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Jane Goodall Speaks of Discovery and Inspiration

There wasn’t any monkey business for Jane Goodall at her visit to Penn State yesterday as part of SPA’s Distinguished Speakers Series. To my personal disappointment, there weren’t any monkeys at all. In fact Goodall studies chimpanzees, which aren’t even monkeys. But I digress…

Her message was clear as she spoke a stirring proclamation of hope to the next generation of young activists. The Eisenhower Auditorium was all ears as she shared her vision of a more compassionate human race that focuses on the welfare of nature, animals and mankind.

“There are so many problems we have inflicted on the planet,” Goodall said in relation to the issues plaguing our environment such as pollution, deforestation, soil erosion, climate change, and even more recently, the nuclear crisis in Japan.

Hope hasn’t dwindled, however, for the 50-year primatology veteran. Goodall offered specific reasons why the destruction has not yet reached “the point of no return.”

The ability for the environment to bounce back from devastating destruction is something that Goodall has seen first hand. Through building a strong relationship with villagers, Goodall fostered a community-wide effort to halt deforestation and create a natural reserve in western Tanzania. You may even find the fruits of her labors on the grocery store shelf next to the Folgers. Green Mountain Cofffee’s Gombe Reserve brew is harvested in the Gombe Stream preservation area that Goodall helped create.

“Green will come back before human life,” she said, using the atomic explosion in Nagasaki as another example of nature’s resilience. Mother Nature’s will to survive is just one of the reasons Goodall is confident we can reverse our path of environmental pestilence.

Among dedicated service of the youth and increased focus on the prosperity of future generations, the “indomitable human spirit” gave promise to our harmonious relationship with the world around us.

As Goodall described it in the best evolutionist term, the mortal mind is equipped for survival. Through out history, our advances in knowledge have contributed to our success as a species. If we realign our hearts and our brains—inputting compassion into our drive for advancement and redirecting our selfish gains into communally shared progress—we could live as one with the planet we inhabit.

“Every single one of us make a difference every day,” she said.

Her ideas were serious but her soothing tone was riddled with humor. In her amiable British accent she cracked jokes about her childhood obsession with Tarzan, commented on how “cool” chimpanzees are and even used the word “poo” to the comic arousal of the crowd of almost 2,500 spectators.

Goodall also commented on some of the discoveries she has made during her half-century of research.

“We are not the only beings with personalities or minds for thought and emotions,” Goodall said as she elaborated on the striking similarities that the human race shares with the chimpanzees she had studied.

By gaining a personal relationship with her subjects-even going as far as to name the chimps rather than assigning them numbers, Goodall uncovered the affinity between man and its closes biological relative. Chimps, despite scientific knowledge at the time, have a range of emotions and family structure similar to those of humans. She even made the groundbreaking discovery that chimpanzees use tools in food gathering, a characteristic once believed to be unique to man.

However, life in the wild wasn’t all Hakuna Matata. Goodall’s research uncovered the dark side of primates. Primitive warfare with neighboring troupes and brutal fights for dominance were among some of the sinister acts she had witnessed during her time living among the chimps. Goodall regretfully admitted that the malevolent nature serves only to reinforce parallels between ape and human existence.

As a Peace Messenger for the UN and curator of a world-renowned research institute, you would assume Goodall finds inspiration in great minds like Charles Darwin or her former college Louis Leakey. However, she modestly admitted that her true heroes are the youth that undertake the mission of working toward a more compassionate world.

Roots & Shoots, a program started by Goodall, is a student-run initiative that empowers the younger generation to take steps in their community to positively impact the environment. Existing in 126 countries, Roots & Shoots is an outlet for motivated teens and young adults to make small steps toward a much larger impact on the planet. With the combined willpower of over 16,000 active groups, Goodall hopes that her vision of a more humble and caring Earth may not be far off.

“Hope for the future lies in our hands today.”

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