by David Borzo
It was an exceptional start to the 2012 SmartTalk Connected Conversations here in Des Moines. World renowned primatologist and icon Dr. Jane Goodall provided it all Thursday night at the Civic Center of Des Moines; insight, fortitude, humor and, ultimately, hope for humanity – all wrapped up with a charming deportment of elegance and quiet resolve. Through her gentle and authoritative personality, she shared her touching story of growing up in WWII England, knowing at an early age that she wanted to be a naturalist. She was determined to discover and learn everything that interested her, often on her own. Her resolve was only strengthened when she was told she can’t do something. As a child she learned empathy for nature though her mother’s guidance, and became determined to travel to Africa and study animals. She fell in love with Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan books – mimicking Dr. Doolittle’s talents to communicate with animals, and lamenting that Tarzan took “…that stupid wimpy Jane” for his mate.
Dr. Goodall epitomizes all that the SmartTalk series promises. A charmer throughout her well prepared talk, her accomplishments and story are truly captivating. She credits her success to the many people in her life that lifted her up on their wings, starting with her mother who never squelched her dreams of going to Africa. And of course there was the celebrated archaeologist and anthropologist, Dr. Louis Leakey who started Jane Goodall on her anthropological journey, by securing the funding to send her into the world of the Gombe chimpanzees. Her work at the time was not considered “serious” by many scientists and academics, but she soon fascinated the world with her discoveries. She turned the scientific world upside down with her observations of chimps altering sticks and reeds in order to use them as tools to “fish for termites for a snack.” This was nothing short of a revolution in the thinking about primates at the time; throughout recorded history man was believed to be separate from the animal kingdom in part because of his ability to create and use tools.
Her legendary work for nearly 50 years has been an inspiration to millions, and she continues her work today with projects and supportive organizations under the collective umbrella of the Jane Goodall Institute. She spoke most fondly of working with young people in her Roots & Shoots organization. Roots & Shoots is all about promoting and making positive changes happen in our world—for people, for animals and for the environment. There are tens of thousands of young people that participate in Roots and Shoots, in over 16,000 groups, spread across 130 countries. She told the SmartTalk audience that she looks to young people as her “greatest reason for hope” when she considers the human condition, and its future. Dr. Goodall also spoke of the resilience and indomitable spirit of the human race– even if we have been lead astray of nature with destructive and unsustainable practices of pollution from pesticides, phosphates and carbon Emissions.
“It is easy to be overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness as we look around the world. We are losing species at a terrible rate, the balance of nature is disturbed, and we are destroying our beautiful planet. We have fear about water supplies, where future energy will come from – and most recently the developed world has been mired in an economic crisis. But in spite of all this I do have hope.”
Dr. Goodall promotes her urgent but positive message by speaking to audiences all over the world – for an amazing 300 days a year. Her stamina at 76 years old is a force –including recent forays on 60 minutes and on NPR’s wait wait…don’t tell me! And Thursday, even after several interviews and receptions complete with photos and fans, plus her hour and half presentation, Dr. Goodall still stayed on at the Civic Center late, signing autographs and talking to enthusiasts. Her generous nature and delicate sensibilities brought new distinction to the SmartTalk family of Connected Conversations.
Next up for SmartTalk: Arianna Huffington and her message of “Becoming Fearless in Love, Work and Life,” on Feb. 21st. SmartTalk, take me away!