Tonight I went to 92Y to hear Jane Goodall, one of the people I admire most. Today she released a new book, Hope for Animals and Their Endangered World. It's been 49 years since Jane began her landmark study about chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park. She was a 26 year old woman, had never attended university, grew up in a family with very few financial resources, and attempted to document the intimate details of the lives of these animals when she had no formal training on how to do this work. I read one of her many previous book, Reason for Hope, about 10 years ago. Tonight she seemed even more hopeful about the fate of the world and our ability to reverse so much of the damage we've done.
Jane writes, speaks, and works for hope. "Without hope, there's no action," she said. "My job is to give people hope." And in the next breathe she talked about the rapid melting of the ice caps and the immense negative impact we've had on our planet in a few short decades. Some times, like all of us, she loses heart and becomes overwhelmed with all that we have to do to improve the world.
"So in the face of all that's negative in the world," Howard Gardner, the moderator asked, "how can you remain so hopeful?"
"Well, there are several simple reasons," Jane said:
1.) We have amazing brains that are very good at problem-solving, and they get even sharper when we have our backs against the wall and we need to solve a seemingly impossible problem. Individuals take action. In England, just today, there is a program that started called 10 10. It's aim is for individuals and companies to reduce their carbon footprint by 10% in 2010. I'd like to see that spread and become a worldwide effort.
2.) Nature is resilient. If we give it time, it grows back.
3.) Young people have so much courage. Take the Roots & Shoots program we have. It is about young people getting together and taking action to do amazing things in the world.
4.) The human spirit is indomitable. Look at Nelson Mandela. 17 years in hard labor prisons, and he comes out still able to forgive.
I found her hope contagious. She has spent her entire life planting seeds within people she meets, encouraging them to action, and setting an example for the extraordinary things we can all do with our lives. Most of all, I was touched an inspired by her approach to her work and her life. She always approaches everything from a place of love. Her one dream in her life was to work with animals. A very simple cause that live in the heart, not the head. She spent so much time with the chimps in Gombe National Park because she loved them, not because they were some scientific experiment. She cared deeply about their welfare, and wanted to share their story with others.
I've always looked to Jane as an activist, as someone with a lot of courage and confidence, who braved the world of science for our benefit. What I did not realize until tonight is what a strong example she is for young women. When she was 11, she dreamed of traveling to Africa and working with animals there. Her school friends laughed at her, and yet the strong women who comprised her household encouraged her to dream as big as she good and then go after those dreams. In her work with animals, she's made all of us more human. She's connected us to create a global community of deeply committed, concerned participants.
After an extensive Q&A session, Howard Gardner took one more audience question: "Jane, how do you reconcile science and religion?" She sighed slightly and closed with a brilliant line that will ring in my head for days to come. "I wish we would stop worrying about how we came to and come together to figure out how we're going to get our of this mess we've gotten ourselves into." Jane's been trying to figure this out for a long time - she's dedicated her life to this cause - and it's about time we all join her.
To learn more about the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), click here. In 2010, a new movie, Jane's Journey, will be released. It chronicles Jane's remarkable life and career.
The photo above depicts Jane Goodall and is taken her the JGI website.