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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Saint alert: Jane Goodall


Jane Goodall was born in 1934 in Bournemouth, England; her father was a businessman and her mother a novelist. When she was barely one, her father bought her a lifelike chimpanzee doll, which she took everywhere with her. (She still has that toy today, though it is now completely bald.) She also had a dog, Rusty, with whom she bonded. After reading Dr. Dolittle and the Tarzan books as a young girl, she dreamed of going to Africa some day.

During World War Two, Goodall's father served in the British Army as an engineer. When he returned, her parents divorced. Goodall lived with her mother and grandmother in Bournemouth, though she visited her father in London frequently. When she graduated from high school in 1952, there wasn't enough money to send her to college, so she got a job as a typist at Oxford.

In 1956 a friend invited Goodall to visit her family's farm in Kenya. Jane was thrilled. She quit her job in London and moved back to Bournemouth to work as a waitress in order to save the money she needed for the trip.

While in Africa, Goodall met paleontologist Louis Leakey and went to work for him, first as a secretary at the Coryndon Museum in Nairobi, then at Olduvai Gorge, helping him dig up fossils. Leakey had been looking for someone to study wild chimpanzees, thinking they might yield clues about mankind's earliest origins. He saw Goodall as the perfect candidate, and in 1960, she went to Gombe National Park in Tanganyika to observe chimpanzees for two years.

In 1962, Leakey arranged for Goodall to go back to Oxford to get a Ph.D. in ethology; she obtained that in three years (much of which was spent at Gombe) despite not having a BA. After obtaining her doctorate, she spent much of the next two decades at Gombe.

Going off to Africa to study chimpanzees was something young British girls simply didn't do back then. It took courage, independence, and intelligence.

But what really set Goodall apart was her patience, serenity, and self-sufficiency. At 28, an age at which most young women were fretting about whether they would get married, or, at least, what parties they might be missing back home, Goodall was content to spend her time in the company of chimpanzees, studying them and making observations about their behavior that had never been made before.

She was no Margaret Mead, who came back from her years in Samoa with a head chock full of misinformation after having basically been put on by the locals. Goodall merely observed quietly, and reported on what she saw, without bias. She had great affection for the chimps, but reported the bad along with the good, including their often violent nature and the way they sometimes killed each other (and each other's babies). Goodall was the first to observe that chimps used tools and hunted other animals as well. She was also the first human to ever be "adopted" by a tribe of chimps, although she was eventually driven out by a new alpha male.


Goodall must have been a remarkably soothing presence, because she was never seriously attacked by chimps, which can be vicious when they feel threatened.

She was married twice, first to Hugo van Lawick, the National Geographic photographer sent to cover her; they divorced after seven years. Her second marriage, to Derek Bryceson, director of Tanzania's national parks, ended when he died five years later.

One indication of a person's character is how willing they are to spend time alone: how un-needy they are. Goodall seemed the epitome of of calmness, and self-sufficiency.


Yes, it's somehow easier to attribute good qualities to a beautiful woman; as Tolstoy pointed out, "It is amazing how complete the delusion that beauty is goodness." But there are plenty of beauties who radiate maladjustment and discontent and, sometimes, outright hostility. Goodall exuded serenity.

 Dian Fossey, who devoted her life to studying and protecting gorillas, and Goodall were evidently friends; both had been started on their careers by Louis Leakey. (A third woman, Birute Galdikas, was sent by Leakey to study orangutans in Borneo.) Fossey was also an admirable woman. Yet she never gave off the same vibe as Goodall; she did not have a happy childhood, constantly smoked, did not get along with her assistants, was always on the lookout for men, and liked to joke about her vibrator keeping her company in the wild.

While it's hard to imagine Goodall joking about a vibrator, she was not without a sense of humor. From Wikipedia:

One of cartoonist Gary Larson's more famous cartoons shows two chimpanzees grooming. One finds a blonde human hair on the other and inquires, "Conducting a little more 'research' with that Jane Goodall tramp?" Goodall herself was in Africa at the time, and the Jane Goodall Institute thought this was in bad taste, and had their lawyers draft a letter to Larson and his distribution syndicate, in which they described the cartoon as an "atrocity". They were stymied by Goodall herself when she returned and saw the cartoon, as she stated that she found the cartoon amusing. Since then, all profits from sales of a shirt featuring this cartoon go to the Jane Goodall Institute.

Today Goodall, 79, spends her time raising money for preservation of wild lands for chimps and other environmental causes. She reportedly owns only two sets of clothes (she wears one while the other is being washed), and travels around the world lecturing and raising funds for preservation. Looking at the pictures of her now, she is still a beatific presence:


She's let herself age gracefully; plastic surgery would have been entirely out of character for her. She still seems completely at peace with herself, if not with a world which is encroaching on wild animal habitat.

It is precisely because she doesn't seem to care all that much about herself that she is a saint. She cares about the future of the chimps and other wild animals, not about her own legacy. (Contrast this to Mother Teresa, whose entire life seems to have been an active, conniving campaign for her own sainthood.)

Goodall is not a religious figure, so she won't be canonized. (When asked if she believed in god, she replied, "I don't have any idea of who or what God is. But I do believe in some great spiritual power. I feel it particularly when I’m out in nature. It’s just something that's bigger and stronger than what I am or what anybody is. I feel it. And it's enough for me.")


I do hope she'll at least be memorialized at Westminster Abbey.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

John--Stupendous post! I have no idea how you would have the inclination to write about this but glad that you did. Thanks, Brian

Glen Filthie said...

I second your nomination, John, and a fine one it is.

