney sought to dominate the planet and how has that worked out? He has ruined our country, ruined Iraq, ruined our reputation internationally, and really failed utterly.
Guernica: Let’s say America wants to disarm. Can you give us the step by step of how to do that?
Robert Thurman: Nonviolence begins at home. So each individual has to put themselves through a process of dealing with their anger. And there are a lot of yogas of doing that; the yoga of controlling anger, of diverting it, of gaining access to the energy of it without being controlled into behaving in a demented way. And one by one, if people do this, that’s one way. It’s a whole education system. Luckily, we could do it more quickly than in the past because, in a way, what is our education system: it’s our mass media. People spend as much time watching television as they do in classrooms, or most of them, in this country. So if the television was not teaching warmongering, which unfortunately is what it does teach, then America could reverse like that.
It would not be a Buddhist strategy, however, in the current moment on the planet to completely, unilaterally, and 100 percent disarm because then we could be pushed around by anybody. That’s not what’s being advocated. What’s being advocated is a genuine slow process of disarmament. I have a slogan. I call it shifting from MAD to MUD. It means switching from Mutual Assured Destruction to Mutual Unilateral Disarmament. What I mean by Mutual Unilateral Disarmament is as when with the end of the Cold War, which of course our military complex has tried its best to start up again by being so aggressive with Russia instead of rewarding them. And rewarded the Chinese, actually, and invested hugely in China and put all our factories in China where they killed their people in Tiananmen Square unlike Boris Yeltsin and Gorbachev and communists in Russia who surrendered power and became part of a multi-party democracy, at least for the moment, and then we pushed them back and Putin came back in, and it’s not working that well. But they did intend to do that. But did we reward them? No. We rewarded China for doing the opposite. Which was really stupid of us. But anyway, so Mutual Unilateral Disarmament treaties encourage pushing back the nuclear weapons, diminishing their number on both sides, with the goal of completely demilitarizing nuclear-wise. That would give us real credibility in the nonproliferation regime and then we could get after North Korea and get after Pakistan and these different things. Get after the Israelis who are brandishing a couple hundred nuclear weapons as part of their aggressive Dr. Strangelove behavior. Then we wouldn’t be having this worry about Iran and eventually Brazil.
Until people are better educated, you’re going to need some police. We have surgical violence within nonviolence. Buddhism is pragmatic; it’s not fanatic.
Guernica: Can you imagine a planet where we have no weapons?
Robert Thurman: Yes, I can, but not immediately. The ultimate goal would be to have a true global democracy and true international order of law where the UN had the main police force and there was a democratic way in which the UN was run and these so called big powers which won WWII would no longer have this veto power over the UN. There would be things on the level of Russian perestroika where they gave up huge territories and allowed independent republics to emerge. India, China, U.S., we would give back the parts of New York State, the Black Hills, South Mexico to different Indians. We would honor all different treaties that we made in the past. You wouldn’t have these huge post-imperial energies make a world community impossible. You would have relatively disarmed countries with police forces, and you’d have a UN with a kind of police army. Then you have to implement a worldwide effort of finding the nonviolent elements in the different cultures. How many Christians are there in the world? There’s 1.5 billion or so. And Jesus told them to cool it, but they never listen. So that has to be taken seriously, and they have to sit with an education program and a psychology. When China gets off its Communist pretense, there will 1.5 billion or so Buddhists. There’s 1.5 billion Muslims, and that’s more complicated because there was a period where Mohammed did have to fight and he was a successful general in a couple of campaigns, so they can point to something that might make it more difficult to figure out disarmament. He has also many statements that could be emphasized that would lead to peacefulness and compassion and so forth. So there you have 4.5 billion people using the core ethical treatises in those countries. And then you’ve got to dig up a few more things for some others. If you have a worldwide education like that, you have a place for it. And you have all that money that is wasted in militarism and destruction going into wells, food, environmental restoration, wildlife preservation, quality of life, quality of education. You have a lot of enlightened people. You have a happy planet.
Guernica: Isn’t a police force a version of militarism?
Robert Thurman: Yes, but until people are better educated, you’re going to need some police. We have surgical violence within nonviolence. Buddhism is pragmatic; it’s not fanatic. It’s not like, come kill me everybody and have a good time. You used the break-in thing, like they did to poor Dukakis. He lost his election on that: “I’d kick his butt. I’d shoot him if I could.” Which he humanly is kind of allowed to do. But the key is, don’t shoot him with hatred. Shooting him compassionately in his kneecaps will do.
Guernica: What if you shoot with fear?
