I had the great privilege today to listen to a talk by Jane Goodall, renowned primatologist, at Wellington Zoo. She was joined by four ‘local heroes’, who each spoke for a few minutes about the ecology programmes they’re involved with: tuatara (as seen in the speaker’s hands in the photo below), frogs, kereru, and a broad conservation project.
Dr Goodall was welcomed with a karanga and karakia. Then she spoke about how she came to study chimpanzees, what the chimps have taught her, and what we humans are doing to destroy the planet.
Of course, she spoke about a great deal more than that, but I don’t want to try to recite here a poorly recalled version of her talk.
Many things struck me, though.
Jane Goodall is a superb speaker. Perhaps her decades of observing animals have given her an ability for a keen awareness of her audience: we were all held in fascination at her words.
I imagine, too, that to observe wild animals in the way she has requires great stillness. Her talk was definitely not wooden, but she is the most ‘still’ speaker I’ve ever seen: she kept her gestures close to her body, stood still, and emanated a sense of calm.
Dr Goodall has achieved a great many remarkable things and been awarded many honours. It seemed though that she has no interest in ‘claiming’ these for herself. Instead she managed to somehow lay all credit with the chimpanzees.
I was struck by her characterisation of humans as the ‘most intellectual‘ of the Earth’s inhabitants. Not the most intelligent, as we so commonly describe ourselves. She clearly explained how we humans seem to have disconnected our intellect from our ‘heart’, our compassion and love.
It occurred to me then that perhaps intelligence is best defined as the integration of those two things: intellect and compassion, reason and love.
It is clear that we are destroying our planet, instead of taking care of it, perhaps as a result of that ‘disconnect’. We are using up resources that should instead be renewed. But Dr Goodall brought us messages of hope, telling us it is within the power of each of us to make a difference, if we want to.
She spoke of the Roots and Shoots programme that helps young people all around the world to make a difference:
Roots creep underground everywhere and make a firm foundation. Shoots seem very weak, but to reach the light, they can break open brick walls. Imagine that the brick walls are all the problems we have inflicted on our planet. Hundreds of thousands of roots & shoots, hundreds of thousands of young people around the world, can break through these walls. We CAN change the world.
I came away from Dr Goodall’s talk wondering about my place in the world, the work I do, and whether perhaps I may like to do something that more directly makes a difference to our planet.
With our New Zealand elections coming up in only a scant few weeks it’s obvious that we can’t wait for, or trust, politicians to take any real steps to deal with the changes threatening our planet right now. We must ourselves take responsibility for what we are doing every day, every minute of every day.
It’s time we became intelligent, rather than simply intellectual.