Goodall sends message of hope to Lawrence students

Wes Miksa

Last week, world famous anthropologist Jane Goodall made a special closed appearance for the Lawrence community in Stansbury Theater. The event, called “A Conversation with Jane Goodall,” was hosted by anthropology department chair Peter Peregrine, and drew a substantial crowd for 10:00 a.m. on a Friday morning. Goodall addressed a variety of topics, including her concerns for the environmental destruction continuing at the Gombe National Park, a park she immortalized in her famous book The Chimpanzees of Gombe.

Along with these concerns, Goodall discussed now timeless themes from her books, including her discovery of personalities in chimps and the stunning similarities between humans and other apes and animals, including the complex societies of chimpanzees, their use of tools, and recent studies of socially passed knowledge between generations in chimpanzees, whales, and dolphins, which some behavioral scientists identify as cultures.

Goodall summarized age-old criticisms of colleagues and etiologists and provided a standard Goodall response: “They said that animals couldn’t have personalities, but they didn’t quite think that about their own dogs…There were some sort of blinkers on. There was a difference between what they felt and what they talked about as scientists…The hard line resistance tends to come from those who are conducting rather unpleasant experiments.” Goodall regards the main distinction between humans and chimps as resulting from the presence of language: “We have developed this language, and it has brought new responsibilities…Every one of us has these responsibilities.”

At Lawrence last Friday and this past Monday on the Today Show, Goodall announced that her endless travels (300 days a year) are meant to spread a message of hope. She acknowledged world hunger, increasing drug abuse and violence, refugee movements, pollution in the environment, the potential dangers of genetically engineered foods, and fear of terrorist attacks, but added words of hope. “It’s a very uncertain world, but the human brain is capable of accomplishing extraordinary things…It created the terrorist threats, and now it is countering those threats, just as the brain is beginning to counter environmental threats. Our brain is capable of accomplishing amazing things—joining people together around the world.” Presenting her views on the Today Show, Goodall declared “It is hopelessness that allows people to be manipulated to do these things.”

Goodall reports that she was in New York when the tragedy occurred and was a first-hand witness of the horrors and the amazing acts of heroism that day: “I was there at the same time they shut the city down…at the same time of this pain, grief, and anguish. There was incredible heroism—incredible caring, compassion, and generosity in New York, across America, and from around the world…We saw the best and the worst of the human species in one day.”

Goodall’s main message to members of the Lawrence community was to carry on with their causes: “Carry on with what you passionately believe in…that’s what’s really important.”

Goodall also encouraged involvement in her recently established and highly successful Roots and Shoots program: “The purpose is to empower children…it’s the education program of the Jane Goodall Institute. There’s a message to be spread…hope for the future.”

Students from UW Stevens Point, Colleen Robinson and Lori Becker, took the stage and encouraged students to contact their Roots and Shoots chapter and establish a Roots and Shoots chapter at Lawrence. At UWSP, Robinson and Becker organize educational programs about wetlands, rain forests, and recycling, lead groups at the Milwaukee Zoo, and support other chapters around the world.