Jane Goodall Speaks to America, to Me

On a balmy Tuesday evening with hot, buttered popcorn in hand, my husband and I took our seats in the dim light of the movie theater. I wondered, as the viewing Jane Goodall Live was about to begin, if the other 30 audience members could see electric sparks of excitement and anticipation jumping from my skin.

Not Your Average Film Experience

Jane Goodall Live

During this one-night-only event, famed chimpanzee researcher, conservation activist, and humanitarian, Dr. Jane Goodall, spoke live-via-satellite to people in 500 theaters across the nation. Whether being interviewed via Facebook or during the premier of her new documentary “Jane’s Journey,” her overall message was about so much more than chimpanzees. Jane’s is an ongoing message about the state of our planet’s affairs and our place within them.

Jane Goodall’s Journey, The Trailer

While the NYTimes gives “Jane’s Journey” a lesser review based on “intellectual substance” (already covered elsewhere, in my opinion), I thought this film offered a lovely new window into the paths that brought Jane to larger conclusions, allowing her to share these with the world in a meaningful, more personal way. The never-before-seen family footage recovered from Jane’s attic pictured sweet relationships and a grand sense of humor. I will say that the Hollywood introduction to the evening was incredibly hokey as compared with Jane’s earthiness. But the film itself was very moving for me, drawing tears countless times.

Dave Mattews and Jane Goodall

Jane and Dave met during the Live Earth concert in New York in 2007. (Photo: A. Markowitz)

During this special premier, Jane spoke with intrepid wisdom, grace and eloquence to friends Dave Matthews and Charlize Theron, and with childlike wonder with the astronauts in Space Lab. Each conversation revealed a new perspective about the inter-connectivity between humans, animals and our planet; detrimental earthly consumption as seen in her 77 years; and tremendous hope in the face of so much social divisiveness.

“I sense an awakening,” she said. As she did, I felt it renewing within me – for the first time in a long time.

Where We Stand. What Stands in Our Way.

Actually, let me define what stands in our way in order to address where we stand. Jane brings up two public arguments that often impede the progress of peaceful living within the natural environment.

1.) “Millions of humans in need are more important than animals.”

The rebuttal: We are all interconnected

Gombe chimpanzee Fanni cradles her newborn, Fax. (Photo: Michael Neugebauer)

Gombe chimpanzee Fanni cradles her newborn, Fax. (Photo: Michael Neugebauer)1`

Jane left Gombe Stream National Park to stop the human destruction of chimpanzee habitat, but she recognized – and equally so – that humans there were struggling for survival as well. How can we address both problems at once? Answering that question is what made Jane an activist, traveling the world to promote sustainable living to preserve clean air, water, food and the freedom for all beings to live the biological life we were meant to by design. The problems of the Earth cannot be compartmentalized to heal the damage done.

Sharing this overwhelmed planet, we must work peacefully, together, to save our only home. But peace among humans is just the start. To drive that point to heart, Jane says that even if every weapon was laid down for political peace, on our current path of consumption, we will soon pick up them up again to fight for water, food, and survival. We must find a peaceful existence within nature as well.

Rebuttal Part 2: Humans are not the only sentient beings

When answering a Facebook question about animal testing, Jane spoke of the need for kindness as well as conservation. With alternative testing methods now available, there is no need for intellectual chimpanzees to have torture inflicted upon them. And, she says, they absolutely know it’s torture. In a Reuters interview, “Jane Goodall stages unique live, film premiere,” she speaks to their trauma and our connections more specifically:

Q: [Reuter’s] What can we humans learn from the animal world?

A: [Goodall] First of all we should learn a bit of humility, that we are of course different, but not as different as we may think. From chimpanzees, I have substantiated my belief of the tremendous importance of the first couple years of life and the kind of experiences a child has. The human child psychologists have been talking about that for a long time. In chimpanzees, it’s so easy to trace the effects of a traumatic experience, because unlike us, they don’t try to hide the way they feel, they just act the way they feel.

When Jane discovered that chimpanzees made long grass-like tools to mine ant hills for food, man alone was thought to bear enough intelligence to make and use such tools. This discovery redefined man, animal and our perceptions of both.  While it is now proven that there is tremendous intelligence behind these animals’ eyes, sadly, many people haven’t yet received the memo.

2.)  “Let’s fix the problems in our own country before we help elsewhere.”

The rebuttal: This cannot be an either/or proposition

Whether speaking of habitat destruction, water contamination, or air pollution – these issues do not remain within our borders, nor should the reparations. Ultimately, we are all responsible as citizens of this Earth. As Jane bluntly states:

You hear very often that we haven’t inherited the world from our parents, we have borrowed it from our children. We haven’t borrowed anything from our children. When you borrow, you expect to pay back. We’ve stolen. We’re still stealing and we’ve got to do something about it.

