As a child, I spent hours immersed in my father's National Geographic magazines, captivated by photographs of Dr. Jane Goodall interacting with Chimpanzees in Tanzania. She was a hero to me, an inspiring woman who represented the possibility of living your dreams while helping the animals that inhabit the world with us. Little did I know that one day, our paths would cross.
Several weeks ago, while working in my studio in New York City, I received a call from a friend asking if I would be interested in interviewing Dr. Goodall in Irvine California for Origin magazine. Dr. Goodall was speaking at The Living Peace Series presented in partnership with Irvine's Center for Living Peace and the University of California, Irvine. Immediately, I began reading her uplifting and enlightening books: My Life with Chimpanzees and Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey.
As I sat down with Dr. Goodall, now 78 years of age, I was struck by her seemingly ageless quality. Her eyes sparkled with the unmistakable light of a person who is fully engaged in the present moment. We were joined by Zeus, a friend's Labrador, who was as captivated by Dr. Jane's presence, as I was. I asked her about the "fuzzy line," between human and animal that she has often referred too. She replied, "Chimpanzees differ from us with the composition of the DNA by only just over one percent, so as far as genetics go, we are almost identical. Chimpanzees kiss, embrace, hold hands, and have conflicts. You get love, compassion and altruism. There is no sharp line. I have never had an animal that didn't have a personality." Anyone who has had a pet can attest to this claim.
I was interested in a comment she made in an interview referring to farm animals as "domestic slaves." I asked if she believed these animals have the same emotions as Chimpanzees? Her face brightened, "Of course, they do. Yes." She pointed to her head and explained that it was about connecting your head with your heart. She went on to say, "We need to respect animals. The awful thing is we don't respect each other." Indeed, if we connected our heads to our hearts, we would naturally feel compassion and respect for all our companions sharing the earth with us.
Currently a UN Messenger of Peace, she travels 300 days a year to educate and encourage compassion coupled with activism in support of animals, our environment and future generations. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and the global youth program, Roots and Shoots, which provides young people with the knowledge, tools, and hopeful inspiration to improve the environment and quality of life for people and animals.
Later that day, I was among a crowd of 1,000 people who came to hear Dr. Goodall speak at UCI. She serenely took the stage to a standing ovation, a petite woman with a beautiful grey-haired ponytail holding a small plush toy monkey named Mr. H. In her soft voice, she began to tell a tale of a young girl from England who read stories of Tarzan and Jane in her favorite tree, and dreamed of one day living in Africa with the animals. She explained that she moved to Africa accompanied by her mother, Vanne, in 1960 to study and live with Chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Tanzania. She was required to have a chaperone because at that time it was too dangerous for a young woman to travel alone in the uncharted jungles of Africa.
The crowd was mesmerized by her gentle presence, as she shared tales of the jungle, her friends the chimpanzees and her hopes for the future. She closed the evening with one last story. Several years ago, at a Detroit zoo, a man named Rick Swope saved the life of Jojo, an adult male Chimpanzee. Jojo had been attacked by an alpha male Chimpanzee, and fearing for his life, Jojo ran into a moat filled with water. Chimpanzees can't swim, and Jojo quickly began to drown. Rick Swope jumped the large fence separating zoo visitors from the animals and pulled Jojo from the water. When Mr. Swope was asked why he risked his own life to save the dying Chimpanzee, he said, "I looked into his eyes, and it was like looking into the eyes of a man. The message was, won't anybody help me?" Rick Swope is an example of the inherent compassion and kindness we all possess.
Dr. Jane Goodall is living proof of the powerful contribution one person can make to the world. She shows us what is possible when we make the journey from our heads to our hearts to live from our humanity and compassion, respecting all creatures big and small.