The Evolution of Gifting

Theresa Duncan spent her whole adult life doing development and fundraising work for non-profits. But after she went to her first Burning Man, she realized she hadn’t understood gifts at all. On playa she discovered a gifting culture so powerful that at first she didn’t even know how to participate. That’s not an uncommon experience: many of us realize, our first Burning Man, that we are so used to thinking in terms of transactional relationships that we simply don’t know how to give the kind of life-changing gift that we are sometimes offered on playa. We don’t even know how to accept it graciously.

I like to tell people it took me about eight years of practice before I got really good at gifting in the sense that Burning Man means it. And I never, never, would have gotten there if I hadn’t seen people doing it right, year after year. It’s one of the most important things in my life.

Today Theresa is Burning Man’s director of Philanthropic Engagement, and prefers to talk about a “gift culture,” rather than a “gift economy,” because economy implies a balanced transfer, while the power of a gift comes from its lack of balance.

In a podcast with the Burning Man Philosophical Center, she talks about what she calls the “evolution of gift giving” in the lives of Burners. And how to give joyfully.

Cover Photo: “Love,” by Alexander Milov

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat Magister

A member of the Burning Man Project's Philosophical Center, Caveat served as the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca from 2008 - 2013. He is presently working with Burning Man's education department on a cultural studies curriculum for Burning Man culture. Caveat is the author of the short story collection A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City, which has nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

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