We Have A Choice

In 2015, I am sure that everyone reading this has heard of Jane Goodall at some time or another. You probably know that she studied chimpanzees and gave them names (instead of numbers) and that she sort of went about the whole science thing in a rather unconventional manor.

Jane Goodall is not only a British primatologist, but also an ethologist, anthropologist, conservationist, and activist. She is considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees and is best known for her 55-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees at the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. She founded two nonprofit global wildlife and environment conservation organizations and has served on the board of the Nonhuman Rights Project throughout its nearly twenty-year history.

When I was in elementary school, we were often given long lists of books we could read for summer reading or other class assignments. One year, I scanned the long list of titles, authors, and brief descriptions and chose Jane Goodall’s The Chimpanzees I Love: Saving Their World and Ours–solely because it was about animals. It was the first time I had learned anything about Jane Goodall and I quickly became very fond of her and her world. (It didn’t hurt that I thought chimpanzees were adorable and was envious that she got to work with them on a regular basis.)

In the second grade, we did a “Day In the Life” project, which I chose to write about Saturdays when I would wake up, eat a big bowl of cereal, and watch cartoons. My teacher was impressed that I spelled “cereal” correctly on my first try–especially since it took me forever to learn how to spell “animal.” While wandering the aisles of a grocery store much more recently, I was drawn to a box with a cartoon drawing of an adorable baby chimpanzee and a bowl of cereal. It was infinitely better than any other box of cereal I had seen in my life simply because there was a cute baby animal on it. (Says the twenty-something “adult…”)

The cereal I had seen (and bought) at the store was part of a whole line of Nature’s Path EnviroKidz cereals that are gluten free, organic, vegan, and made from whole grains. Each box of cereal features a different adorable baby animal–from a lemur and a koala to an elephant and a panda bear–along with facts, photos, and information about the animals. Plus, a percentage of the sales is donated to organizations that support endangered species, habitat conservation, and environmental education for children, including the Jane Goodall Institute.

I was reminded, instantly, of the woman I had spent many years admiring as a child. The other day, I came across a speech Dr. Goodall gave about her influences and motivations for becoming a primatologist and her concerns for the future of our planet. I took some time to watch the video yesterday and felt compelled to share her message, as I was truly inspired by her words.

Before she became the Dr. Goodall the world knows today, Jane was a mere twenty-three years old with a high school degree when she first traveled to Africa. With her mother’s support, she boarded a boat and never looked back. With the support of her mentor Louis Leakey, she went to Cambridge University to study for her PhD without having first obtained a Bachelor’s degree. She worked with Leakey in Africa, obtained her PhD in England, and continued to research and study the chimpanzees for decades in the wild–and she never once believed the people who doubted her ability to do so.

“You can’t share your life in a meaningful way with a dog, a cat, a horse, a cow, a pig–I don’t care what it is–and not know that animals do have personalities, minds, and feelings.”

“When I look at these young children sitting in front of me here, and I think how we’ve harmed this planet since I was [their] age, I feel ashamed of my species.”

“So here’s the question, and it’s a very burning question: How is it possible that we are destroying our only home? We’ve only got one planet Earth. And we are rapidly destroying the natural resources, and if we don’t do something soon, we shall reach a point of no return.”

“We’re all the same under our skins.”

“We need to learn to live in peace and harmony with each other. We need to learn to live in peace and harmony between people of different nations, people of different cultures, and people of different religions.”

I could list the facts and figures about the condition of our planet, of how harmful a place it has become, and how it may soon be ruined forever. Instead, I encourage you to do something I was often encouraged to do as a child: think of what life will be like in the future. I implore you not to dream of flying cars or teleportation, of underwater or lunar cities, of food particilizers or force fields. Rather, think of a world with no chimpanzees or rainforests, of cities flooded and polar bears gone extinct due to climate change. Where humans, with all of our “superior intelligence,” ignore every other element and being of the world simply because we can. Please, do not let our world become that.

“The most important message for everybody in this room is that each single one of us matters, has a role to play, and each single one of us makes some kind of impact every single day. And we have a choice as to what kind of impact we’re going to make.”


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