What 5 Important Things Can Jane Goodall Teach You About Being More Human?

photo by Margo Tanenbaum
“It’s only when we learn to operate with head and heart in harmony that we can achieve our true human potential.”
-Jane Goodall

Does it seem odd that one of the world’s foremost experts on chimpanzees has more to teach you about human behavior than that of the apes she spent years studying?

Maybe it is precisely because she spent so much time with our closest relatives that she understands and is able to elegantly articulate a wealth of information about human behavior.

I recently completed Jane Goodall’s Master Class, featured on Masterclass.com. These 29 lessons feel like intimate discussions with Jane as she describes her early career studying chimpanzees and moves into details of her work with conservation and thoughts about the future. Along the way, she offers advice, wisdom, and most of all, hope.

As a lifelong fan of Jane Goodall, I was thrilled with the class, absorbing every bit of guidance offered and feeling inspired, despite the often dire circumstances being discussed. As I processed what the lessons meant to me and my work, I was struck with the realization that Jane’s deepest messages are not about chimpanzees, or rainforests, or conservation, but are truly messages about being more fully human.

Grace

After listening to Jane speak, the word that kept presenting itself to me was “grace.”

For a woman who boldly blazed the trail into a field of study that didn’t even exist as she was doing it, who was laughed at by scholars and scientist when she claimed that chimpanzees had personalities, intelligence, and could even use tools, and who has gone head-to-head with corporate leaders over the ethical treatment of animals, the word “grace” is not the first descriptor one would expect.

Perhaps that is partly why she has been so successful. There is an elegance, a self-assuredness and a calmness that emanates from her. Perhaps some of this comes with age and experience. Although not for everyone. By 83, some people become cranky, feeble, soft-spoken, or indifferent to the opinions of others. None of these applies to Jane Goodall.

How could this help you?

Have there been times in your life that you wished that instead of saying the first thing that came into your head, or tripping clumsily over your words, that you’d slowed down and responded in a calm, level-headed manner?

That’s grace. Calmly making your case, confident in your facts, and truly listening to your opponents to find common ground? Pure grace.

Persistence

“Never give up!”
-Jane Goodall

All of her life Jane has been the model of persistence. As a young woman, Jane worked hard to earn money to get to Africa, to get a job with archeologist Louis Leakey, and to figure out how to study chimpanzees in a way that had never been done before. Not having had any formal scientific training when she began her research, plus being a woman, Jane was often not taken seriously when presenting her findings. However, she knew what she had observed, documented her research well, and eventually, the scientific world had no choice but to admit that she was correct.

One of her biggest discoveries was that chimpanzees used tools, such as sticking a blade of grass into an a termite mound to reach the tasty termites. Prior to this, it was believed that the use of tools was exclusive to man. This lead Jane to excitedly report to Leakey, “Now we must redefine ‘tool’, redefine ‘man’, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”

Today, it is common knowledge that various animals use tools, but at the time it was an outlandish idea. It was only through Jane’s persistence of observation and standing by her findings that people finally started believing in her and her work.

Do you believe in yourself, or a cause, or your own ideas enough to ignore those who disagree with you?

You are the best champion of your ideas. If you don’t fight to bring them into the world, no one else will.

No matter the odds, or those who actively defy you, stand up for your beliefs and keep moving forward.

Jane Goodall has been doing this work she so believes in for almost 60 years, first directly with the chimpanzees, and then in the related field of conservation. Even now, at age 83, she spends over 300 days per year traveling, talking to people, advocating for animals, nature, and really, the survival of humans. This is true persistence.

Compassion

I suspect there are few of us who would willingly subject ourselves to scenes that we knew would break our hearts. Jane Goodall asked to be allowed entrance into laboratories where chimpanzees were being kept in tiny cages in deplorable conditions. She did this in order to see first-hand how bad the problems were. In that way, she was able to speak from a place of knowledge to improve the conditions for research animals. We often think of compassion as offering a kind word or deed, and that is accurate, but Jane took compassion to another level by moving past her own heartbreak and horror to help those in need. 
 
 In addition, Jane demonstrates compassion with her decision to stop eating meat. “I stopped eating meat some 50 years ago when I looked at the pork chop on my plate and thought: this represents fear, pain, death,” she said. She lists various reasons for her decision, such as the huge carbon footprint of agricultural meat production, the harmful effects to health caused by the various antibiotics and other chemicals fed to livestock, and the cruelty of raising sentient beings for food. Many of us know these facts, yet we choose to continue eating meat. Jane’s compassion would not allow her to continue a practice that is so cruel.

