What Jane Goodall Can Teach Us About Compassion

What Jane Goodall Can Teach Us About Compassion

The way she saw the world changed the world.

In 1960, a 26-year-old woman without a college degree went to Tanzania to study chimpanzees in the wild.

It is reported that Jane Goodall always loved animals. Her father gave her a toy chimpanzee at age one, which she carried everywhere (and still has).

She loved her pet dog Rusty (and says dogs are still her favorite animal) and was fascinated by animals from her earliest memories, wondering how chickens laid eggs and brought earthworms into her bed.

So when she had the opportunity to study chimps in Tanzania, she took it.

Dr. Goodall watched as wild chimpanzees bent twigs, stripped off their leaves, and used them to “fish” termites from their nest.

Up until her moment of discovery, the ability to make and use tools had been considered uniquely human.

Chimpanzees hunt and eat meat. Also, Dr. Goodall discovered that chimpanzees are omnivorous, not vegetarian as had been thought.

She observed them hunting and eating bush pigs, colobus monkeys, and other small mammals.

With open eyes and an open mind, Dr. Jane Goodall made discoveries that rocked the scientific world, forever changing the way we look at our closest living relatives — and ourselves.

Even the least scientific viewer could learn from her patient understanding of the animals she observed and her philosophical approach.

Now we must redefine ‘tool,’ redefine ‘man,’ or accept chimpanzees as humans, Jane’s mentor Louis Leakey famously said.

Since 2012, nearly 16 million actions have been taken to stir up positive change for 2.25 billion people.

Through our work in public awareness/wildlife conservation efforts, the Jane Goodall Institute and Jane herself, are acutely aware of the individual and collaborative effort necessary to create positive change in the world.

The Jane Goodall Institute

The Jane Goodall Institute is a nonprofit that has spread to 29 countries since 1977 and sprouted Roots & Shoots in 1991.

They’re creating a huge movement of people in person and digitally who care about, invest in, and serve as ambassadors of conservation work.

JGI works on many projects, such as rehabbing orphaned chimps in the Republic of Congo, running a peer-to-peer education program for girls in Uganda, and helping Google create a street view tour.

She discusses research supporting that children need contact with the outdoors to be mentally and physically healthy.

And these people have now become our partners, understanding that protecting the environment is for their future, not just for wildlife.

Jane notes that beauty is all around us; you just have to take the time to notice it.

At JGI, their decision-making is led by collaborative science and enhanced by innovative technology.

They understand the interconnectedness of all life on Earth. Their approach addresses threats holistically to build solutions that work.

By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the well-being of people, animals, and the environment.

Everything is connected — everyone can make a difference.

In Roots & Shoots, the Jane Goodall Institute’s program for empowering “young women 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?”

Goodall spends 300 days a year traveling for various speeches, interviews, conferences, and fundraisers, leaving little time to pause and reflect on her institutional career.

On any given day, the U.N. Messenger of Peace and Dame of the British Empire might be visiting kids in her Roots & Shoots youth program, discussing forest protection with government officials, or drawing public attention to climate change, as she did earlier this year by joining the People’s Climate March in New York.

Roots & Shoots educates kids from preschool age through college, helping youth worldwide offer service and leadership to their local communities.

There are now 150,000 members in more than 130 countries!

My role in life is to give people hope, because if you run out of hope, we may as well give up. If you don’t have hope that your actions will make a difference, why bother? As you say, we’re running out of time. But if we get together now, there is still a window of time. The main message of Roots & Shoots is that every single day each one of us lives, we make an impact on the planet, and we get to choose what sort of impact we make. But for this to work, the Western, affluent world must reduce its environmental footprint, Goodall said in an interview.

As for the rest of us, inspiring the next generation doesn’t have to be on such a grand scale; it can be as simple as mentoring kids in need or sharing your love of animals and the planet with your children, your nieces, and nephews.

Suppose we can’t support young people who want to improve their communities, while thinking and acting compassionately and sustainably.

In that case, we’re going to witness climate change, species loss, and other tragedies on a scale we’ve never seen before.

