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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]