What It Means
1998 was a monumental year for me, for better or worse. Just as I was figuring things out, choosing a career and finding love, my lupus diagnosis came that summer, and pretty much turned everything upside down. I went from feeling on top of the world to completely directionless.
But sometimes the universe has things to tell us at our lowest times, and awesome things at that.
With timing that can best be described as serendipitous, I came across an unassuming yet powerful black-and-white image that just had to have a home on my bedroom wall. An image so powerful that Apple Computer chose to use it in their iconic Think Different campaign, widely considered to be one of the most successful advertising campaigns in history.
It is a serene image; a young, blonde woman bonding with her animal friend.
And this woman, to this day, happens to be one of the most influential people on the planet.
I see many things when I look at it. I see gentle beauty, and peace. Adventure, too.
Most of all I see courage, and lots of love.
Jane is one of my favorite people in this world, and was long before I hung that Think Different poster on my apartment wall all those years ago. She’s a peaceful warrior. An agent for change. A stellar example of life well lived.
She arrived in Nairobi on her 23rd birthday in 1957, and later in the Gombe reserve in Tanzania in 1960, armed with nothing more than her immense love for animals and an equally immense desire to make a difference. Her formal education, and PhD, would come many years later; but her lack of education in the beginning meant little. It put her at a distinct advantage. She wouldn’t be swayed by the academic beliefs and practices of the time. It was also believed that as a woman, she would be more patient, observant, and thorough, and therefore superior, in her research.
It wasn’t easy. In the beginning the chimpanzees would run from her. Then some of them became belligerent. But eventually she gained their trust with that poise and finesse we have come to know and love in her.
In the end, her revolutionary methods and discoveries would turn the world of primatology upside down. First, her subjects were not merely given numbers, but instead names. This had never been done before. Her observations also confirmed that our primate cousins were skilled tool makers and users, and also exhibited what were long thought to be emotions and behaviors exclusive to humans, like grief and love, nurturing and teamwork. Her observations weren’t always pleasant. She observed violence in both males and females, and in general undesirable personality traits. There were good mothers and bad mothers, good fathers and bad fathers; in general good chimps and bad chimps, just like people. In the end, Jane showed the world that her subjects, with 98% of their DNA the same as ours, are very much like us in so many ways, for better or worse. And since then she has worked tirelessly to educate us, and make the world a more compassionate place for them. At times I am sure it has felt like a losing battle to her. We humans can be so selfish and ignorant, downright awful sometimes.
There is an inherent good in us, but sometimes it can be so hard to find.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be daring. And after many years spent in fear of falling short, I now realize there are no hard and fast rules. There are countless ways to follow dreams, and in turn countless ways to change the world. I can follow my sense of adventure, go to the far reaches of the earth and make a difference in the lives of others, human or otherwise. Or I can simply be an influence for hope, love and change close to home. We all have something. A light in us that can warm and heal this world.
Every once in a while, I will venture to that dark corner of my closet, rummage through a half dozen boxes, find my old poster and get reacquainted with that image I love so much. Each time I am left more enlightened. I feel better just knowing I have been a part of this world at this time, to see what she has accomplished. I also feel better knowing she is out there as a force for good, blessed with a quiet dignity that so few possess.
Thank you, Jane.
For making me want to be better.