As I listen to the call to cruise missiles against Syria, I think of gentle warriors. Is that an oxymoron? In a short post, I can point out at least two truly gentle warriors. Both are women. And they are passionate about their causes enough to devote their lives to them — persistently, but also gently.
Jane Goodall fell in love with chimpanzees when she was a child. She exuberantly leaped into Africa as a young adult to personally get to know chimpanzees in great detail. As they studied her, she studied them. Probably she would say that her happiest years were living in Africa amongst chimpanzees. Eventually, however, she knew that she would have to leave the chimpanzees to help them best. She understood that her most meaningful contribution to the dwindling number of chimps in the world was to convince other people, cultures, societies of their value.
At 79, she still travels 300 days a year. Her step is slower, but her resolve has strengthened through the Jane Goodall Institute she founded, and a successful Roots and Shoots program to educate young people about their connection to all of nature, "improving life for people and animals." In a new documentary, "Jane's Journey," we follow her from her past to her present as an ambassador of saving the world. It's a very big job, but one she accepts graciously every day she has energy left.
Jane always knew that apes have feelings and emotions like humans, and are intelligent, thinking beings. She said conclusively, "There is no sharp line dividing us from the chimpanzee or from any of the great apes." Finally, after lifetimes of use and abuse as laboratory animals, there are now legal rights for apes. Medical research on apes is being scaled back and those apes still left to retire are being put into sanctuaries with blue skies, room to roam, and the freedom to do it.
In another part of the world, Lek was raised in Thailand with a pet elephant. She lived a poor villager's life, but something inside her knew that the terrible abuse of the elephants in her society was cruel and wrong. She saw how the babies were taken from their mothers, put into "the crush," and chained and abused continually until their spirit was broken. Maimed and tortured into obeying herculean tasks, the elephants are dying and suffering. The sheer size of the elephants encouraged their mahouts and masters to be more determined to treat them like disobedient children.
Lek saw the difficult life of the poor people who relied upon the elephants for their own livelihood. She knew that by helping them, she could help the plight of the disappearing elephants. She talks to the villagers. She brings them food and medicine. And she buys those elephants she can afford and brings them to the Elephant Nature Park sanctuary in Chiang Mai. Her delight is in watching the empty eyes of the horribly abused elephants come to life again in a loving, natural environment. She softly sings "Que Sera" as she caresses them.
We have warriors aplenty in our world. Would that we had more gentle warriors like Jane Goodall and Lek. The world would be a better place — for people and animals.