You could say I’m obsessed with Jane Goodall, the 87-year-old British lady known for her crusade to preserve the natural world, and, in the process, save humanity.
Goodall is one of those rare humans who’ve tirelessly worked for a just cause for many decades, never compromised their ethics, and won people’s hearts in the process.
We all know (or at least most people agree) that human activity has wreaked havoc on our planet’s environment and climate. Yet how much is each one of us doing to combat climate change and environmental degradation? Way, way, WAY, too little.
What’s it going to take for us to start making changes, however small, in how we live?
For me, it took listening to Jane Goodall’s Masterclass, all 29 lessons.
I wish I could gift you and everyone on the planet this MasterClass. Seeing that I can’t, I’ll give you a taste of it through some of the words and ideas that stood out for me.
Realism is not incompatible with hope
“I have enormous fear for the future of this planet.”
“If people don’t make changes, then in 50 years time I’m glad that I won’t be here.”
We must constantly remind ourselves of the urgency of the problem, and it needs to appall us because it is appalling.
Surprisingly, though Goodall doesn’t minimize the extreme gravity of our planet’s situation, her message is one of hope. At 87, she continues to work tirelessly as a conservation activist. She does so because she sees reason for hope, especially when it comes to the enthusiasm she perceives in young people.
Realism is not incompatible with hope. Both are necessary to spur us into immediate action. In Goodall’s view, the fact that the planet’s situation is dire doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up in the air and do nothing.
Human intellect comes at a high price
“Because without any question we are the most intellectual creature that ever walked on planet Earth, how is it possible that we’re destroying our only home?”
Yeah, we humans are ridiculously intelligent in some ways and outrageously stupid in others. Even as we fly a helicopter on Mars (exciting indeed), we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by destroying our very home!
We must not seek happiness, comfort, and immediate gratification all the time, at any cost. Being the most intellectual creature in the world means this pursuit will never satisfy us. Instead, it has lead us to adopt a wasteful lifestyle that ignores the effects of our choices on the world around us.
Our high intellect comes at a price: we must seek purpose in our lives. Deep fulfillment for us humans only comes from pursuing causes greater than ourselves. As Goodall urges:
When it comes to the environment, our purpose must be to help safeguard the only home we all share.
“I believe honestly and truly that it’s only when we learn to operate with head and heart in harmony that we can achieve our true human potential.”
When you operate with your head only, there’s no room for empathy, only for processes and results you think will maximize the bottom line. You don’t even stop to think, is there another way?
“It seems there has been some disconnect between the clever mind and the human heart, love and compassion.”
It’s time to let go of our sense of superiority
“There is not a sharp line dividing us from the other animals… We are part of an amazing animal kingdom, and there’s still so much to learn about it — and about ourselves.”
One of the most striking things about Jane Goodall is her love for and empathy toward all living creatures.
All through her lessons, she tells little stories about various animals: the pet pig who traversed a hedge and alerted people its owner was in trouble; David Graybeard, the chimpanzee that first allowed Jane into his world; the little male sparrow at the Denver airport trying to impress a mate; the elephants that go crazy when bees fly up their trunks.
Her eyes light up with joy and amazement when she tells these stories. She senses our unity with all living things at her core and is able to convey this feeling clearly.
We must abandon the notion that it’s us humans and then everything else.
It’s time to let go of our sense of superiority. We should never lose sight of the fact that we’re members of the animal kingdom. It’s a truth that should inspire us to learn more about its secrets, and, in the process, about ourselves:
“We have been far too arrogant. The animal kingdom of which we are a part is filled with secrets.”
We must compromise and find common ground
“If you don’t talk to people and if you don’t try and find a way to communicate with them at some level, how can you expect there to be change? There will never be change.”
We need to put our differences aside and communicate with the intention of finding common ground. Jane Goodall is an expert at this.
She has studied how chimpanzees communicate with one another for all manner of functions, such as repairing relationships after a fight, alerting others to danger, and conveying pleasure and fear.
We humans possess a hugely complex and magical language, both verbal and written. Let’s put it to better use.
Goodall has worked closely with oil company executives, villagers who clear the forest to grow crops, scientists who did research on chimpanzees living in deprivation, workers in zoos where animals were kept in deplorable conditions. As she says:
“As long as you don’t compromise your own values, as long as you don’t do anything that you know is wrong, a series of compromises is ok.”
Jane Goodall urges us to listen to the needs and concerns of others to find a way into their world and find solutions. We can’t just condemn and be outraged, and only communicate with those who agree with us.
There’s something everyone can do
“We’ve let the planet down. There’s no question about that and we owe it to future generations to work with them to try and heal some of the harm we’ve inflicted.”
I, for one, feel guilty.
Those of us in mid-to-late adulthood, in particular, must take responsibility and think about the state of the planet we’re leaving for future generations.
If you’re a youth coach, think about your team members.
If you’re a teacher, think about your students.
If you’re a catechist or religious leader, think about the children in your congregation.
If you’re a parent, think of your children and their children.
If you’re none of the above, think of yourself as a child.
Promote leaders with environmentally responsible agendas, donate to reputable conservation non-profits, volunteer with local environmental initiatives, expose children to the beauties of the natural world, become better educated about conservation and the environment, make lifestyle changes…
“Every single one of us, whether we want to or not, makes a difference of some sort every single day.”
We tell ourselves all the time: how will what I do make a difference if 7 billion other people don’t change their behavior?
First, this is an easy way out. It’s no more than a bad excuse to do nothing.
Second, it isn’t true that no one else is changing their behavior. A lot of people are. Be part of the group that’s changing, and the group will grow and grow.
Third, even if you don’t want to, you will make a difference. Your choices will determine what type of difference you make.
Jane Goodall’s message is empowering. Every single day we have a new opportunity to do good, to grow our positive impact, to influence others in a beneficial way.
The more privileged and wealthy you are, the more choices you have.
As Goodall affirms:
“We have got a window of time.”