(about ownership, libraries, books, having, being, and process)
Goodale Park is like a library — maybe like a library where everything is available to check out on closed reserve. We all have access to it, we can come in and enjoy it, we can even reserve meeting spaces just like at the traditional library. But we can’t individually own it.
I tend to be a little too cozy with the idea of ownership in general, and with books specifically. I don’t mind sharing, but I like to be the “owner”, as unhealthy as that might be. For example, I read a lot of nonfiction, and I love libraries and use them regularly, and I’m glad that we all get to share these books.
But when I check out a book (like Gazzaniga’s “Who’s In Charge?” or Kahnemann’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow”) that contains compelling ideas that grab me and spin around in my mind oodles of related ideas coming from who knows where , then I want to start underlining and writing in the margins and drawing brackets around sections that I want to find again. So I just return the book to the library, buy my own copy, and start over.
My unhealthy focus on ownership reminds me of Erich Fromm’s book “To Have or To Be”. It’s about our two “modes of existence”. “Having” is about possessing and owning, while “being” is about aliveness and authentic relatedness to the world. Although Fromm advocates for “being”, he acknowledges that “having” makes sense with lots of stuff, especially inanimate physical things: I have a bicycle. I have a car. I have a book. We do seem to possess and own these things.
“Having” makes less sense with living things, like (for example) my brother. I do “have” a brother, but I don’t “possess” or “own” him. My relationship with him as a brother is most authentically a reflection of our interactions — the events that comprise the essence of our relationship. Part of his “being my brother” seems lost when I say that I “have a brother”. In these cases the word “have” has been sloppily borrowed; it’s a shortcut for something like “the set that my family members comprise includes one brother”. Because the word is borrowed completely, it also carries with it the feeling of possessing and owning, and so perpetuates problems, especially in phrases like “I have a wife”, since in some historical periods and within some cultures there was/is a frighteningly literal “ownership” meaning there.
“Having” also makes little sense with items that contribute to sustaining living things, like beverages or meals. A problem emerges when I say, “I’m going to have lunch with Kim”, as if I could somehow possess the act or event of eating with her. My lunch experience feels more meaningful if I frame it as an active relational encounter. If I say, “I’m going to eat lunch with Kim”; it appropriately sounds like it’s about a shared meal instead of an owned “thing”.
This brings to mind the related wisdom of Disney’s Pocahontas when she chides John Smith as she sings, “You think you own whatever land you land on…the Earth is just a dead thing you can claim…”. We think we own whatever things we think of, but instead of focusing on everything as a potential possession, we should focus on our potential for engaging, evolving, and changing (as we breathe, as we grow and decline, and as we become more caring, compassionate members of our community). If we’re not changing, we are literally dead. Fromm writes similarly that “Living structures can be only if they can become; they can exist only if they change.”
The same seems to be true of Goodale Park. It is filled with living and life-sustaining things, and it truly “becomes” because of all of the reasons that we use it and engage with it. We experience the park most authentically through our relationships with it. This is reflected in the “process thinking” advocated by Alfred North Whitehead. Rather than focus on physical objects (like the physical body of my brother or the food in my lunch), he suggested that our interactions with people and things are what is truly real; they are more real than the physicality of those people and things.
By themselves, as objects that we imagine we can possess, people and events are empty and isolated. But when we interact with them (by seeing, listening, touching, etc.), then these same people and events are experienced, and they come into being. They become real. Instead of “having a party in the park with friends”, we are more accurately “celebrating with friends in the park”.
My Goodale Park experience provides the beginnings of an evolution for me, opening me to a new way out of my possessive miasma. I would kind of like to “own” or “have” Goodale Park, in the same way that I own my copies of books. But there is no “copy” of Goodale Park available for me to purchase, possess, or own, is there?
As our living library, where everything is available to us and nothing is possessed by us, it’s not a place to “have”. Goodale Park is a place to “be”.