By building conscious citizens, while understanding and protecting chimps, we’re making sure the future is green and bright for all.

The Jane Goodall Documentary

Jane gives a comprehensive look at her chimpanzee study, her married life, and everything in between.

The documentary highlights the work of a caring female scientist we can all learn from. Brett Morgen’s documentary Jane shows legendary primatologist Jane Goodall, in a whole new light.

Her work is some of the most famous scientific research in history, but you might not know how she learned more about chimpanzees than any other man that came before her.

The film follows Jane Goodall and her research project studying chimpanzees in their natural environment in Gombe.

You can visit the chimpanzee archive tour of dawn-to-dusk observations containing the complete life histories of more than 200 chimpanzees at Gombe National Park.

I’m constantly in awe and inspired by her tireless work to help animals and the planet — and even at age 81, she seems to have more energy than most people half her age, said the founder of Animal Reiki Source, Kathleen Prasad.

Illegal Poaching

It is hard to stop poaching or illegal logging without local support, especially if jobs are scarce. That’s often where eco-tourism comes in, but it can still present its challenges.

One day on a flight over Gombe National Park, Jane saw the local people’s abject poverty.

She realized then that until a person could feed their families, they wouldn’t care about saving animals and that it was irrational to ask starving men to stop poaching when it was their only way of making money.

She has since extended her charities to helping humanity and eradicating poverty.

The Missing Link

Great apes are our closest living relatives.

Thanks to Dr. Jane Goodall’s groundbreaking research and ongoing studies in Gombe, Tanzania, we’ve discovered so much about our similarities to these remarkable beings, and the true nature of our relationship to the rest of the animal kingdom.

Today, it is common knowledge that various animals use tools, but it was an outlandish idea.

I’d seen them using tools and making tools, and it was clear they had emotions like happiness, sadness, and fear. They had a dark and brutal side, but also love, compassion, and altruism, Goodall said.

It was only through Jane’s persistence of observation and standing by her findings that people finally started believing in her and her work.

Thanks to Jane and ongoing research, we know that chimpanzees have complex emotions, make and use tools, close social bonds, have unique personalities, and impressive intelligence.

We’ve learned that, unfortunately, chimps can be brutal and violent, just like us, so that’s presumably both of these — empathy, compassion, origins of love, but also brutality — probably came along our separate evolutionary pathways from a common ancestor.

Only we’ve developed a brain that can control our behavior. We don’t always do it, but we can.

That led to the discussion of innate aggressive tendencies in humans. Then in the 70s, there was a discussion of the science behind nature versus nurture.

They help prove there is no sharp line separating us from the animal kingdom, yet even knowing they have emotions like ours, we still show cruelty to animals and each other.

There’s a lot of research suggesting empathy is rooted in our biology, based on the behavior of primates.

People naturally get defensive when confronted with something that threatens their sense of identity.

This is, in part, why it is difficult to change people’s opinions with facts. She finds that the only real problem is storytelling.

She finds that the only real way to reach people’s hearts is by telling stories.

It isn’t easy 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.

With our clever brains, how is it that we humans are destroying the environment?

We are burning fossil fuels, creating greenhouse gasses, causing extremes in temperatures, and more frequent and more destructive storms.

We have also learned that chimpanzees are at risk of disappearing forever if we do not do something immediately.

Jane’s Dietary Change

We often think of compassion as offering a kind word or deed, which is accurate, but Jane took compassion to another level by moving past her heartbreak and horror to help those in need.

Learning as much as she did about the unique and extraordinary lives of chimpanzees, she realized that as threats to their existence increased, she would have to do something to protect them and their habitats.

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, and death, she said.

She lists various reasons for her decision, such as the considerable carbon footprint of agricultural meat production, the harmful effects to health caused by the various antibiotics, chemicals fed to livestock, and the cruelty of raising sentient beings for food.

Jane asked to be allowed entrance into laboratories where chimpanzees were kept in tiny cages in deplorable conditions.

She did this to see first-hand how bad the problems were. In that way, she could speak from a place of knowledge to improve the conditions for research animals.

