“I’d like to share with you what we can all do to right the wrongs, to heal some of the harm, and especially what you can do to make this a better world.”– Jane Goodall
As an environmentalist, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been mocked and laughed at for my ideas and beliefs. Worse, how many times I felt alone and powerless.
“Can I really make a difference?”
That’s the most difficult part—the self-doubt, the isolation… the powerlessness. Living in a society where most people treat our planet as disposable, I often find myself questioning if what I really do matters.
That’s why I absolutely loved Jane Goodall’s MasterClass class on conservation. It empowered me. It validated me. It was exactly what I needed to remind me that there is hope. And that the “good fight” is always worth fighting for.
Taking this masterclass was an emotional rollercoaster. It was inspiring, moving, intimate, eye-opening, and at many times unsettling. But that’s the point. Facing the truth is uncomfortable. That’s the only way to learn and spark change.
Here are 9 life lessons I learned from Jane Goodall’s MasterClass. (Check out our MasterClass review article here).
Who is Jane Goodall?
Dr. Jane Goodall is a British primatologist, anthropologist, and conservationist. Goodall is perhaps best known for her decades-spanning and groundbreaking work on chimpanzees. She was the first person to prove that humans aren’t the only species capable of intelligence, emotions, and personality.
Goodall is a strong advocate for the fight against climate change and animal cruelty, leading global projects that continue to help endangered species and their habitat. She is also known for her extensive humanitarian work on poverty, education, women’s rights, and many more.
Here are some of her greatest works and accomplishments:
- groundbreaking studies on chimpanzee social behaviors and family life
- authored many influential books and research papers on animal behavior
- founder of Jane Goodall Institute, a research, and conservation facility that protects chimpanzees and their habitats
- UN Messenger of Peace
- named Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
- honorary member of the World Future Council
- among her many awards include the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Medal of Tanzania, Japan’s prestigious Kyoto Prize, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science
- TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world of 2019
Jane Goodall is an important figure in the conservation community, pioneering a collective approach of improving the lives of people, animals, and therefore, the environment, too.
9 things I learned from Jane Goodall’s MasterClass
Jane Goodall partnered with MasterClass, the online education platform taking the world by storm. Here is what I learned from taking the class.
1. Never let go of your childlike wonder and curiosity
“I was so lucky with my mother because she supported my love, my fascination for animals.”
Throughout Jane Goodall’s masterclass, she often talked about her mother’s role in shaping the person she is today.
Jane shared childhood stories about taking earthworms to bed, playing in the dirt, and questioning every little thing, however mundane or silly. Instead of telling her to behave, Jane’s mother was patient and supportive. As a result, the “little animal-loving girl growing up in London” became the strong, tenacious, and creative woman she is today.
Hearing Jane talk about this made me realize just how vital play and inquiry-based learning is in childhood development. I’ve always felt that society and our education system seem so intent on killing our creative geniuses. I can’t count the times growing up that was I told by my teachers, by society, that I was too idealistic, too much of a dreamer. That if I want to be successful in life, I have to be more “practical” and “realistic.”
But Jane Goodall’s story reminded me why I should never let go of my childlike wonder and curiosity. Who knows, it could lead me to places I never dreamed I would go.
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2. Don’t let anybody else tell you what you can and can’t achieve
“If there’s something you really want, you’re going to have to work really hard, and take advantage of opportunity, and above all, never give up.”
I didn’t expect this masterclass to be so humbling. But I finished it with a realization of how privileged I am to grow up in a generation that didn’t put many limits on what I can do.
When Jane Goodall talked about what she had to go through just to even reach Africa, it seemed like the odds were stacked against her. She lived in post-war England, with very little money, and she was just a girl trying to find her way in a male-dominated world.
Still, Jane persevered. She, as her mother taught her:
(1) worked hard by going through secretarial school, getting a job in London, where she
(2) got the opportunity to befriend someone who had a family farm in Africa. But… tiny hiccup: she didn’t have the means to go there.
(3) Still, she never gave up. She worked as a waitress for 6 months so she could book her passage.
This is a reoccurring theme in Jane’s life. Over and over she had to continually work harder and grab the few opportunities she had to achieve her dreams. So what excuse have I, to not pursue mine?
3. Animals may not speak our language, but it doesn’t mean they can’t feel just as deeply as we do
One particularly moving part of this masterclass was when Jane Goodall talked about a special moment she had with David Greybeard, one of the earliest chimpanzees she observed. I’m not going to spoil it because it’s a story you should hear from Jane herself.
But that story taught me that just because we can’t understand another being’s language, doesn’t mean that they don’t have the same capacity for love, compassion, and connection as we do. We might consider ourselves as the more “superior” species, but I think we could learn a thing or two about empathy from animals, too.
This masterclass on conservation struck a perfect balance between life and environmental lessons that left me with so much more respect and a deep sense of protectiveness for nature and animals than I ever felt before.
4. Humans are not as superior as we like to believe, and we have to admit this
Jane Goodall also gave glimpses of what she saw and learned during her lifetime of conservation efforts.
What I learned is that, ultimately, we aren’t so different from other “lesser” species. At the core of it, we have so many similarities in social structure and personality with other animals, that our superior intellect is really the only thing we can brag about.
It’s another humbling realization. But more importantly, it’s the key to understanding the “why” of the conservation effort.
As humans, it’s important to realize that we’re really not that different from animals and that’s exactly why we need to protect them. We need to understand that other species can have things as culture, intelligence, learning—and as such, could never be disposable.
