Deviant Lives

Last week Rollins welcomed two iconic pioneers of deviant living: Joel Salitin and Dr. Jane Goodall. Both gave amazing speeches, but what stuck with me most was that they both said things that resonated with speeches given by another professional in a completely different field whom I admire greatly. In this post I’ll note each comment and how they relate to assertions given by astrophysicist and science communicator Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Joel Salitan presented “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” on Wednesday, April 18th. His beyond organic Polyface Farm in Virginia has been featured in several books and movies such as the film Food, Inc. as an exemplary model for sustainable agriculture amidst the soul-deadening industrial food system.

From the start of his speech, Salitan emphasized a community of beings that lives within us and around us. You have more bacteria cells in you right now than you do human cells; consider that next time you buy anti-bacterial hand soap. The interconnection of all forms of life, such as from soil bacteria, to our food, to your own gut bacteria, is the core principle of ecology, and for too long the unenlightened mechanical model of production has been intruding on the natural biology of the planet’s life support systems, disrupting the community of beings of which we are all part.

Salitan’s awareness of a “community of beings” is not so different from Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s cosmic perspective of humanity. When Times Magazine asked him for the most astounding fact he could share about the universe, he had this to say: The Most Astounding Fact

“So that when I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us.”

So whether it is bacteria or the universe, it is both all around us and in us.

Dr. Jane Goodall has redefined humanity’s relationship to animals as the first person to observe and report on chimps making and using tools. As a woman, the path to becoming a scientist was stacked against her, but amazing things can happen when you persevere and find people who can open doors of opportunity. Here at Rollins on Thursday, April 19th, Goodall began her speech “Making a Difference” with the story of her childhood experiences.

Apparently when she was only four years old she waited over four hours in a chicken coop to observe how a hen lays an egg. No one had been able to give a satisfactory answer as to how this  happens, so she just had to find out on her own. When four-year-old Goodall emerged from the coop, her mother could have scolded her for disappearing for so long, but instead she sat down and listened to the fascinating story of how a hen lays an egg. “What a great beginning to becoming a scientist,” Goodall said at the end of the story.

American schools are currently lagging in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In the same Times Magazine Interview, Tyson commented on the importance of early childhood experiments in nourishing the seeds of curiosity. A scientist is just an adult who never grew up, someone who says, “I don’t know what that is, let’s go find out.” The problem is that many kids are prevented from experimenting because it will make a mess or break something, thus preventing the mind of a scientist from developing. However, given an enriching environment and adequate support, people can rise to new heights as Jane Goodall did.

There are a few people who have been major sources of inspiration in my life, and when I listen to their speeches, some of their themes merge into each other, even if they are experts of completely different disciplines. What has also set them apart is their ability to relate their expertise to the general public. Perhaps when striving to a certain level in something, a few basic truths can’t help but be shared.

Michael Barrett

About Michael Barrett

I'm an Environmental Studies major, the president and co-founder of Introverts United and the Multi-Ethnic Student Society (MESS), and a co-founder of the Interfaith Club and Interfaith Living Learning Community. Since my start at Rollins, I have been involved with the Office of Multicultural Affairs, serving as a work-study for five of my six semesters here. I have also been a journalist for R-Net and R-Journals.

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