Dr. Jane Goodall and I met in 2008 at a lecture in Manhattan. I was as giddy as a schoolgirl. I’m a fan of Dr. Jane for many reasons — her determination and courage, chief among them.
In 1960, 26-year-old Jane Goodall was hiking to her vantage point on a peak in Tanzania. She had been sent to this remote area known as Gombe by archaeologist Louis Leakey to study a group of wild chimpanzees. Jane had been there for weeks, long enough to recognize some of the chimpanzees, but they hadn’t allowed her to get very close. Then she spotted the chimp she’d named David Greybeard. During the lecture, she told this story:
“This was a wonderful situation when right in the early days, I was following David Greybeard. And I thought I’d lost him in a tangle of undergrowth. I found him sitting as though he was waiting, maybe he was. He was on his own. And I picked up this red nut and held it out on my palm. He turned his face away. So, I held my palm closer, and then he turned; he looked directly into my eyes. He reached out. He took it, but he didn’t want it. He dropped it. But at the same time, he very gently squeezed my fingers, which is how a chimp reassures. So, there was this communication. He understood that I was acting in good faith. He didn’t want [the nut], but he wanted to reassure me that he understood. So, we understood each other without the use of words.”
Jane is now on the road 300 days of the year talking about the plight of the chimpanzees (only about 150,000 are left in the wild, compared to about 2 million in 1900), animal welfare and environmental conservation — topics that could certainly lead one to despair. Yet her unwavering optimism is contagious, and another one of the reasons I admire her. “It is these undeniable qualities of human love and compassion and self-sacrifice that give me hope for the future.,” she says.
Another woman I know who has an incredible reservoir of hope is Joy Southard. Joy has a big job. She travels around Texas to tell kids of all ages that they matter and that they have the power within them to follow their own path. And (here’s the best part) she uses rescue dogs to do it.
Joy is the director of Healing Species of Texas, a compassion education program taught with the assistance of rescue dogs. These dogs have stories of abuse and neglect and are the living example to children of how to approach life issues with courage, empathy, integrity and self worth. Joy doesn’t shy away from the dogs’ sad stories. By honestly telling what happened to the dogs, the kids can find understanding, respect and, most of all, hope. The dogs made it through, and they can, too.
One of the school programs Joy organizes is called Dogs of Character. It’s an assembly presentation of three dogs and parallels their stories to a child’s experience. “We compare the feelings of a new dog at the dog park to that of a new kid on the playground. We bring a dog who has the physical signs of abuse, perhaps he has lost his leg due to cruelty, for our older kids to address bullying. We bring dogs who have amazing loyalty to each other yet are characteristically very different to teach diversity and tolerance,” Joy says.
Joy has many great stories from her work so I asked her to share one.
“One of my favorite stories was a class of kids in a juvenile detention center. We teach the quote by Albert Schweitzer, ‘Until man extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, he himself will not find peace.’ In this lesson a young boy went up to our board and drew a stick figure with a sad face inside a circle. He explained that he is putting this boy, who he had bullied for most of the year, in his “circle of compassion.” His sad face indicated his tears. He told us he was going to apologize to this boy and keep him safe from others who would bully him. That was pretty meaningful to us because we later learned how our student kept his word and was ridiculed for sticking up for the kid who was a target.
“We teach that strength comes from advocacy. When our students finish Healing Species they know they have the tools to practice being important to someone or something. Due to this boy’s felony charges that got him into juvenile detention, he was not given many chances to lead anything at school when he returned. We work very hard to give these kids chances to feel needed. They are definitely needed to help us change how animals are treated! They are also needed to change how we treat each other. One doesn’t have to be crowned homecoming king or elected student class president to change the world for the better.”
Highlighting the work of Dr. Jane Goodall and Joy is the perfect way to close out Women’s History Month. I think these women embody many of the same traits as the others featured this month, most importantly hope and compassion. Changing your piece of the world requires hope and without it, compassion is hard to come by.
What are some things you’re hopeful about these days?
April 3 is Dr. Jane Goodall’s 80th birthday. Happy Birthday, Jane!
On Wednesday, my blog was Freshly Pressed! I was overwhelmed (in a good way) by the positive response to the post. A warm welcome to all new followers!
Have a great weekend, everyone!