5. We can’t view animal intelligence the same way we do human intelligence
I’ve watched my fair share of animal documentaries, but this masterclass was still a surprising and eye-opening insight into animal intelligence.
Jane Goodall throws entertaining anecdotes on animal intelligence and it’s nothing that you probably haven’t heard before. But she tells it in a way that gives you a different perspective.
In Jane’s experiments and observations, she talks about instances where animals learn using methods that don’t seem humanly logical but feel more “natural.” That’s because we expect animals to act in ways that mimic human behavior—using a set of signals or symbols for communication, performing an action to serve something akin to human need, etc.
One of the more most profound things I’ve realized in this masterclass is this:
What if the problem is that intelligence is a human concept?
Jane Goodall’s stories made me think that perhaps animal intelligence falls within each species, within the construct of their needs and their natural environment. That ultimately, it’s all about what each species “feel” is right for their survival. And we’re really not in a position to label these actions as being intelligent or not.
6. Don’t limit yourself to society’s construct of “education”
Here’s a surprising fact: Jane Goodall did not have what you would call a “proper education.”
She didn’t study zoology for 4 years in a fancy university. In fact, she didn’t earn her Ph.D. in etymology until after her groundbreaking work in Gombe, Africa—and only because a man advocated for her and people in her field couldn’t deny her scientific accomplishments any longer.
Naturally, she wasn’t welcomed into the scientific field with open arms. A woman? Without a BA? Allowed to write a paper to get a Cambridge Ph.D. degree?
In class, Jane had a rude awakening. She was unceremoniously told she was wrong. She was told animals couldn’t have emotions or personalities. That her methods defy the “logical” approach to scientific study, which was the norm at the time.
By all accounts, she was made to feel that she didn’t deserve to be there. And yet, Jane Goodall published her paper, received her Ph.D., and went on to become one of the most accomplished scientists of her time.
Moral of the story: Education is not something you can only get within the walls of a classroom. Sometimes, it’s in a jungle filled with playful chimpanzees.
7. The key to effective conservation is to be emotional
“Because I learned to live among the chimpanzees and learned about them and learned from them. I gained a whole lot of knowledge that I might have never gained if I’d gone out with a scientific training to just be objective, not let emotion come into it. and it was very obvious from the beginning that it was perfectly possible to be objective on the one hand and emotionally involved on the other.”
I loved Jane Goodall’s approach to conservation because she knows that the key to global action is to let people feel. By making people emotionally invested, they can no longer deny what’s in front of them.
I remember writing an article about Greta Thunberg, the famous child environmentalist. Instead of getting a positive response from my readers, I received derision. Some comments were downright hateful, but most people criticized her for being too “angry” or “emotional.”
But when you work enough with conservation, isn’t it inevitable to get emotional? Didn’t I start on my own journey to make a difference because I felt that I had to? Don’t I keep doing it because I love and care about our planet?
According to Jane, being emotional is the way. She taught me a valuable lesson: if I wanted to touch hearts and perpetuate change, I need to be human in all the right ways—compassionate, empathic, and resilient.
8. Change is possible with action
There’s one lesson on animal cruelty where Jane Goodall talked about the appalling conditions chimpanzees were kept in on medical laboratories. The video images are disturbing. It was difficult to watch.
However, Jane talked about how she managed to do things to make better conditions for those animals, changes that she is still doing up to this day. Seeing her talk about it inspired me that change is possible.
If you’re a conservationist or anyone that is fighting for something important, you know exactly how powerless you can get. Sometimes it feels like what you’re doing doesn’t matter. But it does. Perhaps you’re not doing it in the same magnitude as Jane Goodall has, but you are creating change in your own way.
That’s something worth holding onto.
9. We are the problem
“We live in a world that has become so materialistic, a world where we feel that making money, having enough money—having a good life depends on having a lot of money. And we’re beginning to forget about the other things that matter too, like clean air, clean water, a healthy environment.”
Maybe this isn’t news. Perhaps subconsciously we know that we are the problem, that we are causing harm to our environment. And yet, we lack the awareness—or downright refuse to have it—to make the necessary change needed to reverse our actions.
We have been so caught up in our own comforts and luxury, that we are forgetting that everything we need to survive on a basic level is given to us by this planet. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we build our houses on. These things are outside of our control, yet we make a mockery of their source.
Jane Goodall’s masterclass taught me, above all, that we are the problem here. The way we treat this planet—beating it into submission instead of adapting to what it can sustainably give—is the problem.
I remember something my mother said about why humans can be so cruel, about there being “something unnatural” in us. And this masterclass showed me why. We are too caught up in our own superiority, our intellect, and so detached from our emotions and humanity, that we are unable to see the harm we are doing every day.
As Jane Goodall so aptly puts it:
“As I’m always saying, it seems that there has been some disconnect between the clever mind and the human heart’s love and compassion.”
It’s “unnatural” because we have forgotten to live naturally.
We see nature as disposable because we don’t have a close relationship with it. Trapped as we are in our modern cities, our lives completely entrenched in the technology we created—we don’t remember being in nature. So why should we care?
Jane Goodall, who has lived most of her life in nature, creating special bonds with animals, feels so protective of our planet because she knows it is her life source.
And this is my key takeaway from this masterclass.
We must feel as Jane feels, too.
We need, all of us, to reestablish our relationship with nature. We need to reconnect to our “wild” side. To see it from the perspective of the animals we rob of forests and clean seas. What if that’s us, and we are robbing ourselves of the only planet we call home?
Ask yourself this question. Every day, if you have to.
Only then can you make that inner change needed to save Earth.
“Are the ends justifying the means? Can we do it better, differently?”