How often do you care what others say?

Today is October 25 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you care what others say?” Navigating the chaos requires one to have a strong sense of self. This is especially true when others are criticizing you. Rest assured; you will be criticized.

Jane Goodall navigated the chaos of being the first woman to closely monitor wild chimpanzees by sitting amongst them in the wild. Born on April 3, 1934, in London, England, Goodall set out to Tanzania to study wild chimpanzees by sitting amongst them, bypassing more rigid procedures and uncovering discoveries about primate behavior that have continued to shape scientific discourse.

Upon a chance meeting with Goodall, the famed anthropologist Louis Leakey, hired her as a secretary and sent her to study the vervet monkey, which lived on an island in Lake Victoria. Leakey believed that a long-term study of the behavior of higher primates would yield important evolutionary information. While Leakey searched for financial support for the proposed Gombe Reserve project, Goodall returned to England to work on an animal documentary for Granada Television.

On July 16, 1960, accompanied by her mother and an African cook, she returned to Africa and established a camp on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in the Gombe Stream Reserve. Her first attempts to observe closely a group of chimpanzees failed; she could get no nearer than 500 yards before the chimps fled.

After finding another suitable group of chimpanzees to follow, she established a nonthreatening pattern of observation, appearing at the same time every morning on the high ground near a feeding area along the Kakaombe Stream valley. The chimpanzees soon tolerated her presence and, within a year, allowed her to move as close as 30 feet to their feeding area.

After two years of seeing her every day, they showed no fear and often came to her in search of bananas. Many experts objected to Leakey's selection of Goodall because she had no formal scientific education and lacked even a general college degree. But as Goodall noted “There were some who would try to discredit my observations because I was a young untrained girl. I didn’t care what anybody said.”

Turns out, Leakey did not concern himself with the voices of others either. When it came to choosing three people whom he would send to live with the great apes, legendary paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey picked three women — very consciously, according to Goodall — to enrich the field of primatology. “I was really lucky,” she says, “because Louis Leakey believed that women would make better observers in the field than men. He thought that they would be more patient.”

The 2020 documentary She Walks with Apes, narrated by Sandra Oh, tells the epic story of three women Leakey selected – Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas – to embark on lifelong journeys to live with humanity’s closest living relatives, the Great Apes.

Goodall says that women may have evolved to be keen observers because they tend to play a larger role in child-rearing: “To do that well, you have to be patient, you have to be able to understand the wants and the needs of a little creature before it can talk and, also, you need to be very observant of relationships in the … family group or the tribe, because you want to keep your child away from a family member who’s in a bad mood or something like that. So all of those attributes, if [this theory is] true, would tend to make women better.”

Leakey’s decision to select three women changed the field of primatology forever and in so doing allowed those pioneering primatologists to open doors for future generations of young women. Leakey did not care what others said, neither did Goodall. Do you?