Robert Thurman: Fear can be good, actually. If you have a little more training about your emotions and you’re more sensitive to them and you know how to manage them, then fear can give you adrenaline-like strength over short bursts. Hatred will also give you adrenaline-like strength, but it will exhaust you very quickly. That’s why martial arts people do not cultivate hatred. They have sayings like, you don’t hate a tiger for wanting to eat you. It’s the nature of the tiger. You fight it, but you don’t hate it. You don’t hate fire for burning you, if you’re sensible. Some people do.
The Dalai Lama used to joke about a man who worked on his car in Tibet when he was a boy. He would skin his knuckles with a wrench, you know, turning a bolt or something underneath the car, then he would angrily bash the running board from below with his head three times. Which clearly didn’t help his head and did nothing for his knuckles. And it didn’t do anything to make the car behave. So that’s a big waste of energy, but people do that and you can’t help it.
My point is nonviolence is a very practical education regime, and it works. At the moment, one third of human resources, I believe that’s the figure, are focused on militarism and violence. The combined military budgets of countries are in the trillions. And the five people in the UN who are on the Security Council with veto power are the five biggest arms dealers. They sell weapons to dictators in countries where most of the people are starving, and they spend millions of dollars buying them instead of getting food to their people. It’s ridiculous, the whole thing. If they keep it up, it will mean planetary self-destruction, there’s just no doubt about it. A lunatic like the North Korean guy, you know, or the Chinese if their own people start freaking out and the People’s Republic government has to try to cook up a war to divert their attention from the repressive stupidity of their own regime. They’ll start a war and then it could go nuclear.
Culture is a brainwashing that can be taken over by militarists or by fascists or by emperors or by churches.
Guernica: In Buddhism, human rebirth is the most precious rebirth; therefore, don’t we have to have tons of good karma to land here? If so, why are we so violent?
Robert Thurman: We’re not that violent, actually. There’s a really marvelous scene in the Gandhi movie where Gandhi had called a general nonviolent strike and in response, there was some sort of massacre by the British in the Punjab area. Also, his own people got out of hand, burned a couple of police stations, and killed the police in them. So he called the whole thing off. An American woman who was his disciple said, “How do you avoid getting too depressed or hopeless and all this?” And Gandhi said, “What I do when something terrible like this happens is I reflect on the great mass of people in the country or even in the world.” There was this one place where two or three hundred people were shot by some British, and then there were fifteen or twenty police killed by a mob in such and such other town, and other bad things probably happened here and there, probably some murders in the country and a few things. But hundreds of millions of people cooked dinner for each other, helped each other washing the dishes, helped each other cross roads, brought water from a well, restrained themselves from feeling angry with their neighbor when they might have started a fight, calmed down in some situation where they could have escalated. The larger fabric of society involves people interacting with some degree of altruism and empathy for each other, some degree of self-restraint, or the whole place would be in flames.
Guernica: How much do you believe in a person’s ability to change for the better?
Robert Thurman: Total. It’s not just me; it’s society that believes that. Why is it that fascist regimes kill off the intellectuals? Control the media? Bust people who are artists, who paint something that lets people feel better? Why do they do that? Because they know how malleable human beings are. Therefore, culture is a brainwashing that can be taken over by militarists or by fascists or by emperors or by churches and they rigorously impose this on people and they beat them up and kill the deviants, because they know that the human being is totally malleable.
Guernica: But how about change in the opposite direction? How about change for good?
Robert Thurman: Well, that’s what we shall see. I’m saying that if you look at the last five hundred years, the European people genocided how many different people and conquered how many different nations with their imperialism and colonialism. Until recently, people assumed that this means the West was superior simply because they were capable of killing. As Americans, we are taught violent versions of history—you know, Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, all this kind of thing—and we think that’s the greatest. [In] Homer’s Iliad, you know, Ulysses tricked the Trojans and then genocided the Trojans and isn’t that great. We’ve got this from England and from Europe, and we did it to the Native Americans here, so we are a bunch of militarists. So naturally we get versions of history and versions of biology where everybody is violent and that’s always the way it is and therefore pay up a trillion dollar military budget all the time because that’s the only way to deal with people. But if you bring it home to any of them and say, well you live on a block in Massachusetts or Minnesota and there’s a mafia person on the block who beats everybody up and has a protection racket and you’re afraid of them, do you consider them superior? You do not. You consider them inferior actually, but there’s nothing you can do about it in a way. So therefore, what I’m saying is we’re at the end of a career of a bunch of pretty heavy duty European Vikings and Gauls and merciless Romans and nasty people.
Guernica: In your most recent book, you say that we should listen to our deepest wisdom. But how do we know our deepest wisdom from the lies we all tell ourselves?
