Two and a half millennia ago, while devising the world’s first algorithm and using it to revolutionize music—a hallmark of our humanity—Pythagoras considered life’s purpose, concluding that we must “love wisdom as the key to nature’s mysteries.”
Through the abyss of ages and civilizations, Jane Goodall Another sage of the ages, revolutionized our understanding of nature by discovering the paradigmatic variable, and deconstructing arrogance, that toolmaking is not the hallmark of humanity alone—taking account of the meaning of wisdom in The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times (a public library), a record of her long conversation with writer Douglas Abrams.
After deconstructing our broad misunderstanding of what hope really means and defining it not as negative optimism but as the driving force for legitimate action—the “human survival trait” without which we would “perish”—I have turned to the essence of wisdom as a tool that calibrates our hope and directs it to the right action.
From the far-sighted podium of her eighty-seventh year, she noted:
Wisdom involves using our strong mind to learn about the consequences of our actions and to think about the well-being of the whole. Unfortunately… we have lost the long-term perspective, and suffer from the absurd and highly unwise belief that there can be unlimited economic development on a planet of finite natural resources, focusing on short-term outcomes or profits at the expense of long-term interests.
This loss of telescopic perspective is a betrayal of our nature — “certainly not ‘wise ape’ behaviour,” she says. More than half a century of progress and plunder after Rachel Carson issued her emotional deathbed plea for posterity to rise to the fact that humanity is “challenged, as never It is challenged by, to demonstrate its maturity and mastery – not by nature, but by itself,” Goodall says:
The hallmark of wisdom is the question, “What are the effects of the decision I make today on future generations? On the health of the planet?”
Much of our attack on Mother Nature is not really a lack of intelligence but a lack of empathy for future generations and the health of the planet: sheer selfish greed for the short-term benefits of increasing the wealth and power of individuals, corporations, and governments. The rest is due to lack of thought, lack of education and poverty. In other words, there seems to be a disconnect between our intelligent brain and our compassionate heart. True wisdom requires thinking with our heads and understanding with our hearts.
She points out that an essential part of this required human wisdom is humility in recognizing nature’s own wisdom, whose exceptional resilience governs—”blind intelligence,” in the poet Jane Hirschfield’s beautiful phrase, which gave us “turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs”—the deepest optimism we know.
We humans have nothing to add to this wisdom, for we are its products – but we can and detract from it and jeopardize the resilience of nature through our unwise actions. Against this background, the greatest wisdom may be money and the desire to get out of the way.
Noting that “whenever I give her a chance, nature returns,” Goodall reflects on why she makes the annual pilgrimage to a friend’s cabin on the banks of the Platte River in Nebraska to watch the migration of ridge cranes, snow geese, and other waterfowl species:
Because it’s a dramatic reminder of the resilience we’ve been discussing. Because despite the fact that we have polluted the river, despite the fact that the prairie has been diverted to grow genetically modified corn, despite the fact that irrigation drains the great Ugallala Aquifer, despite the fact that most of the wetlands have been drained – still Birds come in in the millions each year to fatten the grain left after harvest. I just love sitting on the river bank and watching the cranes fly, wave after wave against the gorgeous sunset, to hear their old wild calls – it’s something so special. It reminds me of the power of nature. And when the red sun sinks under the trees on the opposite bank, a gray blanket of feathers gradually spreads over the entire surface of the shallow river as the birds descend at night, their ancient sounds being silenced. And we return to the cabin in the dark.
I hear in Goodall the echoes of Emily Dickinson’s horror – here’s the ‘Thing with the Feather,’ descending to the riverbank in its old grandeur – hope not as a metaphor but as an ecological reality of this living world, so old and so bright with self-renewal: the original poetry of nature.
I hear the echoes of the great nature writer Henry Beston’s century-old meditation on human belonging and the web of life, in which he bowed before the ancient wisdom of non-human animals and the primal forces that animate them with an easy life. He wrote: “In a world older and more complete than ours, they move more fully and completely, endowed with extensions of senses we have either lost or never fulfilled, living with sounds we will never hear.”
I hear a deep harmony with contemporary ecologist David Abrams’s soulful meditation on world wisdom more than human, in which he remarked that “we are only human beings in contact, and coexistence, with that which is not human.”
This harmony enlivens the spirit in which Jane Goodall moves through the world, the way she sees the wisdom of nature across the entire spectrum of existence, from creature to cosmic – wisdom always greater than our own, of which our greatest contribution is the humility of his vision and the ability to let him inspire acts of reverence. that fills our human life with beauty and meaning, whether it is in the form of a poem or an observatory.
Shakespeare says it beautifully when he talks about seeing “books in running streams, sermons with stones, and good in all things.” I feel it all when I stand stunned, full of amazement and awe at a wonderful sunset, or the sun shining through the forest canopy while the bird sings, or when I lie on my back somewhere quiet and look up and up into the sky where the stars gradually appear from the fading daylight.
Complete this section of Inspiration completely book please With Rachel Carson on the ocean and the meaning of life, Alfred Russell Wallace’s prophetic prescription for environmental wisdom, and this century-old field guide to question by Anna Postford Comstock – the forgotten woman who laid the foundation for the climate youth movement – then revisit Jane Goodall’s fascinating letter to children On how books shape life, including her own.