Yesterday it had cooled down perfectly after the heat wave – I was finally able to walk the dog again during the day. On the field path, a majestic creature suddenly sailed above us, its calls reaching from afar. A red kite, one of the most wonderful birds of prey in our latitudes, with a wingspan of around 1.60 m. As the wonderful bird made its rounds quite low overhead, I imagined how accurately it must recognise us, seeing also mice and even beetles that it hunts. With the horizon on all sides and a clear view even of the Black Forest far across the border, I suddenly dwindled. A little fatter than a mouse, certainly, but weren’t we humans also crawling over the earth like beetles?
The red kite called again and now performed aerial manoeuvres that seemed like joy. A female had joined him. The two dropped, soared, and circled. What was happening on earth seemed unimportant. Together they rose so high that they were almost out of sight. That walking human down there was just a tiny scurrying creature. Would be replaced by other fuzzy creatures. Was infinitesimal, unimportant. It is a feeling that can also take hold of you on mountain tops or at night when you lie under the starry sky and look up. The German word Ergriffenheit means being overcome or deeply moved by emotions, it contains a hint of something sacred, a primal experience. The miniature sibling of this emotion often carries the hashtag #AWE on social media.
There’s another feeling of smallness. You get it most effectively when reading trends on social media or live tickers on the news. A terrible catastrophe happened here and a new problem came out there. Almost insoluble crises are followed by other crises, suddenly a dictator triggers another one or a natural disaster devastates a region. You no longer fly with birds or stars. You feel more like a stone that its heaviness is ramming deep into the mud. Some days I want to yell out loud: Polyplurimetacrisis, troll away! How to find the brake?
You can see, both feelings to be small are extremely different. That feeling in nature puts us into the appropriate perspective, from anthropocentrism and human hubris to normal size. It fills us with a wonderful feeling of happiness and above all: we are active. By trying to put me in the bird’s umwelt and communicating with it, I perceive it as a partner, at eye level. But above all, I act.
However, feeling small, helpless or resigning in times of crises, makes us unhappy, frustrated, sad or angry. When such news overwhelms us, it may even happen that the soul protects itself by „shutting down“ and we are feeling nothing at all for the time being. This is even an alarm signal. At best, we’re angry enough to engage in demonstrations, but then we’re also quickly exhausted. Many people take refuge in nagging and complaining on social media. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that in this state, at best, we’re still re-acting like lemmings. We no longer act. But solutions require action.
NatureMatchCuts doesn’t want to just bring you the big awe. It’s easy to say: reconnect with nature. But how? What can I do in the face of climate crisis and biodiversity loss? Can I do anything at all?
That’s what my blog posts will be about, among other topics, which you can have sent to you via newsletter: How do I get into this positive feeling of being small, into acting? Where can I find inspiration or role models? And for the members who support me – a series of practical exercises and meditations are planned.
Today I would like to introduce you to one of my childhood role models. It is a blessing that this woman is still so active and hopefully still infects many people with her hope. But before you forget it:
Dr Jane Goodall As A Role Model
Since childhood, one of my role models was Dr Jane Goodall – and I am happy that she is still so active and inspires people around the globe. She has worked hard to achieve the fame she enjoys today; her career has not been a matter of course. In her Message for Earth Day during the pandemic she spoke about a possible reconnection to Mother Earth and said the following, not without some practical guidance.
- Just make a list of what you personally can do with your small means.
- Expand the list of who you could team up with so that you don’t have to go through this alone.
Goodall is one of three women, along with Dian Fossey (gorillas) and Birutė Galdikas (orangutans), who began long-term studies of great apes in the early 1960s at the suggestion of paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey. She lived the complete opposite of our mothers‘ generation, who in Germany still had to ask their husbands for permission to work. Jane Goodall, then a secretary, made an appointment herself with Leaky to talk about apes. Eventually, he wanted her as secretary, but his wife, paleoanthropologist Mary Leaky insisted on sending Goodall to Olduvai Gorge to observe chimpanzees.
For us, she was a role model even in our children’s room. While I was punished for breeding potato beetles in jam jars under the bed, her mother is said to have reacted quite differently when she put a handful of earthworms in her bed: „Rather than shrieking, she explained that her new little friends needed the soil to live, and together, they took them back to the garden.“
For us kids, it was a mix of exciting adventure, a thirst for exploration, and the promise that one day we girls could live our professional dreams, too. „Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees,“ the 1965 film about her work, added a new layer. For the first time in my life, I didn’t perceive chimpanzees as apes or as somehow „inferior“ to humans, as I did in photographs or at the zoo. They acted like our brothers and sisters, simply like a tribe previously foreign to us. What if only we were too stupid to understand their language?
What followed went down in women’s history: The young woman, whose groundbreaking research was published in National Geographic more often than that of famous scientists, was not taken seriously in the patriarchal world of researchers. She had given the chimpanzees names instead of numbers. And worse, she achieved her results without a degree. Because in her time, it was not common for girls to study. Thanks to Leaky’s influence and her merits, she was granted an exemption at Cambridge to study ethology. She was only the eighth person to be allowed to study for a PhD there without first having obtained a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, she has received countless awards for her work as a scientist, conservationist, peacemaker and mentor.
