Jane Goodall is many things, but the one thing she isn’t is grumpy.
She’s wry, gently charismatic and, at 89 years of age, fully focused on shifting hearts, minds and money to create a more just and sustainable world.
The famous primatologist has been touring Canada this May, working to persuade Canadians that we each need to become more individually engaged and active to address the global threats of biodiversity loss, climate change and environmental inequity.
Speaking to a sold-out crowd in Halifax this past Saturday, Goodall described the world as a tapestry. “Every time a thread is pulled, it becomes more tattered.”
Goodall has been working to stitch it back together for most of her nine decades on this earth, but this great and world-famous woman doesn’t subscribe to the Great Man theory of how to change the world.
She never implies that she alone has all the answers; every story she tells includes someone else who, through their service, helped lift her up.
Her mother, Vanne, was the first to encourage her toddler’s love of the outdoors and then agreed to be her daughter’s chaperone on Jane’s first trip in 1960 to Gombe, Tanzania, to study the chimpanzees.
Primatologist Louis Leakie, who saw something in the 26-year-old environmentalist and secretarial course graduate and offered her the opportunity to travel to Tanzania, mentored her and encouraged her to return to England to get her Ph.D.
The many people she has met since she decided to leave her work in Africa in 1986 and use her star power to influence economic, regulatory and social change in service to healing our broken natural world.
To the public, she is a global icon, the subject of books, films, TV series, and inspirational memes.
To Goodall, that fame is a powerful tool that she skillfully uses to get into rooms with the powerful to shift capital, influence policies and step onto stages to fortify, fund and expand her global movement.
It is all in service to helping her network of 29 Jane Goodall Institutes shift money, knowledge and support to people on the ground putting in the work to drive environmental change in their communities.
Most of us grew up with a knowledge of Jane Goodall and her deep connection and love for all animals, particularly the chimpanzees she has been studying for over 60 years and actively advocating for and working on behalf of for 40 years.
This is not easy work because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. To protect chimpanzees, Goodall realized she needed to understand the underlying human behaviour and cultural norms threatening the animals’ survival.
She realized this included addressing deforestation, which led her to work to strengthen local rural economies, often through micro-loans and projects with women and young people.
No doubt, in private, she likely rails against those who oppose her work, but she is adamant that anger, shame and blame are ineffective at driving sustainable change that sticks.
This is particularly true when the change requires people to recognize their self-interest harms the interests of others.
“People have to change from within,” she said from the podium in Halifax.
“If you shout or point fingers at them, they don’t want to listen, and you don’t reach the heart of it.”
It takes a lot of power and control to hold and advance that position.
In promoting hope and optimism, Goodall has chosen the more challenging path.
It is much easier to let loose to criticize and ridicule people’s self-interested stupidity, the ineffectiveness of political leaders, and the acts of evil perpetuated against animals and humans – all of which she has witnessed.
If she had chosen that path, she wouldn’t be the first eminent gris to assume the persona of global grump, using her global platform to lecture the rest of us on our failures.
Instead, she travels the world 300 days a year, asking audiences to believe in the power of hope.
“Hope is often misunderstood. People tend to think that it is simply passive wishful thinking: I hope something will happen, but I’m not going to do anything about it,” she writes in 2021’s The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times.
“That is indeed the opposite of real hope, which requires action and engagement.”
The companion to hope, as Goodall shows us, is service.
Hope does not walk alone: it travels with others.
In listening to Goodall, I see that as we work to speed our transition to a more just and sustainable world, our primary goal is not to hinder or harm those who oppose us, no matter how tempting.
Our goal must be to help and heal everyone else.