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)

 

This post is part of the Consider Your Impact series

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.

[This post is part of our ‘Consider Your Impact’ series, where we’re telling stories that explore our community’s known and lesser-known effects on not just the Black Rock Desert itself, but the world around us as well. We hope it will raise awareness and inspire you to, well, consider your impact. Hence the name.]


[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.

40 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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    • SinglePly says:

      Is Michelle the Donald J. Trump of the playa?

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    • Clyde says:

      @Michelle
      You sound like a conservative politician with that “you’re either with us or against us” attitude, which is exactly why this article unfortunately needs to be written.
      Please check your entitlement and remember that radical inclusion is one of our key principals.

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    • Sideshow Bob says:

      @michelle I sincerely hope you are joking. If not, get your irony levels checked, stat!

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    • Badger says:

      What a pathetically condescending, arrogant and myopic post.

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      • Wonka says:

        oh me oh my look at all the judgers jumping in to judge. What have we now; another gang of similar “beliefs” joining together to attack the lone wolf who stood out because her “perspective didn’t match the collective”.
        *dang nice rhyme, note to self- remember that line* Keep on keeping on Michelle! Let the collective fight over their need for validation, hive support and cheer on there commraderie at the expense of your personal opinion. This here brings up a great point regarding RADICAL EXPRESSION. We’ve got a long long road ahead if we are to profess our maturation of the 10 principles. It appears some have not yet graduated to FREEDOM of EXPRESSION and their own ability to NOT let someone elses viewpoint incite them emotionally and attack collectively. . . ahem “In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.” . . ADDENDUM and the receiver should not use the givers expression of radicalism as a launching point for an attack. There is a wonderful world of free will inside of you. The power to CHOOSE what you want in your life and what, or who, to don’t want. It doesn’t matter what their opinion is- We should ask ourselves WHY? Are we letting it get under OUR skin. It wasn’t personal towards anyone specific. So why the hateful comments? Most often, words (comments) are not even necessary. Its not passive. Its not weak. and it doesn’t happen often enough. We’re all to quick to snark in our two-cents…me included. lol Free Will to choose what we allow Is strength in character and noble beyond belief. There inlays the essence of EXPRESSION. Now g’ahead and attack me too. Cheers!

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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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    • DPWisAWESOME says:

      >Sorry for hitting the reply button

      Next time don’t do it or we’ll find you. We’re Burners. We are the salt of the earth. We know everything.

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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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    • Will Chase says:

      Pretty sure we’re not allowed to put ’em along 34 or 447, but we DO put signs on Gate Road during exodus with reminders about where to legally dump your trash, etc.

      But really though, for this message to catch on, it’s going to be a result of people helping their friends to be cool and do the right thing.

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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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    • Will Chase says:

      Yeah well, as you can imagine it’s not nearly as simple as that. Nor do we want to foster an adversarial relationship with the people on whom we depend to continue hosting the Burning Man event … nobody wins in that case. We have a BIG impact on these towns, and it’s real. We just need to do our best to be more conscious citizens of the world outside BRC.

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    • Sideshow Bob says:

      I am sure this excellent article wasn’t meant for you. You seem enlightened and considerate of others.

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  • Janimal says:

    Thank you, dear Will. My first burn was last year. I drove alone from the Mid-whatever. I left after the temple burn, barely making it (Zzzz) to a rest stop. It was empty when I parked but slammed when I woke up. A very nice local was going car-to-car *pleading* that I/we (as in Fellow Burners) don’t unload our trash there. You know it’s bad when you have to call your mom to come and help you at work. I drove all of my trash and gray water home. It was not pretty. But it was mine to manage. If the rest stops get closed because we get selfish, it’s gonna get real ugly, real fast.

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    • Will Chase says:

      This is a very important comment … not everybody has the benefit of having these kinds of encounters and gets feedback from those impacted by our actions, so they just have no idea. Thanks for sharing.

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  • Chimera says:

    As an older woman who has admired the Burners for their positive energy and freedom of expression for decades, I am worried by the murmur of selfishness and dare I say an elitist dennegration of those that don’t “belong”.
    Just saying…everyone belongs…we share this country….wouldn’t it be enlightening to see the humanityin those who exist outside of Burning Man. Lots and lots of folks do!!!! Let’s all try to LOVE more.

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    • Will Chase says:

      Honestly, while one of our primary Principles is Radical Inclusion, this kind of sentiment naturally occurs in any dynamic and growing community. People get protective of what they love, and fight what (and who) they believe is degrading it — and the more they love it, the harder they’ll fight. So while Radical Inclusion is one of our most important Principles, it’s definitely one of the most challenging.

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  • Captain Vic says:

    A group from our camp comes through Lakeview, Oregon every year. We get last minute supplies at the Safeway. For that past six or seven years we have been having breakfast at Jerry’s restaurant, next door to Safeway. The staff there do a nice job, and we leave a good tip as well as our camp swag for that year. We have noticed that when we come back the next year, our camp bandanas are displayed behind the counter. We have also given our camp bandanas to riders herding cattle across the road.

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    • steven mentor says:

      I love this. It made me realize that we don’t share the positive interactions with folks – at the Nixon general store in Nixon, or the Home Depot store in Reno, or the gas pump in Empire – nearly enough.

      And: with scale comes new challenges. I started going in 2004. Some things have gotten cooler – the BM table at the Home Depot, for example – and some no doubt have gotten worse. If one percent of us are assholes during Exodus, that is 600 assholes meeting who knows how many locals. And of course multiply that by years: 600 times ten years means a lot of people have had bad experiences.

      I wonder: perhaps it is time to more actively thank local people for putting up with those of us who act badly?

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  • Dare says:

    Beautiful said Will! As a long time burner I respect the other persons point of view. If I can open and give grace to their world with kindness and tolerance and whimsy and heart and Respect I have done my job.

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  • Badger says:

    It’s unfortunate that it needs to be said but also fortunate that it was said. Thanks Will.

    – B

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  • Sparks says:

    Gods thanks for writing this! Ever since Wifey and I have started coming down earlier we have really keyed into the locals attitudes. We have gone out of our way to meet, interact, and show respect to these locals to soften the blow of the masses that will travel through and in that process we have met some amazing humans. I am glad to say I have friends in those small towns now, people I look forward to seeing every year on the journey south to NV. We have even considered buying a little property somewhere along the way and becoming part time locals ourselves…

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  • granny says:

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

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  • AleXander says:

    And there is that (pink?) elephant in the room – the one that helps with social lubrication and dance steps, yet also seriously assists in distorting situational awareness at TTITD.
    94.8% of all art vandalism, assault, bike theft, porta-a-potty abuse, violence, and general assholery happen while under the influence.

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