Hope does not deny all the difficulty and all the danger that exists, but it is not stopped by them. There is a lot of darkness, but our actions create the light. – Jane Goodall
What are the big take-aways?
The question that 86-year-old Jane Goodall gets the most as she travels the globe, leading efforts to address the dire plight of humans and animals and the planet, is whether she believes there’s still hope for the world. She says yes. Goodall believes that a combination of human intellect, nature’s resilience, young people’s energy and “the indomitable human spirit” are enough to save us from ourselves – if we so choose.
Why do I like it?
While I feel compelled to say that, personally, The Book of Hope was not as inspiring as Douglas Abrams’s earlier effort, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (which has been a balm to me during the pandemic), it is nonetheless a lovely deep well from which to draw sanity and wisdom. One of the things I like most about The Book of Hope, which recounts a series of conversations between Goodall and Abrams, is how it distinguishes between and yet interweaves similar concepts, such as faith, optimism, idealism, resilience and grit. (“Hope is more humble than faith,” asserts Goodall on page 10, “since no one can know the future.”) I also like that Goodall – by my interpretation – believes that humans are neither good nor bad but just highly adaptable (p. 49): “The environment we create will determine what prevails. In other words, what we nurture and encourage wins.”
Two other things I like about the book are (1) the interesting story of how Goodall first got to Tanzania in 1960 to undertake her now-famous study of the Gombe forest chimpanzees through the urging – and sponsorship – of legendary Louis Leakey, and (2) the surprising extent to which she was willing to share with Abrams her spiritual beliefs about the mysteries of existence, including how she views the potential “adventure” of death as “being able to understand the mysteries because we shall be part of them, part of the great pattern of things, but in an integrated way” (p. 215).
In what situations would this be useful?
Goodall’s clear-eyed approaches to realities of the climate crisis and its effects on living systems offered in The Book of Hope will be useful to any leader who is experiencing overwhelm/paralysis/stuckness. Jane Goodall offers a type of psychological equanimity that derives from an enormous sense of perspective that – ultimately – relies on getting through dark times by taking very small positive steps because “our actions create the light” (p. 29).
What other resources might “pair” well with it?
For a quick overview of Jane Goodall’s formal efforts to foster hope and resilience worldwide, see this USA Today article and video about Goodall’s recent recognition by the Templeton Foundation. For another powerful article by Rebecca Solnit describing specific attitudes and behaviors anyone can adopt, see her excellent “Ten Ways to Confront the Climate Crisis Without Losing Hope” from The Guardian.
A rich conversation about hope is taking place on the podcast On Being, where the “future of hope” is under discussion. In the series’ most recent episode, journalist Pico Iyer interviews the sage and ever-scintillant Elizabeth Gilbert, who sums it up this way:
That feels like what the universe is asking for — more of this, less of that; more of mercy, less of condemnation; more equality, less injustice. So why wouldn’t I add my energy to that field?…you know, because actually, not to do that would be harmful. So that’s what I go to. I actually have that quote on my refrigerator, of, “He wanted nothing but what God wanted, nothing but what God in all grace had already given.” I mean, that’s the — what possible more serenity could you have than that? And if I hope for anything for myself, personally, it’s to learn how to do that. If I hope for anything for the world, it’s that we learn how to do that.
One final note related to the science of hope: I am only halfway through it, but I already heartily recommend The Awakened Brain by Dr. Lisa Miller (Random House, 2021). Neurobiological evidence shows that engaging our capacity for spirituality – a heightened state of awareness of the world around us – is prophylactic against depression, addiction and trauma, and (here’s the particular implication for leaders…) helps us make better decisions.