Happy Birthday Jane

Happy Birthday, Jane Goodall

This is such a classic story. An intense, committed young scientist, charismatic wildlife, a captivating narrator (Orson Welles!) and one of the great stories of meeting the “other.” This is a well-trod narrative now, but worth watching to see how this genre started before watching Our Planet on Netflix.

Observing Wildlife and Science

While I am not a scientist, the personal study and of wildlife is still richly rewarding. I have great respect for the students of biology, evolution and ecology that slog away long hours gathering and analyzing data to answer questions about genetics or modeling in R. This documentary celebrates the value of field work. It’s a good reminder to all of us to be observant out of doors.

Meeting Animals and Seeing Ourselves

Jane Goodall also balances the strange intersection of data collection and the experience of meeting another being that lives on our planet. The more I observe bears, the more comparisons to human behavior I see. I think of this as almost reverse-anthropomorphism. Rather than assigning human traits to non humans, we have an opportunity to recognize the similarities in our lives. We share the same imperatives, security, food, mating. We human are currently an animal of incredible significance, but an animal none the less.

Years of watching bears has helped me see many of the same dramas play out in human interactions. I now notice subtle changes in body language when people pass each other on the street, just as bear’s posture changes when they pass in the meadow. I’ve noticed that my posture and facial expression seems to influence other people’s reaction to me. Just like my body language can influence an interaction with a bear!

Though there are striking similarities, we should still avoid draping our own morals onto bears. For example, male bears play no role in raising their offspring, which does not make them bad bears. That is just how it works for bears. This is maybe hardest to do when we see bears do things that people do. I noticed that my own posture in middle school (slouched, trying not to draw attention to myself!) was similar to how younger or smaller bears behaved around bigger bears. I’ve now noticed that standing up straight and smiling has a strong positive impact on my social interactions. This is an interesting similarity, perhaps developed from similar circumstances, but without the need for a moral comparison. What is good for bears may not be right for people.

Wild Things Everywhere

You don’t have to study charismatic critters like chimps or bears to find adventure. There are ravens outside my office window right now. You can study the fascinating and complex lives of squirrels, mockingbirds or deer. Yes, these are common animals, but that means we have the opportunity to watch longer and learn about who they are. There are wild things everywhere. Let’s go meet them.

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