You may know her as Jane Goodall. One of the most influential women of our times in the conversation of environmental conservation. And the most influential woman in creating a case for scientifically documenting animals as having emotions (a severe crime in the scientific community prior to her coming on stage).
For Earth day, I, along with a thousand others stepped on the campus of the University of Toronto to spend a few hours listening to her talk. Jane appeared on stage with grace, humour and a humility that inspired the audience. Her story is one of the great stories of our time, in my view. In her 84 years of age she continues to spread inspiration across the world. She travels all 365 days a year to raise awareness on the two foundations that she has built from the ground up. The Jane Goodall Institute and Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots.
She was the first to report the use of tools and other complex social abilities of our now well known, Chimpanzee relatives. She was the first, alongside Dr. Louis Leaky, to recognize that their abilities were strikingly similar to those of human abilities. In that, they form complex social and political bonds and hierarchies, they war, and they love.
Most chimpanzee societies have a range of social behavior that keep the society either stable or unstable. The more unstable the society becomes, the quicker another leader is voted in. Their political flavour can be best described as egalitarian. The group votes in the leader, and the group can easily turn on a leader if the pressure is in the right form; ie manipulations, unfair or unjust behavior, excessive ruling through force, etc. In order to get to the top, alliances might be formed between the less intelligent males that compete for power against the top ranking male in their society. Intelligence is a major indicator as to what male rules the longest in Chimpanzee society.
Chimpanzees, much like humans, participate in sport killing, war, benevolent and altruistic acts as well as acts of violence. They are gregarious, and highly intelligent.
Being so much like us however is a complex situation to be in. One of the Chimpanzees’ greatest plights is that they are used in medical fields to study everything from makeup combinations, skin irritants to testing medicinal properties for Aids and other human contracted diseases. The illness is injected into the Chimpanzee, and the net result is an animal that is so much like us, feels like us, intelligent like us, ends up sick – like us. Treatments are then used to see the efficacy of one drug or other. When primates are no longer needed in the Medical laboratories they are discarded. If they are lucky they could be picked up by a Sanctuary like The Storybook Farms. Located in Sutherland Ontario, this Sanctuary rescues many types of primates and houses them. There is a delicate relationship needed between sanctuaries and medical laboratories and the paperwork to obtain one of the no longer needed medical animals are a tedious if not impossible task.
Most Sanctuaries however, much like The Storybook Farms, can not accept Chimpanzees. Chimpanzees, as Jane and many researchers have noted, are very difficult to keep in captivity. They are intelligent, wilful, and cunning, especially when psychologically disturbed or have grown distrust for humans. Much like one would be after retiring from a ‘career’ as a medical lab subject. The conditions as a lab subject are not great. In fact they are actually quite dire. Most of us reading this will react with some level of cognitive dissonance. The resulting phrase (much like the animals we use for the meat we eat) defaults to, “well, we need to survive”, and/or “it’s for the greater good”…for humans. I am also guilty of this, so note that this is not a judgement more than it is the reality of our natures with such a complex topic.
But not for Jane.
Jane Goodall has spent her career as one lady that has advocated for these special creatures. When logging first started to appear in the democratic of Congo – she was there. When the bush meat trade was first rearing it’s nasty head, she was there. When 70% of the trees were deforested due to mining and logging, she was there. And then when 60% of them were replanted due to her efforts in raising standards of the local communities – she was there.
So then, what makes someone move mountains the way that she has? What makes someone journey to the fringes of society and develop in ways 99% of us could only dream of? What makes someone become such an influential force? What makes someone dedicate their life to the betterment of human kind by recognizing that to save us, we need to save what’s around us?
When asked questions like this, she says that she has her mother to thank for much of what she has been able to do. Throughout her life she has had somebody that was able to empower her voice, and her being. Someone that believed in her and in many ways went against the conventional wisdom of the time in how to ‘raise’ a daughter.
Jane’s story is as fascinating as it is unique. Growing up Jane was a sort of wild flower. She was curious and engaged in life. Loved animals, and everything nature. Her mother was the type to enable and empower her to think on her own, and voice up. Her mother listened to her ideas, and encouraged them. Jane was fascinated with animals and nature from a young child – much like many children are, but her mother was a different type of mother, according to Jane.