Why do I tell you this?
We often think that famous people are born famous. But those who pursue their dream and their goal without giving up on the first obstacle are exciting. Personally, it gives me courage when I see: Actually, everything spoke against what came later. But this woman did not simply get caught up in „yes, but“ considerations or let herself be paralysed by the adversities of her time. She simply travelled to Africa, made contacts and acted. And it gets even better: today, at an advanced age, she still inspires young people around the globe with her gentle and determined manner, also as a peace ambassador. That’s why I like her texts because they deal with today’s issues: Climate crisis, species extinction, social justice, and restructuring of our exploitation systems.
In conversation with Krista Tippett, she tells how she was rejected by established scientists at the time because she named the apes. At the time, Homo sapiens was considered the only creature that used tools and showed personality. That has changed through her observations and she says:
In a conversation between Jane Goodall and Margaret Atwood for Harper’s Bazaar, the two grand dames get to the heart of what makes our time and threatens to paralyse us at the same time. Atwood says that only hope could still move us forward and inspire more people to make a difference. And she says: „People who say we’re doomed – I’m just not interested in that. It doesn’t generate any sort of positive activity.“ And Goodall lists all our crises, this situation what I called „polyplurimetacrisis“. She is very aware of the gloom but also knows: „We have all these problems. But at the very end of the tunnel is a little ray of hope. We have to roll up our sleeves and crawl under all these obstacles, climb over them, work our way around them until we reach them.„
From Re-Acting To Acting
Women like Goodall and Atwood show how we can all make a difference, even when we are not famous and when we feel very small. What I have learned for me from their and similar talks, I would like to summarise in the following list:
- Find something that gives you rewarding moments where you can feel joy and gratitude. Look for those moments of feeling small as part of nature in a bigger picture, not those that keep you small, silent and helpless.
- Do not stay alone. Find people who understand your feelings. Look for people with similar goals or who can complement yours. Look for people from whom you can learn. Or ask who can respectfully criticise you? Network with like-minded people. No single person will be able to do all this at once, not even you. No one will be perfect. But even the smallest exchange helps you out of your isolation.
- 1+2 may sound egocentric at first glance. But if we want to fight against the polyplurimeter monsters, these two points will help us the most in persevering: We can’t do it alone, together we are stronger. And we need something with which we can recharge our inner batteries again and again.
- Someone once said that a small mouse could frighten an elephant by biting its leg. I don’t know if that’s true. But you can dissect the monsters of our time into manageable mini-monsters. 7.95 billion world population in 2022. Even if they never all join in: That’s a lot of power against crises! Let’s assume that only 1 billion people would each take on such a mini-monster in a personally workable format! Infect more people with it. Suppose it became a trend and eventually mainstreamed into politics. The almost insurmountable Polyplurimetacrisis would wither away, wouldn’t it?
- How to fight mini-monsters? Find a task that you like to do, that you are good at, that is close to your heart. Don’t be overwhelmed by its size, but start small. Do you want to work for more biodiversity? Learn how to turn parts of your lawn into a flowering meadow, and show the beauty and diversity of flora and fauna to others. Find like-minded people. Help others. Show people how which plants and insects do good. Do you care about climate protection? Start by finding out where you not only change energy but save it completely. Leave your car at home more often, and start carpooling. Buy more sustainably.
- Do you think that’s a little too small for impact? Now you can expand your work. Network with others. Find associations or groups that are already active on your favourite topic. Approach politicians in your region to get involved. And if they don’t, see where the public pressure can be applied. You will see: The more you get involved in your issue and get to know the monster, the more actions you will think of. Increasing from the small not only shows the path more clearly but also saves you from burnout in activism.
- I am making it too easy for myself? No, be careful, it all just sounds simple. The trick is to persevere and not resign. Even in times when you would rather believe in doom & gloom. We cannot change the world alone. But there is a tipping point in human behaviour. If enough individuals show solutions and show that we cannot continue to exploit our planet like this, more and more will join in. Politicians, companies, too. It’s like in kindergarten – they don’t want to be bullied forever, they want to play along.
Does it help to act? Well, I like these final words of Atwood and Goodall:
MA: What is your next big thing?
JG: You mean other than dying? I’m carrying on with what I’m doing.Margaret Atwood & Jane Goodall in conversation
- What It Means To Be Human: Dr Jane Goddall talks with Krista Tippet for On Being (podcast/transcript)
- Dr Jane Goodall’s Message for Earth Day 2021 (video)
- Hope is The Legacy We Build Together for a Better World feat. Margaret Atwood on Goodall’s Hopecast.
- Jane Goodall, how a woman redefined mankind
- The Jane Goodall Institute
- Jane Goodall and Margaret Atwood Still Have Hope for the Planet (Harper’s Bazaar)
- Jane Goodall’s Hopecast