Making Nice; A Few Good Performances

The world would be harder to bear without people like Jane Goodall and Bill Moyers, and last night they made the point together that one person can make a difference. Watching them talking about the work they do, and the lengths they go to, to get that point across, I was nudged as well as encouraged. They’re looking to us to make this a livable universe; each one of us is the essential element.

Moyers, the host, brought out the relationship that Jane Goodall had developed with creatures that had never had a bond with us before. Goodall told about a moment when in her work she got a recognizable reassurance from one of the chimpanzees she was studying. The chimp reached out and pressed her hand, a gesture of active bonding. It was a breakthrough.

BILL MOYERS: And where in the long journey that we have made do you think this empathy comes from? Where does it come?

JANE GOODALL: It’s the bond between mother and child, which is really for us and for chimps and other primates, it’s the root of all the expressions of social behavior you can sort of see mirrored in the mother-child relationship.

BILL MOYERS: I know that you consider cruelty the worst human sin, right? I mean, you wrote, "Once we accept that a living creature has feelings and suffers pain. Then if we knowingly and deliberately inflict suffering on that creature, we are equally guilty. Whether it be human or animal, we brutalize ourselves."

Goodall: …But if we’re not raising new generations to be better stewards than we’ve been, then we might as well give up. So I can go to kids living in poverty in Tanzania or inner city Bronx. And tell them my story. And say, "Follow your dreams." And they write to me and say, "You taught us that because you did it, I can do it, too." And that is just right.

What we do, the audience that we affect, is the hope of the world. It makes us crazy to see destruction and atrocities, and our fight against it is advancing, if slowly.

If you didn’t see our Jane Hamsher on Washington Journal this week, stretching to bring along the usual audience mixture of committed progressives and batshit crazies, you should treat yourself. At one point, a caller was attempting to browbeat her with accusations that she was lying about candidate Obama’s having been against the war, calling Jane a liar and obviously relishing the ability to get in her face on the telly. Sometimes the wingnut makes our points for us by showing the kind of rotten core that their ideology contains. The facts, of course, were on Jane Hamsher’s side, but like so many on the right, the caller was capable only of promoting an ideology that was not fact-based.

It’s a real credit to her that Jane maintained her calm and played to the element in her audience that was capable of actual comprehension. Maybe it’s from long practice with the trolls here, but Jane was able to maintain an aplomb that was essential to her point. She reminded her audience of the facts: Barack Obama had been chosen for his opposition to the war, his votes against it as a legislator, and the simple reality that he had had that advantage over the record Hillary Clinton brought to the campaign. Above all, Jane treated the attempt to skew facts as a diversion, not worth an emotional reaction, an approach that made the wingnut’s goading a futile charade. It was a very fine moment.

Like the appeal made by Bill Moyers and Jane Goodall on last night’s journal, we make it a world worth saving when we bring out the fine qualities of character possible to us all. Handling disappointments and negative energy with serene determination gives dignity to the battle. In our public lives, on occasion, it can provide a determining factor of grace under pressure.

Grace is an essential quality of the better world we can have, and work towards.

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