It has been my experience that top flight academics are much like top tier businessmen - narcissistic, ruthless,selfish and petty.

I like the fact that she seemed to avoid the subject of feminism that most similar women embrace. Those shrews and cankles are out to prove something - Jane was out to do a job she loved.

Unfortunately, the people that need to see her as a saint probably won't - the shrieking skanks of Jezebel, the hairy chested Maureen Dowd's, etc. They need to learn that a woman can be effective, independent and competent without being a complete bitch in the process.

Anonymous said...

Nice article. Off topic, I would like your opinion on " The Long Island Medium".My wife loves that show. I can't stand it or her. I tell my wife if she really talks to the dead, why not tell people who have lost a loved one to violence what happened? Charlatan!

John Craig said...

Brian --
Thank you very much; it occurred to me that I have enough sociopath alerts, I ought to show a little balance.

Glen --
I'm glad you use this blog to vent -- so do I -- but this particular post was meant to be a lovefest, not a hatefest.

Anon --
Just took a quick look at the Wiki entry on Theresa Caputo. I've never seen the show, but I can pretty much categorically state that all mediums are phonies -- and a high percentage of them are sociopaths as well. What you tell your wife is perfectly logical.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the balance. It is great to see that you can also spot the saintly not just the sociopaths.
Makes one gratefull to know there are people at the top of their fields who are also good human beings

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you. Yes, people like Goodall restore one's faith in humanity.

Anonymous said...

She's much better looking than I expected, and far better than the actress who protrayed her, Sigourney Weaver. I'd expected her to be on the "homely" side of the scale, not being chased by boys and instead living in the jungle.

John Craig said...

Anon --
You're thinking of Dian Fossey, the subject of "Gorillas in the Mist," whom Sigourney Weaver portrayed.

Prince Valiant said...

A great post about a great woman. Jane Goodall is one of those rare people whose intelligence is tempered with modesty and open-mindedness. Immediately after reading your post, I couldn’t help but wonder if she has ever expressed any opinion on the subject of Bigfoot (I know you’re a believer); according to this article, she once told an NPR reporter that she was sure of its existence:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/jane-goodall-fascinated-bigfoot-article-1.1172959

Sue

John Craig said...

Sue --
Thank you, and thank you for pointing that out. I had originally pointed out in the post that she was a believer in both sasquatch and the yeti, but took it out because I felt it wasn't relevant to the point of the post, which was really just her character.

bluffcreek1967 said...

I like what Jane Goodall said about believing in a "spiritual power," although she acknowledged she didn't know who or what God is. She said she discerned or felt this "spiritual power" when she was alone, out in the wilderness (I'm paraphrasing).

I think what Goodall was experiencing was what theologians have termed "General Revelation" - that is, the general knowledge of the creator evident in the beauty and design of creation. In other words, people know there is a divine creator by virtue of HIs handiwork seen in the created order. The more one moves away from the city and towards the wilderness, especially in isolated regions, the more one senses it.

"General Revelation," however, in insufficient in specifically identifying WHO that God is who created the universe. For that, "Special Revelation" is required, as theologians have termed it.

The point is, proof of God's existence can be seen in creation. It shows intelligent design, purpose, order and complexity.

John Craig said...

Ambrose --
We're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I'm not religious, not a Creationist.

Having said that, I think Goodall's feeling of spirituality in nature is part of what makes her so saintly.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading about Jane Goodall - such a fine, inspiring woman. What she said about God was interesting - she feels "a great spiritual power,"especially when she is "out in nature". Her words were intriguing - "It's just something that's bigger and stronger than what I am or what anybody is. I feel it. And it's enough for me." I love what she said.

-birdie

John Craig said...

Birdie --
Thanks, yes, she is just a wonderful, inspiring woman. And I love what she said too, it was full of religious feeling without quite being religious.

Victoria said...

Nice article, but I must take issue with your stereotype statement about "most young women". Where did you get this insulting view of young women? Please edit these biased statements from your otherwise splendid posting.

John Craig said...

Victoria,
Thank you re: the post, but no thanks re: the revision. jane Goodall was 28 in 1962. If you don't think most young British women were thinking about marriage and/or their social lives at that age, at that time, you have no sense of what life was like at that time.

I suspect that we would differ in our view of what the majority of women want now as well, but I suppose that's beside the point.

Victoria said...

Nice article, but I must take issue with your stereotype statement about "most young women". Where did you get this insulting view of young women? Please edit these biased statements from your otherwise splendid posting.

Anonymous said...

When I attended a boarding school, Dian Fossey came and gave a talk to our school, about her work with gorillas. We sat in an auditorium, listening to her talk, showing us a slide show of herself and the gorillas. At the time (1981-1982 school year), I had never heard of this woman. She was actually very interesting to listen to, being fascinated by her work with gorillas.

-birdie

John Craig said...

Birdie --
Interesting, and thanks for re-reading this post.

Yes, Dian Fossey was an amazing woman, even if not the saint that Goodall was/is.

Anonymous said...

Yes, she wasn't a saint, but she was an interesting woman. Too bad she died in a horrible way.

-birdie

John Craig said...

Birdie --
Yes; seems to have been the work of poachers.

cassandra said...

It is a lovely piece tarnished by your remark about Mother Teresa. With that you lose all credibility; though Jane does not. It is a pity because you write beautifully and that remark was so utterly unnecessary, regardless of the view you hold of another extraordinary, beatific woman.

John Craig said...

Cassandra --
Read the post I linked on Mother Teresa. When you look more closely, you'll see she WAS the opposite of Goodall.