Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jane Goodall, Chimpanzees and the Human Heart

Dr. Jane Goodall with chimpanzee (photo - specials.msn.com)

Jane Goodall, Chimpanzees 
and the Human Heart 
“It’s tragic that with this most sophisticated brain of any creature that has ever walked the planet Earth, we are inexcusably destroying our only home.  I think we’ve lost wisdom and I think we’ve lost the wisdom of the indigenous people who made a major decision based on how will this affect our people in the future instead of how will this affect me now or at the next shareholder meeting or my next political campaign.  If we’ve lost wisdom, why?  Is there a disconnect between this incredibly clever brain and the human heart, and if so, how do we connect them again?  I think it will be the young and those of us who are caring desperately to help the young people who will change things around.”  
Jane Goodall – Columbus, OH – March 23, 2011

A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Jane Goodall speak at a luncheon in Columbus, Ohio.  When I arrived, I was initially struck by the high energy in the room.  The event was held downtown and was a gathering of high-powered business people who meet weekly to share lunch, business cards and make connections.  I am not a high-powered business person, but bought a ticket to attend this once in a lifetime event. 

After we ate, Jane Goodall was introduced, and the energy in the room made a palpable shift.  A deflation occurred, not in a negative way, but in a positive ‘my ego is taking a break’ kind of way.  Jane Goodall does that to people.  This petite 77 year old woman who has spent over 50 year of her life working to save the chimpanzees and our planet has a way of taking ego, power and money out of the equation.  She speaks of things like altruism, a higher purpose and the resilience of nature, in a quiet, conversational voice that slowly lures you into a deep calm and hopeful serenity.  She seemingly has the answers and also knows which questions to ask. 

In her early 20’s she worked as a secretary for Dr. Louis Leakey in Africa and went on safari looking for fossilized remains of early man.  From there she obtained funding to go to Gombe National Forest in Tanzania and begin her studies of chimpanzees.  She was the first to observe chimps making and using tools. In her lifetime, she has been involved in the longest running field study of any group of animals anywhere.  Some of the things she learned along the way:  chimpanzees are capable of abstractions and generalizations and can recognize themselves in a mirror; they have a sense of humor and can use over 400 signs to communicate with humans.  They greet each other, kiss, embrace, pat each other on the back, swagger, make a fist and do all of this in the same context as humans.  They express love and altruism.  They also have a dark side (much like humans) and are capable of primitive warfare.  They love their offspring with great loyalty and affection.  And she learned that biologically there is only a 1% difference between chimpanzees and humans.  Dr. Goodall’s research has taken her to the far reaches of the planet and ultimately brought her back home.

In 1986, Dr. Goodall knew she needed to leave the forest and share what she knew.  Encountering great apathy among young people, she worked to give them a purposeful outlet.  In 1991, she formed the Roots and Shoots program, initially with 12 Tanzanian students.  After 20 years, the program is now in 126 countries with 16,000 active groups around the world.  The young people involved work to help people, animals and the environment.  Jane is hopeful because of the youth.  She sees and hears of their creativity, their desire for change and the innovations they put forth and thus retains hope for us and for all creatures both great and small.

Jane Goodall is a woman who followed her dreams and ended up forever changing our understanding of the world.  Her peaceful walk upon the earth has left an indelible mark.  We just need to heed her words and example and try to connect our very clever brains to our human hearts.  Goodness and grace will most assuredly follow.

1 comment:

  1. I love the quote you posted from her speech. Seeing people like her helps to reset your brain. I wish we could all be so rational about life.