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Earth Day Life Lesson We All Need to Learn

Legendary primatologist Jane Goodall, Ph.D. delivers an inspiring message that goes beyond preserving the environment. This year's Earth Day Doodle comes with a special "message to the citizens of the world" from Jane Goodall, whose work studying chimpanzees has changed our understanding of animals and of ourselves.

"I think I was born loving animals. My whole childhood, really, was animals, animals, animals," she begins. She goes on to describe a magical moment she experienced in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, where Goodall, now 84, has studied chimpanzees for more than 50 years. It was pouring that day but then all of a sudden the rain stopped. "I could smell the smell of the wet hair on the chimpanzees and I could hear the insects singing loudly and I just felt absolutely at one and it was a sense of awe and wonder," she recalls.

"Out in the rain forest you learn how everything is interconnected and each little species, even though it may seem insignificant, has a role to play in this tapestry of life," she continues. And then, while urging us all to consider our own role on the planet, she says this: "Every single individual matters. Every single individual makes some impact on the planet every single day and we have a choice as to what kind of difference we're going to make."

Every single individual matters. This is the simple insight that led Goodall way beyond anything primate researchers before her had discovered. Most researchers are trained to give the wild animals they study numbers rather than names. That's meant to ensure that the researchers remain dispassionate observers and don't let their emotions cloud their scientific judgment. Goodall threw out that practice and was criticized for her habit of giving the chimps she observed names like David Greybeard, Gigi, and Frodo.

From her insistence on naming them and viewing them as individuals she could relate to, Goodall began overturning the conventional thinking of the time that insisted that animals lack their own personalities. By observing chimps in the wild more closely than anyone had before, she also learned that chimps are not vegetarians - they even practice cannibalism. She saw them hugging, patting, kissing, and tickling each other and other clear signs of human affection.

She also observed that they use tools, for instance by removing the bark from sticks to make them more effective or "fishing" for termites in termite mounds using long stalks of grass. That was big news because scientists had long held that the use of tools was what differentiated human intelligence from that of animals. Louis Leakey, the African scientist who sponsored Goodall's research wrote in response, "We must now redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human!"

Goodall's observation that every individual matters applies to humans as well, and runs counter to our all-too-human instinct to consider ourselves, our families, and our communities above all others. It's too easy for us to avoid considering that people in other countries matter, or for those with good jobs in wealthy areas to forget that there are others struggling in places where the economy isn't so great. It's much too easy for all of us to dismiss the importance of those who don't look like us, or don't agree with our ideas, or worship different deities than we do.

Watch the video and listen to Goodall: Every one of us matters. Every one of us will have an impact. What do you want your impact to be?

Were you inspired by Jane Goodall's special message? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your comments below and let us know!

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