Do you care enough about something or someone to change your way of life to help them?

Some actions that you think impact only yourself could be harming others.

It is an act of compassion to look beyond yourself and realize that quitting smoking or drinking, or losing weight, or finding positive ways to cope with stress, or taking time to find things that make you happy is as much about those you love as it is about you.

Communication

“One of the problems with successful advocacy is people become too militant, people become too adversarial.”
-Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall makes it clear that arguing with people simply does not work. In an article in Sierra magazine (“Can We Talk About the Weather?” Jan./Feb. 2018. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.), Madeline Ostrander points out that the human brain gets defensive when confronted with something that threatens the person’s sense of identity. This is, in part, why it is very difficult to change people’s opinions with facts.

Jane’s solution to this problem is storytelling. She finds that the only real way to reach into people’s hearts is by telling stories. There is often something - a shared problem, a similar situation, a feeling, that even people with differing opinions have in common. If you can find that, then you can make a connection as a person instead of an opponent, and at that point, real communication can begin.

Besides storytelling, Jane suggests having a sense of humor. She wisely notes that people do not want to hear you if you are too serious.

Have some fun, tell compelling stories, work to connect person-to-person — those are keys to real communication.

Connection

It is difficult to listen to Jane Goodall speak and not realize how connected we all are — animals, humans, forests, rivers, the entire planet — all significant parts of an amazing whole. She has looked into the eyes of chimps, dogs, and birds and seen the unique individuals they are with their own personalities and desires. She has seen how the destruction of rainforests hurt not only animals, but also people living in the areas, struggling for food, seeking firewood, and attempting to grow crops in areas that no longer support their ways of life. Where the planet is harmed, people and animals alike suffer.

On the positive side, where the planet is healing, all prosper.

For example, the JaneGoodallInstitute has been working with farmers to produce a sustainable crop — shade-grown coffee. They have found not only is the shade great for the coffee’s flavor, but the plants are helping to restore the forest, attracting animals, birds and plants back to the area. One positive change creates a ripple effect that impacts the entire eco-system.

In addition to understanding that we are all connected on a planetary level, connecting physically with nature is something Jane advocates. She discusses research supporting that children need contact with the outdoors in order to be mentally and physically healthy. So do adults.

You need to get outside, breath fresh air, see green trees and plants, and touch the earth.

Jane notes that beauty is all around us, you just have to take the time to notice it. Look around and see the world of which you are a part.

Hope

“We are hearing this phrase, think globally and act locally, and that is completely the wrong way around.”
-Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall wisely, and realistically, discusses that when we look at all of the harm we have done to the planet globally, we feel hopeless. It feels there is not enough one person can do, and despair sets in. Instead, she suggests we both think and act locally.

When we get together with like-minded community members to solve a local problem, we see the impacts we can make together and can be filled with hope. It is then easier to see how our own small choices add up when they are multiplied by thousands, or millions, or even billions of people taking the same small actions.

In Roots & Shoots, the Jane Goodall Institute’s program for empowering “young people of all ages” to make a difference for people, animals and the environment in their local communities, the key question is “What can we do about the problems that bother us?” Young people identify problems in their local area, brainstorm solutions, and implement plans to solve the problems. The program, started in 1991, is now in over 100 countries and has implemented over 1700 service projects. (If you would like to know more and be inspired by these projects, check out “Putting Hope on the Map.”)

Our world is in danger.

Climate change is happening.

We are killing off rainforests and animal species at an alarming rate.

Our food is polluted.

It seems every day there is more bad news, either politically or scientifically.

Despite all of that, Jane Goodall sees five reasons for hope. These reasons are:

  1. The energy of the youth,
  2. The power of the human brain,
  3. The resilience of nature,
  4. The power of social media,
  5. The indomitable human spirit.

In her Master Class, after revealing this last big reason for hope, Jane then shares stories to illustrate the power of the human spirit to overcome obstacles. It is stories of similarities that bring us together, she insists. After all, there is barely any genetic difference between us and chimpanzees; between humans, we are really all the same. We share pain, joy, fear, love and ultimately, the hope of a better tomorrow.

By studying and advocating for chimpanzees, Jane Goodall teaches not only about our closest living relatives, but also about how to be more efficient, effective, and human human beings.

WANT MORE?

Be here now. You hear this advice all the time. It’s a way to improve your life, relationships and sense of well-being, but what does it mean and how do you do it? I’ve put together a short guide that will help — “Seven Tips for Living in the Moment.”

Get the guide here!