Judging Burning Man

You have to give up a lot of creature comforts to spend a week or so on Playa. But one thing I gave up at Burning Man turned out to be a relief: thinking judgmentally. I’m not sure when I realized that I was no longer spending time and energy judging people, but I know that it happened in Black Rock City. After years of living a corporate life and gauging others by that standard, I instead embraced the value of differences, not only in others but in myself as well. I began to understand that inside me are all the possibilities of the human condition – male, female, straight, queer, sane, crazy. Not only did personal judgment largely fall away, but political judgment did as well. I haven’t changed, but I’ve stopped caring whether others fall into one or more of my preconceived “acceptable” standards.

No wonder I return from Burning Man in a completely relaxed state. But the world around me has not changed, and I continue to encounter people endlessly judging me and others. In that environment, it’s difficult to maintain the non-judgmental spirit of Black Rock City and to avoid falling into the habit of instantaneously measuring others against arbitrary standards. But after 13 years as a Burner, I’m better at sloughing off that tendency to judge others based on appearance, dress, or their own judgmental statements.

Recent political divides in the U.S. have made instant and arbitrary judgments more difficult to overcome because voices that had previously been viewed as well outside the norm have increased in volume (both loudness and quantity), challenging me to keep the non-judgmental spirit of BRC alive. I’m not always successful at doing so, except when I’m on Playa. There, politics seems to evaporate into the desert air. If only that spirit could be moved to the default world, lessening the impact of politics on all our lives and increasing our willingness to accept each other.

Alas, these days it has become common to refuse any form of interaction with those who disagree with us politically. This sense of acute judgment has polluted our community life and separated people even more than previously. So when you go to Burning Man this year, look for ways to drop judgmental thinking from your way of being. Then, see if you can bring that approach home to your default life. If you’re anything like me, you won’t be totally successful, but you may shift your thinking a little and by doing so encourage others to do the same. That’s the spirit of Black Rock City extended into the real world.

As you watch the rise of antagonism toward others – whether based on nationality, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, or other differences – you can insert the Burning Man principle of Radical Inclusion into your reaction. Even those who express arbitrary hatred of other human beings have a right to exist and to express their deepest-held beliefs, just as you have the right to disagree with them. Changing others may not be possible, but creating a world of love and kindness around your own way of thinking could help make the entire world more like Black Rock City. If we start by encouraging ourselves and others to accept that alternative lifestyles do not represent an existential danger, we will have taken a tiny step toward the ideals of Burning Man. And what a relief that would be.