She tells a story of her family visiting a farm when she was four. At the farm she was given a job where she was able to pick eggs from the hen houses. She would go up to each of the houses and under the hen there was an egg, and she would collect it in the basket that they gave her.
Jane got highly curious about this situation and wanted to know where the eggs came from. She could not find a hole big enough on the hen that could justify the large eggs that she was collecting. Jane became determined to discover how these hens were laying eggs. So, Jane separated from her family and went to the hen house, crawled in, and waited until the hen would lay the egg to try to find out for herself. She waited and waited for a total of four hours. Her family on the other side of this situation became worried as they did not know where she was. The police were called as the family continued to search the grounds for their lost child. I’m sure many parents at this point can relate to this story. Then, there came a running Jane, high excitement in her eyes, wanting to tell her mother the story of her findings.
In that moment, as we can all imagine, many mothers would have had two competing thoughts. One that would be fear based. A desire to demonstrate some form of punishment to ensure this behaviour would never be repeated, combined with, a high sense of relief that their child was okay and safe.
To much of everyones surprise, Jane’s mother demonstrated neither of these expressions. She managed to appear composed and patiently sat down to listen to her little girl tell her story about where she was and what she had found.
This is an incredibly important part of her story in my view. This exemplifies the enormous impact our parents and our guardians have on our abilities to empower ourselves, and be our own kind of human. Imagine if we all took responsibility in that role? Perhaps instead of one Jane Goodall, there would be many.
Jane’s mother continued to provide great instruction and guidance to Jane as she grew up. When her peers were off to University and College, her family at the time could only afford a secretarial degree for Jane. It was not Jane’s dream career or job at all, but she never stopped learning and reading and being inspired by her dreams of animals. Her mother instilled in her that she make learning about what she loved a priority. And that, Jane did. Jane read every book in her community library, and was a regular at the local museums. She took in information everywhere she could, until came her first lucky break. A friend had a farm in Africa and invited Jane to come to visit. Ecstatic, she worked as a waitress over the next 6 months, saving her wages to purchase a return flight to Africa to visit her friend.
While in Africa, her second big break came. The family happened to know none other than Paleoanthropologist Dr. Louis Leaky. At the time, he had not made his famous find as of yet, but was respected and well on his way. Jane met with Dr. Louis Leaky as he took her around the sites that he worked. Two things worked out for Jane in that moment of opportunity. One, her impressive knowledge of animals and biology through her own learnings, and two, her secretarial degree.
Dr. Leaky was impressed by Jane and her vast knowledge of the animal world, and as fate would step in, his secretary had just left. He offered Jane a job, and she agreed. The more they got to work together Dr. Leaky saw something in her. He offered her, her third big break. He wanted her to observe chimpanzee behavior. He had an inclination that they held a special role in determining a common ancestral link between the great apes and human. The rest is history.
Leadership comes in various forms. Our skillsets and intrinsic talents determine the type of leader we are. But our choices determine how we use those skillsets and talents to lead. Although there is a laundry list of items that make great leaders these days, there is one leadership skill that remains a timeless trait. It is held by those leaders that chose to put their belief in people forward. Those who arm people with the tools of kindness and trust in their innate abilities. Those who step away from their own fears, position, egos and enable and empower our next generations towards greatness.
Jane was fortunate, yes. But she also did the work in order to prove herself first with heart and with soul. Some might argue that there must have been something ‘special’ in her that coerced her leaders to believe in her. Or, had enough talent and passion that those very special leaders in her life were able to work with it and direct it. The argument could also be true that she was lucky to find leaders that were able to understand that in order to create greatness in other people, they needed to show their belief in them first.
What about Jane’s degree? Interesting story here, she was able to attend Cambridge University to do her PhD without a bachelors or masters prerequisite. Dr. Leaky was quoted as having said that it would take too much time and he needed her talents on the floor.
All this to say that life will always be a mixture of passion, hard-work and intention, sprinkled with a little bit of luck. But luck and opportunity to this degree will never come around if we don’t first start with what’s in our hearts. Using the heart as our internal compass can help us light the way forward for ourselves. Then putting in the work, guided by intention seems to be a fine recipe for luck and opportunity finding.
And what about belief? Well, one thing is for certain; no one can deny that there is power in belief. And that it has the potential of driving our best natures forward.
Who can you empower today by just believing in them, and allowing them the opportunity to express and be all of who they are?
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