Striving against selfishness in Middleton Park

South Leeds Life reader Alan Shaw has written this personal and thoughtful guest post:

I have come to the conclusion that humans as a species are basically selfish, i.e. they only think of themselves and do not automatically think of others, either those of the same species or of others who share the area in which they live.

I think that there are certainly degrees of selfishness but every one of us is in some ways selfish. And I include myself in this. I am selfish too. I am a member of the Friends of Middleton Park and strive to be as selfless as possible when (as a member) I encourage others to use and see the ‘fantasticness’ that is Middleton Park – a large urban yet semi-rural space right on people’s doorsteps to use and enjoy.

However even as a member of a community organisation and charity that does a lot of good work, I am selfish. I am selfish because I want to make over the Park to what I see as a space that I want to enjoy, and even though I really try to see the needs of others and encourage others to use the Park in ways that they want to I would still prefer for it to be used for the image I have of it.

I am not saying that this isn’t always a bad thing to be, indeed if humans hadn’t been selfish I suspect that we wouldn’t have the progress we have had to date, and the inventions of new products and ideas.

Inventors and geniuses have to a certain extent be selfish to be able to create new products and ideas, although there is an argument that suggests that that new products and new ways of doing things only come about through collaboration. However I believe that even when collaborating humans are still essentially selfish as basic ideas are mostly individual.

You might wonder how I have come to this conclusion. Well it’s as a result of living in Leeds, and in south Leeds for more than ten years.

I live near Middleton Park. As I said earlier this is a fantastic open space in south Leeds, with lots of really interesting things to see and do in it. It has a tram track in it and a heritage railway near it – great for a boy who used to want to be a train driver.

It has sites of Scheduled Ancient Monuments and is filled with the remains of early mining that can be puzzled out and explored by anyone. It has a lake and streams (of sorts) and a golf course where I can imagine myself as a Nick Faldo (well for all my good shots anyway). But of course others see it as something different.

And that is fine as long as what they see it as is aligned to what the majority of the rest of us in the community see it as.

To explain what I mean (and this is where we get back to humans’ as being selfish). Every single one of us must live in this world with everyone else. Even if we are all individual, and of course we are, otherwise we would be like ants and other insects (or Borg if you like) with a hive mind, we still have to be individuals living next to other individuals. As individuals we have to live in a community.

A community needs to be a harmonious marriage of individuals. If we didn’t have individuals we would not have growth, but the individuals in the community need to live with, and more importantly, respect the needs and vision of all those in the community.

This is something that I strive to do as a member of the Friends. However this community is selfish – and I don’t know enough to know whether this is just a south Leeds problem, a Leeds problem, or even a British one.

The humans (i.e. people, children, families, adults, dog walkers) who use Middleton Park express their selfishness in lots of ways.

One example – litter. The Park has a problem with litter and I can’t think of anything more selfish than dropping litter waste in the park. Surely if you buy something and use it (i.e. eat the chocolate bar, munch those crisps, drink that lager) you are still responsible for it when you have finished with it.

You don’t discharge that responsibility by just dropping the rapper or can / bottle. And I include dog walkers who don’t pick up after their dogs here. Those who drop litter (or don’t pick it up in case of dog owners!) are selfish because they are imposing their responsibility on others in that others have to look at what is theirs and have to clear it up – as I say…selfish.

Another example is something that I have seen recently. Fire. This is either burning something somebody else created for nothing else than the individual pleasure of burning it and no thought of the consequences, or setting a fire with no thought on what damage the fire can do to the surroundings or the danger or someone getting burned.

The Middleton Park Estate Volunteers did a lot of work this year to clear the tram tracks and set up clear lines of site down the old tram line.

In so doing they created natural brush fences using what they had cleared. These would gradually rot down and be replaced by new brush…but not anymore.

A human acting as an individual decided that the fences should be burnt with no thought to the consequences or indeed no thought to the view of the community as a whole. Other individuals set a fire using rubbish and some benches in the carriageway at the Belle Isle entrance to the park with no thought of what others in the community might feel about seeing the remains – or of the owners of the benches whoever they are. Selfish as I hope you agree.

And for me this is why the Big Society will never work…there is not enough in the way of a community spirit in the selfishness in individuals in our communities.

There are some who strive against our inherent selfishness to do some work / activities that benefit the community as a whole. There are community groups (the Middleton Community Group), and charities (including the Friends) which strive to get people (i.e. humans) to think less of self and more of community, but for a Big Society approach to work and win through, we would really need to change our psyche (our whole way of doing things).

We need to take our selfishness, recognise it, and continually strive against it. It’s not a case of thinking of others before you think of yourself, it’s a case of remembering others when you have thought of yourself. We all need to remember that we do not live in this community of south Leeds / Middleton (or wherever you live) as an individual.

Selfishness, whilst it has its place privately (and sometimes professionally) has no place in public. So instead of ‘The Selfish Human’ I would rather we move to ‘The Self-less Community’.

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