Jane Goodall’s unique style—which has been described as “genteel but impossibly difficult”—has served her well over six decades of groundbreaking work.
From revolutionizing the world of science at the age of 26, despite having only attended a secretarial school, to continuing to teach a new generation of conservation leaders across the globe at the age of 86, Goodall is a legendary powerhouse.
So, how does she do it?
Here are highlights of what the U.N. Messenger of Peace, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, and co-founder of the Roots & Shoots Program shared at the 2021 California Conference for Women.
Three Ways to Create Change
- Avoid confrontation. “I don’t see that there’s very much value in actually confronting people—especially if you are a tiny bit aggressive, you know ‘I’m right and you’re wrong and you’ve got to change.’ Because as soon as you start in that way, you see a wall come up. You see people slightly withdrawing. They are now thinking, I’ve got to refute this woman.”
- Tell stories. “I have to reach the heart not the head, and the way you do that is very sneaky. You tell stories. You try and find out a little bit about the person that you are talking to and then you find the stories that will reach their heart, that will touch them—because I truly believe that people must change from within.”
- Listen to people with opposing views. “My mother taught me what I think is a very wise lesson. When you meet somebody who has an opposing view, listen to them—because maybe they’ve thought of things that you haven’t. And to try and affect the change you need to understand where the other person is coming from.”
How to Stay Hopeful
Asked how she stays hopeful—and thinks others can too, Goodall had this to say:
- “Find out what you are passionate about or concerned about and get involved in some program—something that will help you to feel ‘I am doing something to try and make a difference.’ That’s what takes us out of despair and despondency.”
- “Once you see that you are making a difference, and you know that more and more people are waking up and making a difference, then you can have hope.”
Goodall also said she believes in an indomitable human spirit that says “we are going to tackle things and we won’t give up.” And that, she added, is what gives our lives meaning.
Tackling the Root Cause of Issues, From the Environment to Equity
Speaking about some of the pressing issues of the day—from climate change to racism to the mistreatment of animals—Goodall suggested that there is a common denominator: “It’s all based on lack of respect,” she said.
But she emphasized that there is so much that can be done, including by individuals.
“Every single one of us on the planet, we make some impact on the planet every single day,” said Goodall. So, when you shop, she suggested, ask yourself did the creation of the product:
- Harm the environment?
- Cause cruelty to animals?
- Depend on inequitable wages, or child or slave labor?
“And if the answer to those things is yes, don’t buy it. And this will put consumer pressure on big businesses. But the big but here, we need everybody to make these ethical choices to make a difference.”
It’s even more important that economically privileged people make ethical choices, she said, because people living in poverty don’t have the luxury. “They can’t afford to ask those questions,” she said, “because they have to stay alive.”