Hold My Beer …

Yeah yeah, we get it. We’re all free spirits. We’re especially free in Black Rock City, right? That’s great. And we totally get that palpable excitement en route to the playa, as we’re about to drop into one of the most amazing gatherings of free spirits on the planet — it’s just so hard to keep it all in! And we get the post-playa afterglow too, where that free-spiritedness just can’t help but seep out of each and every pore, and you just want to share it with everybody, maaaan, because fucking BURNING MAN, maaaan.

Yeah but maybe don’t do that.

Lovely downtown Lovelock, NV (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s consider for a second (bear with me here) the very slim possibility that not everybody you encounter en route to and from the playa is going to share your sentiment. Hell, I know this sounds CRAZY, but that person serving you might just not be the free-spirit you just KNOW everybody could be if they just woke up, man. In FACT, there’s a not-unreasonable possibility that the person is quietly tolerating you, firing eye-daggers into your back after handing back your credit card.

Crazy right? Well, maybe not so much crazy. Think of it in perspective …

You live in a very small, remote desert town, likely because there you’re surrounded by stunning natural beauty, immense quiet, and good-natured neighbors who share your values. It’s a good, peaceful life, and it’s a pretty challenging place to live year-round. You love it there.

Paiute children playing in front of the Nixon Store, Nixon, NV (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

And then once a year, for about a month all told, a seemingly-endless army of strange people descend on your town, doing god-knows-what with god-knows-who, being loud and obnoxious, trampling on the peace and quiet you enjoy the other 11 months of the year. Maybe they drop their dusty garbage behind your store. Maybe they stride partially clothed into your establishment. Maybe they’re whooping and hollering in your parking lot, or jaywalking across your streets. Maybe they’re speeding, or blowing a red light, endangering your neighbors and diverting law enforcement’s attention away from serving your community. Or ditching a dusty, cracked-out bike. Free spirits.

See what I mean? While you experience one kind of interaction, they might well be experiencing it an entirely different way.

Bruno’s, Main Street Gerlach, NV (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s the thing. Not only do these people deserve the respect and consideration you’d afford any other decent human being, because it’s the right thing to do, but — and here’s where it gets sticky for us — they also form opinions about all Burners based on their interactions with us. Then they take those opinions (generalized or otherwise) to their neighbors and elected officials. Or to public forums. Or to the press. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s one person, 10, or 100 who maybe fly their freak flag where it shouldn’t be flown. Every interaction will inform (and usually reinforce) the opinions (negative or positive) people hold about our community generally. We all get painted with that brush.

Rollin’ up on the Empire Store, Empire, NV (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

There’s actually a coda in the Radical Self-expression principle that almost always gets overlooked. The full text reads [my italics] “Radical Self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.” This is to say, your right to self-expression stops exactly where it impedes on somebody else’s direct experience. It would serve us all well to keep that in mind both on and off playa as well.

Railroad crossing, Alturas, CA (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Before you engage in that interaction, put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a second. Consider your impact. Then … tread lightly. 

Be a free spirit. Just be a considerate one.


[Top photo: Goin’ back to Nixon, Nixon, Nixon. Wikimedia Commons]

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase

Will Chase is Burning Man's former Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He was the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Burning Man Journal, and content manager for Burning Man’s web properties. He also oversaw the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social media presence. Will first attended Burning Man in 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004 until he transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009.

19 Comments on “Hold My Beer …

  • Michelle says:

    Burners are enlightened. It’s our duty to share our culture and wisdom onto others. If they want to remain blind, they can all eat out dust. We’re changing the world and everyone else can either join or get out of the way.

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  • “In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.”

    Unfortunately in most cases, we only find out how the recipient does appreciate our stance after giving the positive intended gesture.

    Sorry for hitting the reply button

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  • Pooh says:

    Thank you. This is something that needed to be said. Eleventh principle – Don’t be an asshole

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  • Ruth Talisman says:

    Tip your server. Some of these employees never get to go to the event. It’s their busiest time of year. Try to be extra polite and generous.

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  • Babsie says:

    How sad that this has to be written and we have to be reminded to respect others perspective. So so sad.

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  • Rawls says:

    Everybody should share their free spiritedness! I dispute an essential premise of your paper, namely that free spiritedness includes criminal behavior such as jaywalking, speeding, running red lights, littering, etc.

    Telling people not to trash other people’s homes is fine (though it is sad that such an announcement is necessary). But this has nothing to do with being a free spirit and as such I think you do everybody a disservice by (1) actively defining / imbuing free spiritedness with a negative connotation and (2) asking your readers in the opener to consider maybe not being so free spirited.

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  • Boundary says:

    Thank you for writing this, albeit I find it sad that it must be said. I’m one of those year-round-Nevadans in a small town. I used to go to BM, now I just watch as others go by. People on their way in are largely fine and in good spirits. But I don’t dig the mentality of the post-BM exodus; people rushing back the the ‘default’ world. I don’t dig the trash left behind as they bomb back to (largely) the bay area or LA. Nor the aggressive drivers. And I think the 11th principle needs to become official – don’t be a dick / respect others / have some situational awareness / behave like a decent person. Because yes, that interaction does indeed matter in the mindset of all who interact with your dirt-dusted self and your overloaded rig.

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  • Ali H says:

    Well said Will, well said.

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  • Boyscout says:

    Well written, and very true. We don’t always need to push our good vibes on other. We should simply live our lives well as an example, and be happy to discuss and welcome people to learn about the culture.

    You know, just being cool people and someone you actually might like to have a conversation about, even if you might not want to go to that thing where they just came from.

    @Boundary
    Thanks for sharing. This is DEFINITELY something the community is having to tackle, and it’s one of the issues causing us friction. While I’ve only been going for 8 years, I’ve definitely noticed an overall change that has been happening even in that time.

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  • Dale James says:

    Well written, i just wish all could read and get it. We tread all over and thru theur communities and need to show them all they respect they deserve as human beings.

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  • Gary Mike Thomas says:

    bm puts allot of emphasis on entering with all the Barber-sol signs, perhaps they should install some on the highway as a reminder for those with short memories !

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  • Chowski says:

    Better idea: the people of the state of Nevada have imposed a tax on our event (but not churches or goddamn NASCAR) and now the native tribes have collaborated with the feds to unconstitutionally stop and search us. From now on, not a single penny spent in Nevada or in the native or local communities. They don’t like us? Great. Let them live their lives of dusty poverty without any more of our dollars than they h e already taken from us.

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