One would think our international interconnectivity was common knowledge, yet we continue to live as though it weren’t true. (Read “Oops! Our Planetary eco-Checkbook Bounced Over Weekend” to learn more about how and when we crossed the line.) As it stands, it would take 6 planets to support the current human rate of population growth and destruction. This clearly can’t continue. We have but one.

Where Does Hope Lie?

Jane finds hope in the very generation we have robbed.

The Jane Goodall Institute, established in 1977 to continue chimpanzee research in Gombe and to pioneer protection of chimpanzee habitats, is now recognized, too, for conservation and development programs. Jane’s Roots and Shoots program, a global environmental and humanitarian youth network, now exists in 128 countries. Roots and Shoots is dedicated to inspiring tomorrow’s leaders today— motivating young people to learn about issues facing local and global communities. Through this program, children learn to design, lead and implement their own projects as a means of solving the problems we all face.

In the film, as Jane visits with Congo refugee children in Tanzania, she first sees the fear of an unknown future on their faces. To change that, she teaches the people to raise and share chickens and, in turn, they build a restaurant – a sign of community living within the confines of a prison-like environment. When Jane is asked to speak with suicidal teens on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in the US, she learns of the value of hands-on agricultural participation, which has reached and connected many of the youth thanks to determined community leaders. When Jane is interviewed by a young boy in Britain for school, her conversation and life by example light a fire in him for volunteerism. These are the children of hope for the future. We must give all children hope, especially those who have so little, so they have enough strength to carry it forward.

Jane Goodall - Good For AllJane’s Hope Springs Forth

Hope obviously lies in Jane, too, but she says no one person could do it alone. Angelina Jolie, another ambassador for humanity, learned about seizing opportunity from Jane, albeit in an unlikely way (see the video below), and it’s easy to see why. Dr. Jane Goodall lives a life of positive opportunity in every breath she takes.  This is how hope grows, spreads and makes a difference. It is her example, and the example of those like her, that inspires me. I hope she inspires you too. We need more people doing good things for this Earth. We all depend upon it.



  1. somethingwagging says:

    Great post. Thanks for sharing. It sounds like a transformative event.

    Here in the U.S., a big reason we’re so ineffective in doing even small things to protect our planet and its inhabitants is because we’ve made environmentalism fodder for our culture wars.

    Liberals think they’re the only ones who care about the planet and get very snooty toward their more conservative neighbors who may be homeschooling, cooking from scratch, participating in communities and doing other things that can have a positive environmental impact.

    And many conservatives get combative every time they hear talk about the environment and assume it has nothing to do with them or is an attack on their way of life.

    I’m very tired of the divisions. Earth is our home. The home to all of us. It’s not a red vs blue issue.

    One reason Jane Goodall is such an effective speaker is because she cuts through all the crap and her compassion is very evident.

    • @somethingwagging Thanks for your comment and interesting political generalizations.

      Funny, While I can’t speak from a Republican point of view, although I do believe in smaller government, I would consider myself somewhat of a granola liberal who is all for homeschooling (and/or pubic schools if they serve students well), cooking from scratch and participating in communities – regardless of the political bent of participants. I take no ownership of these things and know many people in my heavily Republican populated area who believe in these things too. What Jane says about chimps and humans not being so different as we may think… the same could be said for middle of the road Democrats and Republicans.

      On the flip side, my liberal, tree-hugging, do-gooder husband is avidly against home schooling and loves the convenience of processed food, not to mention fists full of Oreos. I’m so grateful we don’t have children – avoiding all out wars over these topics. LOL.

      But I agree with this whole heartedly: Jane Goodall IS an effective speaker because she compassionately cuts through the crap. If we could lay down our political assumptions and focus on what matters to all parties, global survival, we’d all be better off. 🙂

  2. Patrick Mahaney says:

    Great post to honor the legend that is Jane Goodall.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Goodall last weekend at Best Friends Animal Society Strut Your Mutt LA.

    See our picture my blog: Furry Friends and Celebrities Congregate for Best Friends Society Strut Your Mutt LA


  3. I like what she’s got to say. It’s so sad that all of us living creatures have to depend on humans for anything- you’re the least dependable species on the planet. *sigh*

  4. Amy@GoPetFriendly says:

    It’s inspiring to me that a woman who has worked so hard for so long still has hope. Sometimes it feels like there are so many challenges to overcome, we’ll never make enough progress in time to save the things that matter. I really hope Ms. Goodall is correct and an enlightenment is coming. It can’t happen soon enough.

    • @Amy@GoPetFriendly I think, if Jane didn’t have hope, she wouldn’t be able to keep going – especially not at the rate of traveling 300 days a year at the age of 77. I’m going to trust her on the change she sees in the world because she’s out there in every corner of it, living it with engagement.

      I’m happy to say that my area of New York is growing far more aware about local food and sustainability. There is clearly a movement catching on here and in many other communities across the country. The shift away from processed food s is growing too. We have so far to go, but we are on the rebound in so many ways. Like you, I too think it can’t happen soon enough.

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