Jane Goodall is famous around the world for her ability essentially to talk to the animals. The key to her legendary status however may be her ability to talk to humans–and the message she delivers. At its heart, that message is simply one of peace.
Now, on the UN International Day of Peace she asks, what will be your pledge for peace this year?
From Chimp Work to Peace Work
Living with chimpanzees in the wild, Jane grew to know and understand their world, and saw first-hand how greatly endangered they were as a result of human activities such as deforestation for agriculture and charcoal production, and the hunting of chimps for food and the pet trade. (Celebrate 50 years of research at Gombe with the NG Jane Goodall Archives.)
She also realized that people were doing this out of desperation, as a growing population was struggling to find land, food, and other resources for their families. “While they were in that situation,” she says, “how could we even try to save the chimpanzees?”
Her subsequent efforts through the Jane Goodall Institute and Roots & Shoots, to help these people as well as children around the world to develop their communities in harmony with people, other animals, and the environment, earned her an appointment in 2002 by Kofi Annan as a UN Messenger of Peace.
“At Least One Day”
“When I realized there was an [official United Nations] International Day of Peace,” she says, “which an awful lot of people didn’t know about–I didn’t either–[I thought] maybe one thing I can do is help more people to understand there is at least one day in the world where we hope people will stop fighting physically and symbolize that what we all yearn for is a world without fighting.”
Since 2004, she’s annually named a Roots & Shoots International Day of Peace on the weekend nearest the UN’s date of September 21, and groups in countries around the world have celebrated by constructing Giant Peace Dove Puppets from reused materials and flying the Doves in their communities to symbolize their commitment to peace.
This year, she also held a town hall meeting at American University in Washington, D.C. Before the official event, we sat and spoke a bit about peace, primates, and practical solutions to conflict.
Lessons From the Chimps
After living among chimps possibly more closely than anyone else in history up to that point, Jane Goodall has an interesting perspective on what we can learn from them regarding physical violence and peaceful resolutions.
“Chimps have a dark side to their nature, just like we do,” she acknowledges, “and they’re capable of a sort of violence, brutality–even a kind of primitive war. But they also show love, compassion and altruism.” When looking at our shared characteristics, we must accept the good and the bad.
When there’s conflict among chimps, especially in captivity, “nobody relaxes until there’s a resolution.” In such a case, “you’ll see the victim of an attack, even though very fearful, approaching the aggressor and reaching out a hand or … crouching and then screaming or whimpering. Usually in response to that submissive behavior, the aggressor will reach out and gently pat or embrace or kiss. Then the conflict is resolved and harmony returns to the group.”
She’s quick to point out that in these situations, “there’s no right or wrong, because the higher-ranking [chimp] may be in the wrong but he’s the one that can be aggressive.” That makes extrapolation to human conflicts difficult, and raises the uncomfortable point that relinquishing attempts to “get even” or even to get justice, can sometimes be the simplest path to peace.
Don’t Try to Change Minds, Try to Reach Hearts
Another important lesson for conflict resolution Goodall learned from a human politician, not a chimpanzee: “It’s not good making someone lose face.”
“If [the other party in a conflict is] in a high-up position and you want something out of them, you want them to change, you think they’ve done wrong, (or maybe they have)–don’t try to solve the situation by a direct confrontation where either they win, or you win and they lose face. that’s not going to work.”
Or as Buck Brannaman, the Horse Whisperer told NatGeo NewsWatch a few months ago, “in life you might have an idea that you think is a great idea, but if you just try to cram it down someone’s throat, or you try to impose your will on them, it just doesn’t generally pan out–and it sure as hell doesn’t work with horses.”
So what’s the best way to approach someone with whom you or your group or your country is in conflict? “My mother taught me to listen to them,” says Jane. “Hear what they have to say and think about it… It may make you think a little differently.
“In other words, don’t have blinkers on. Don’t approach somebody with ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’ Don’t point fingers. And I think really importantly, don’t try and change their minds, try and reach the heart.” For Jane Goodall, the best way to do that is through stories. Communication is what she feels is her true gift. (Experience her stories first-hand on September 27, 2011 via a live video conference and screening of the new film “Jane’s Journey” in 500 theaters across the U.S.)
Make a Difference Every Day
Later during the town hall meeting, Dr. Goodall tackled the question of how one person can make a difference in a single day.
“We all come into this life with certain gifts, in addition to our life” she said. “Certain ways in which we can contribute, excel, change the world around us…When you actually think about it, you can’t live through a day without making some kind of impact.
“We have a choice: what kind of impact is that going to be? How will we use the gift of our lives each day? … We can choose. We can choose what we buy, what we wear–at the least we can choose how we interact with people or animals or the environment.”
These small changes may at first seem ineffective and people might complain “What can I do in my one little day?”
“But it’s not just me and my one little day,” she responds. “It’s a growing number of people around the world…” How might you play your part?
Join Dr. Goodall in a one-night-only live video conference in 500 movie theaters across the United States on September 27, followed by a showing of “Jane’s Journey,” a beautiful new film telling her story from reading “Tarzan” as a child, to studying chimps in the wild, promoting sustainable communities, working with Native Americans at the Pine Ridge Reservation, and beyond.