Jane Goodall changed our understanding of the world when, in the 1960s, she went into the wilds of what is now Tanzania and emerged with proof that humans and chimpanzees share similar aspects of behavior, including using tools, declaring war, and embracing those in mourning. In 1977, she launched the Jane Goodall Institute, working internationally to conserve chimpanzee habitat, stop primate medical research, protect great apes from poaching, and inspire humans to live in harmony with wildlife.
As Goodall has focused on halting the climate crisis in recent years, she has seen many people losing hope in the face of our present-day calamities. So, she collaborated with Douglas Abrams to create The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, a collection of conversations between Goodall and Abrams, which shares comforting evidence that supports her own unshakable, world-changing outlook.
How has she personally sustained her body and mind to fight the good fight, decade after decade? Through insights and practices like these, which she shares in The Book of Hope.
Wildfires, extinctions, destroyed forests, floods — the media and our own eyes bring us bad news about the climate every day. Admitting to the harm we have inflicted and addressing the pain and suffering we feel is an essential part of the discussion of hope, Goodall says: We must feel and acknowledge our grief so we can heal and find the strength to go forward.
“It’s impossible not to grieve for the harm we have inflicted, the suffering of people and wildlife alike.” Expressing your grief can help activate you, she believes. “It’s really important for us to confront our grief and get over our feelings of helplessness and hopelessness — our very survival depends on it.”
“People are so overwhelmed by the magnitude of our folly that they feel helpless,” she adds. “We must find ways to help people understand that each one of us has a role to play, no matter how small. Every day we make some impact on the planet. And the cumulative effect of millions of small ethical actions will truly make a difference. That’s the message I take around the world.”
Feeding Her Soul With Nature
Every year Goodall tries to go to the Platte River in Nebraska during the migration of the sandhill cranes and snow geese. It’s a dramatic reminder of resilience, she says: “Despite the fact that we have polluted the river, despite the fact that the prairie has been converted for growing genetically modified corn, despite the fact that the irrigation is depleting the great Ogallala Aquifer, despite the fact that most of the wetlands have been drained — the birds still come every year, in the millions, to fatten up on the grain left after the harvest. I just love to sit on the riverbank and watch the cranes fly in, wave after wave against a glorious sunset, to hear their ancient, wild calls — it is something quite special. It reminds me of the power of nature.”
Walking Every Day
“It’s good to have at least one walk a day. Though I don’t really like to go for a walk without a dog,” she says. “A dog gives a walk a purpose.”
Maintaining a Spiritual Practice
Goodall grew up in England during World War II and was raised in a Christian family. She cites her faith as a source of endurance and resilience. She particularly loves her grandmother’s favorite Bible verse, from Deuteronomy: “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” Ever since childhood, she’s tried to connect daily with her sense of spirit, which she describes as “my energy force, an inner strength that comes from my sense that I’m connected to the great spiritual power that I feel so strongly — especially when I’m in nature.”
This article originally appeared as “Sustaining Hope” in the April 2022 issue of Experience Life.