Connections with Jane Goodall
On September 19th, my mother was armed with a refrigerator full of breast milk and Ryan and I went on a date! We drove up to American University to observe the “International Day of Peace” by listening to Dr. Jane Goodall speak.
Dr. Goodall is famous for her work with chimpanzees, but she also serves as an U.N. Peace Ambassador. Early in her talk, she established how interest in chimpanzees translates to an interest in world peace. She described the harsh living conditions of the humans near the chimps. Most of the trees were gone and the land was infertile. The people were living in terrible poverty and cutting down the very last trees to survive.
“While they were in that situation, how could you even try to save the chimps?” she asked.
To help the chimpanzees, we needed to help the trees. To help the trees, we needed to help the humans and improve their living conditions. The focus on people has helped. Goodall reported where there was barren land seven years ago, now stands thirty foot trees!
An interest in peace gives Goodall cause to galvanize her commitment to the environment. “Peace and stability can only last,” she said, “if the environment [is in tact].”
Her words and anecdotes remind us how interconnected all the members of an ecosystem are. Our memories are interconnected as well. As Goodall spoke, my mind drew some relations of its own.
Jane Goodall, Plato, Jesus, Buddha, and Martin Luther King Jr.
That particular afternoon, we had stunning autumn weather and this event took full advantage. It was held outside in the amphitheatre. As we waited for our speaker to hit the stage, I looked around at the formidable audience, inhaled fresh air and felt a strong connection to the students of the past three centuries.
Plato taught in a garden near Athens. The famous Sermon on the Mount took place outside. Buddha taught “the five” under a tree in Deer Park. In contemporary times, inspirational game changers such as Martin Luther King Jr. taught their philosophies outside. A number of great teachers, it seems, teach outside.
Here I was, outside and eager to learn, just as many students throughout history had done before me and 50% of the world’s students continue to do today.
The Power of Storytelling
Jane Goodall, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and Ira Glass
Another topic Goodall discussed was how to communicate your points and opinions, particularly to those who are resistant to your ideas. “Never adopt the attitude of ‘I’m right’ and ‘You’re wrong’ because they stop listening.” Instead she recommended to tell stories.
“The best way to reach the heart,” she said, “is through stories.”
Although the stories Goodall was referring to are far from the stories one would find between the covers of Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse-Five, I was reminded of a passage by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. In Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, he wrote about the power of Fiction over New Journalism, declaring fiction to be “a much more truthful way of telling the truth.” He believed “the New Journalist isn’t free to tell nearly as much as a fiction writer, to *show* as much. There are many places he can’t take his reader, whereas the fiction writer can take the reader anywhere, including the planet Jupiter” to make his point.
On October 23rd, Ryan and I attended “Reinventing Radio: An Evening with Ira Glass” where the This American Life host spent a good ninety minutes on the power of narrative story telling over traditional journalism. During his first three years of “This American Life” Glass thought that he was an innovator and had developed the perfect formula for telling a story. When he went home for the High Holidays, however, he attended a sermon and noticed the same pattern. It was then he realized his technique of story telling was far from new.
“I invented something that was old when Jesus did it!” he lamented.
But it may be that thousands of years of experience that gives storytelling its power. Glass spoke on a story’s ability to invoke empathy and to help even political adversaries to see each other in a different light.
“There is something in how we are built as people to interact with a story.” he said.
The best way to the heart, indeed.
Surprises in Favorite Accomplishments
Jane Goodall and Thomas Jefferson
Of all the possible accomplishments in this world, I would expect “President of the United States of America” to be one of the more noteworthy endeavors to include on one’s tombstone. That inscription, however, is missing from the grave of our nation’s third President. Thomas Jefferson picked three accomplishments he wanted to preserve.
The last item on the list was “Father of the University of Virginia”. Jefferson took more pride in UVA than he did of being President. The Louisiana Purchase was under his tenure, doubling our nation’s size! But that paled in comparison to establishing the nation’s first nonsectarian university and educating the minds of the future.
During the Question and Answer session, Jane Goodall was asked, “What’s the best thing you’ve done?” Her answer was “giving young people opportunity to understand you can make a difference every single day” through her organization “Roots and Shoots“. Roots and Shoots focuses on involving youth in service projects around the world. Right now, there are Roots and Shoots programs in 126 countries and counting!
Like Jefferson, she didn’t choose one of the more obvious accomplishments. Like Jefferson, her heart was with her impact on young minds.
Jane Goodall’s Mom…and my Mom
One final connection. Early in her talk, Jane Goodall talked about how they did not want to allow a young European woman to be alone in the jungle without a chaperone. As a result, Goodall’s mother came and lived with her in the jungle for four months! Ryan and I found our afternoon way to be particularly thought-provoking and inspiring. Just as Jane’s research was supported by her mother, our afternoon was empowered by my own mother. When the talk concluded, two first-time parents headed home to relieve their “babysitter”. 🙂
Other Recaps of Jane Goodall: A Conversation on Peace
Celebrating the UN’s “International Day of Peace” with Dr. Jane Goodall by ideonexus.
Dr. Jane Goodall’s Townhall Meeting: A Conversation on Peace By AU Ambassadors
What I Learned From Jane Goodall by BushWarriors
Presenting Dr. Jane Goodall by AAANimals