Only when our clever brain and our human heart work together in harmony can we achieve our true potential.
As I was trying out ideas for this email I knew that at the end of the week I'd have hopped a few time zones and landed in Flagstaff, Arizona, for a visit with our son and his fiancé. In anticipation I imagined the town's backdrop of mountains, their jagged shapes looming out from mist while fresh air slipped through its passes into town. Despite its recreation-destination popularity Flagstaff still manages to carry a personality of being a bit off the beaten track.
It is here that I recall Jane Goodall. Yes, Flagstaff's Coconino forest must be quite different from Tanzania where the legendary primatologist did her life work. It's the simplicity of this place, much like the simplicity of her beginning -- like yours and mine when we remember the play we did naturally as kids -- that attracts me to her story.
I heard Jane speak about it on a college campus in 2001. It illustrates how following your heart can bring about profound change.
As Jane tells it, when she was a little girl, she was given a stuffed toy chimpanzee named Jublilee. One of her frequent past times was to climb with Jubilee up onto a tree branch and read the book, Tarzan of the Apes, over and over. At age 10 or 11 she decided she would go to Africa and write a book someday. She also had a favorite dog named Rusty, a sweet soul for whom she felt a tender companionship.
Fast forward to Jane turning 21 and a friend has invited her to visit a family farm in Kenya. Upon arriving in Nairobi she thrillingly writes her mother, "I am living in the Africa I have always felt a longing for, a stirring in my blood." By chance, on the visit she connects with the archaeologist Louis Leakey. Although unconventional and unschooled, Jane appears to be just the type of assistant he's been looking for -- a patient and passionate observer -- so they strike up a partnership.
It's during this period that Jane makes her first groundbreaking discovery. At that time common scientific thought differentiated humans from animals by the ability to construct tools. It was thought that animals did not have the ability to use an object as a tool to solve a problem. This ability was reserved for humans.
One afternoon Jane observes the ape, David Graybeard, methodically inserting a twig into a termite mound, drawing it out with clinging termites, and then licking the branch for a termite snack. Jane repeats the observation three different times - an animal using a tool! She contacts Louis and he delightedly telegraphs back, "Ha ha! We must redefine 'man,' redefine 'tool,' or accept chimpanzees as humans!"
The scientific establishment was not as amused.
Louis has arranged for Jane to go to Cambridge. He's realized that in order for her work to be creditable she needs a scientific degree. He seeks permission for her to skip getting a BA, and go right to earning a PhD. Yet, upon her arrival her reception is cold. She is scolded: She should not have named the apes she studied. She can not ascribe emotions to animals.
The hostile scientific community bans together to discount her approach to studying animals. She faces dismissal and outright attack by the scientific establishment.
It made no sense to Jane. She thought, if the apes are merely numbered as scientific objects, how could she be as empathetic? Her observations, as insightful? She remembers Rusty -- theirs had been an emotional connection.
So she persisted and, through her persistence, confronted and upended the assumptions that stood in the way of our understanding the natural world and our place in it. Her work helped lead to the creation of the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, which shifted scientific thought to a new paradigm of acknowledging that animals have consciousness.
I've wondered, why did Jane experience such a visceral reaction? Why do others experience such deep-seated backlash when pushing against the status quo?
What do you think? (This is at the heart of my desire as a writer to tell true stories of people that push against boundaries.)
Jane followed the pull of her heart and it eventually led to her becoming not just a world-renown figure but someone who advanced thought.
If you have just about five minutes here's a fun illustrated snippet from a 2002 Science Friday interview with Ira Flatow.
Update to steps on exploring writing a book
Writing 30 minutes/day: Today is Day 64! My goal is 100.
Saying I'm a writer: This week I've been experimenting with calling myself a writer when I've been introduced to new people. "I'm a writer. I write true stories of people that push against boundaries -- internal, self-imposed, or external, for events outside their control." Agh! It's been liberating and terrifying at the same time. Last weekend was Independent Bookstore Day in St. Louis so I went down to the coolest one in St. Louis, Leftbank Books, to try out my "I'm a writer..." introduction, but then completely CHICKENED out. As we're leaving, 70 bucks of books in my arms, my husband says, "Hey, weren't you going to...?" "Never mind!" I snapped.
Easier to write about courage then to always have it!
Let me end with this quote from Jane, "My mother always taught us that if people don't agree with you, the important thing is to listen to them. But if you've listened to them carefully and you still think that you're right, then you must have the courage of your convictions.
May you have a courageous week!