Jane Goodall,
Reason For Hope:
A Spiritual Journey

(Warner, 1999; Time Warner, 2005)

If you ask somebody who Jane Goodall is, they will most likely know her as the chimpanzee lady who did all those National Geographic specials. Or maybe she'll be mixed up with Dian Fossey -- that gorilla lady that Sigourney Weaver played in that movie whatchamacallit. Hopefully, there will be some connection between the name and Africa, the study of primates and environmental conservation.

Jane Goodall is a scientist whose work with chimpanzees in Gombe was showcased in several National Geographic specials I remember watching as a kid. She always seemed to have an affinity with the subjects of her observations. Those shows brought millions of children closer to nature as Jane described her findings with her most proper English accent. She has always come across as very grandmotherly to me. I remember liking her as a person even though I never met her.

I recently listened to Jane's audiobook version of Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey, and I feel like I know her a little more. This book -- part autobiography, part lecture -- imparts more personal details regarding Jane's experiences in this thing called life. Through a simple writing style and a most relaxed reading, Jane shares a little of her personal life as well as some of her personal philosophies on how to live a more spiritual life in connection to the world, regardless of your religion or lack thereof.

Right at the start, Jane states that, unlike most scientists, she believes that her scientific research has only strengthened her relationship with what she calls God. She describes how she wanted to go to Africa ever since she was a little girl. She did not have the money to go to university, but through luck and perseverance, she got her chance when she worked for Dr. Louis Leakey, the famous paleontologist. He is the one that purposely sent someone who was not biased from their scientific training to observe the chimpanzees of Gombe.

It took a long time for Jane to gain the confidence of what she at first thought was a kind and gentle species. She was both surprised and dismayed to discover that chimpanzees can also be aggressive and enact war on other chimpanzees -- just not quite to the scale that man can. Jane's work helped destroy the notion that what set man apart from other animals was our ability to fashion and use tools. Jane's time spent in Gombe also opened her eyes to the wasteful materialism of mankind that is slowly, but surely, destroying the planet's resources faster than they can be replenished.

Jane's appeal to consider how one's actions impact not only other humans, but also other animals and nature in general, is very positive. She is not a militant environmentalist. She feels that if she can help open up humanities' eyes to what we are doing to the world in an approachable manner, she can gain more converts on how we can improve conditions than she could if she shouted her convictions in people's faces.

Jane's calm astounds me. She has many examples in the book where somebody attacks her beliefs and what she is working towards only to calmly reply in such a way as to disarm her attackers. She has the ability to contain her anger -- which would put the person on the receiving end on the defensive -- and pull people to her side. A good example might be with animal experiments. Sure, she will admit, animal research has provided medical breakthroughs that have saved many human lives. She does not begrudge that. But aren't there better ways of performing the research that we could all feel better about? Are there not ways to reduce the pain and suffering caused to these animals, which have as much right to live as we do? We could start by keeping subjects in more humane conditions, perhaps. But ultimately we should work towards a time when we do not need animals to perform research, period.

Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey will not be an audiobook for everyone. Some people do not care about nature or the planet at all. Listening to five CDs will not change the fact that it is all about them -- and that is as spiritual as they will ever get. For many folks, though, this will be an audio series to enjoy. The biography is interesting. I envy Jane her adventures, but feel she is letting me as a listener enjoy them to some degree. As for the lecture, the points she makes cannot be justifiably disputed. I agree with her that if we all just change a little for the better, this world will continue to be a magnificent place for generations to come.

by Wil Owen
3 June 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.