Robert Thurman: That’s a good question. One of the best ways, I think, is to measure what we feel intuitively is our deepest wisdom against what is recognized generally as the greatest wisdom. Now and then, we have to innovate. For example, in cultures where women and children are persecuted, then that’s not proper. Violence is not proper. We have to go against that. You have to look at your own body. It’s not made for violence. You don’t have claws. You don’t have rhino armoring. You don’t have any fangs. You don’t spew poison in your spit. Maybe you can invent things that do that because you’re clever. You’re a human being. You can get together and work out an experimental regime and make bombs and guns and poison darts and do things. But you don’t have it in your body; therefore, you’re not really made for it. You’re made to live in a peaceful, jolly manner, to play the piano and have a nice time.
Guernica: The Dalai Lama dedicates every second of his life to the goal of inner and world peace and even he says he’s still struggling to achieve them. The rest of us can’t touch upon the amount of work he’s doing, so what are we supposed to do?
Robert Thurman: Are you excusing yourself from working to whatever extent you can by saying we can’t possibly do what he does? There was a wonderful interview someone did with the Dalai Lama at the end of which this person leaned back to the Dalai Lama—they’d been talking about all sorts of general things—and said, “Well, your Holiness, whom do you consider on the planet from your years of traveling and meeting people to be your spiritual peers?” A real kind of elitist sort of question, you know. He thought for a minute and he looked at the person and he said, “Well, you’re my spiritual peer. Everyone is my spiritual peer. We’re all in this together. We’re all spiritual peers. We’re all doing our best.” It was so deflating to the interviewer, but then very illuminating. She included it. She didn’t get disappointed and not include it because it was such a brilliant turn and it was so honest and so genuine.
So yes, he does every bit he can. And he’s a professional. He’s a monk. People become monks in Buddhism because that makes you a professional mindfulness practitioner, professional self-developer.
Guernica: Since you know the Dalai Lama in a way that few others do, I wondered if you could share a behind-the-scenes story that might allow us to see him in a different way than we’re privy to now?
Robert Thurman: What comes to mind are public things. One time he was giving a talk in the Royal Albert Hall in London. There was a woman in one of the high seats so no one could see her basically, but she was shrieking in a very loud voice, “Well, that’s all very well, your Holiness, but when I came over here, there was someone on the bus and the driver was so unpleasant and then the people, I tried to talk to the driver and it was so sad and how can you say...” and that sort of thing. Really interrupting everybody and obviously slightly cracked. People were looking around like “Where’s security?” Looking around angrily like here they had their precious moment with the Dalai Lama and some woman was talking about her experience on the bus in an extremely loud and uncontrolled way. But the Dalai Lama stopped what he was talking about and listened to her. He asked some questions and had a dialogue with her. He couldn’t see her either. She was way up somewhere. “What did they say to you? And do you think if you had tried to talk in this way, and said something like that.” He had like a six-minute dialogue with this loony. And she actually kind of got a little more cheerful. Finally, he did say, “Well, we have to get back to everyone else here now, but this has been interesting. We’re not quite agreeing, but you know it’s interesting what you say.” All around people were very impatient, but finally a few suddenly realized, wow, the man is practicing what he’s preaching here and now and listening to perhaps the most alienated member of the audience.
I remember in the old days I was particularly annoyed with Mao and Stalin and he was insisting that Communism and Marxism had a good side to it. “They have well and good intentions,” he’d say, “but they get carried away sometimes with the violence.” I was not accepting it. Then he said, “Look, if you meet someone with one leg, are you going to sit and revile them for not having the other leg? No, you’re going to be happy that they have the one and praise them for it. And get them thinking about how can we substitute for the one that’s lacking. Which are you going to do?” And that turned me around.
Guernica: I’ve read your books, heard you speak numerous times, and interviewed you several times. You’re always so optimistic about everything, no matter how dire the situation. What keeps you so optimistic?
Robert Thurman: It’s a moral duty. What that means is that you have to shift focus, you have to up level. If you look only at the negative things that are going on—not that you shouldn’t look at them, you absolutely should because you have to do something about every single one of them—then they infect you with their negativity. You become angry and depressed and desperate, and then you’re going to react with negativity.
It’s like if someone comes into a setting where people are talking about the world and lets forth a stream of everything that’s wrong. Someone starts complaining about the Bush people and then Iraq and then someone says Carter’s no good, he did this. Then Clinton is bad. And then they start running it down all the way back to day one. To Adam and Eve. They create an atmosphere where nobody sees a way out, there’s a complete loss of energy, and everyone is in despair.
Guernica: Do you feel you were born optimistic or did you learn to change your thinking?
Robert Thurman: I have, unfortunately, a memory of myself as a child who was always thinking everyone else was insane and the world was crazy and why couldn’t people be more cheerful and happy. But when we look at family albums, my wife points out in the pictures of me with my brothers or sitting with my grandparents or hanging out with my parents or in school, I’m almost always grinning as a little towheaded boy. Maybe I brought in a tiny bit of jolliness from a previous life in Mongolia or whatever it was.