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 believe in yourself, a cause, or your 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.

It’s rare these days for a person to live so authentically and completely from the heart, with no worries about what people might think.

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

It’s Human Nature

Goodall’s lack of formal education is just one part of what made her the perfect person for this research project.

Her perspective as a woman helped her intuitively look at how the female chimpanzees acted as mothers and better understand their behavior.

She set a new standard for the study of apes in the wild, experiencing their complex society as a fellow neighbor rather than a remote observer, and coming to know and interact with them as individuals over many years.

Again, we see her applying her observations to the knowledge of human nature to understand these animals better.

What’s even more remarkable is that she uses what she learns from the chimpanzee mother Flo to help her become a better mother when she has her baby later on.

Goodall’s female perspective separated her from the scientific field for so long.

Human Exceptionalism

It’s the idea that we humans are different from and superior to animals.

Goodall has said that helping us to ditch this idea — to blur the line between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom — has been her greatest achievement in life.

It’s now generally accepted that we are part of and not separated from animals.

When I first got to Cambridge, and I’d been with the chimps one and a half years, I was told that the difference between us and all other animals was one of a kind. We were on a pinnacle, separated from all the others by an unbridgeable chasm, Goodall said in a 2021 Vox interview.

Jane Goodall On Climate Change

Our world is in danger. Climate change is happening. We are killing off rainforests and animal species at an alarming rate.

Goodall’s work with chimps in the wild has extended into helping the planet at large.

There is a lot of news today about global warming, oil spills, landfills, the great pacific garbage patch, deforestation, and on and on.

It seems there is more bad news every day, either politically or scientifically. Despite all of that, Jane Goodall sees five reasons for hope.

These reasons are: The energy of the youth, the power of the human brain, the resilience of nature, the power of social media, and the indomitable human spirit.

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 great apes she spent years studying?

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

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 similarity that bring us together, she insists.

A Global Perspective

We’re not living sustainable lives, most of us.

We’ve got to alleviate poverty, because if you’re in real poverty, you destroy the environment, you cut down the last tree, you’re desperate to get a bit more fertile land to grow food for your family.

You buy the cheapest food or clothing if you’re in a city.

You can’t afford to say: “How was it made? Did it harm the environment? Was it cruel to animals?”

You have to buy the cheapest to survive.

Looking To The Future

It feels there is not enough one person can do, and despair sets in.

Never give up hope. The most important message Goodall gives is never to give up hope. Hope is the one thing that keeps her going, the main reason she founded the JGI.

She has hope for humanity and the future.

She believes that the combined efforts of the human brain, the indomitable human spirit, the resiliency of nature, and the determination of young people can bring this planet back and stop the extinction of species and the decimation of the wild.

We all have a role to play, and what we do every day makes a difference. Some people can do a lot either by giving money or raising awareness.

When everybody does their best to make this world a better place, we can leave a better planet for our children.

One positive change creates a ripple effect that impacts the entire ecosystem.

In addition to understanding that we are all connected on a planetary level, connecting physically with nature is something Jane advocates.

Jane Goodall is still hard at work. Over the last century, chimpanzees in the wild have dwindled from 1 million to as few as 340,000.

Great apes, particularly chimpanzees, are keystone species — as their population declines and suffer, so do thousands of other species and their ecosystems upon which humans also depend.

She has spent her career fighting for protection from this extinction, as well as their exploitation.

But through her research, she showed us so much more than the need to preserve a species — she showed us the similarities between chimpanzees and humans.

The world-renowned primatologist wants us to remember that humans aren’t so exceptional — we’re animals too.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Jane Goodall during National Women’s History Month. If there’s a topic you’d like to learn more about, message us on Facebook.


Sources: EarthDay.org, Jane Goodall’s Good For All News (2019), Jane Goodall’s Good For All News (2018), JaneGoodall.org, Scientific American, Mongabay, Vox, Animal Reiki Source, Greater Good Magazine, Mary Wales, Medium, Facebook

Featured Image: Encyclopedia Britannica

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