The Burning Man Ten Principles are the bedrock of the event and a big part of what establishes its unique culture. Below we discuss what these principles mean to us in our own words and as applied to our little corner of the burner universe in Houston.
The Principles aren’t commandments or laws, but instead they are statements of the burner community’s values that have developed organically over time. People new to our community often start by applying these principles only at burns. Over time, many of these same people increasingly look for ways to apply them to other areas of their lives, each at their own pace and level of comfort. Burning Man has an excellent blog series for those wanting to take a deeper dive into the Ten Principles.
Attending Burning Man for the first time was a very special and very positive experience for many of us, and we want others to have a similar opportunity to have this type of touchstone experience for themselves. So, we work hard to make all new members of our community feel welcome, regardless of their situations or backgrounds. This website, our Thermal Thursday, our Beginner Campout, and ourAmbassadors program are all a big part of this.
An open invitation to join, though, isn’t an open invitation to stay, regardless of behavior. We expect members of our community to treat each other with kindness, understanding, and respect, and to maintain the values described here by these principles.
A central part of Burning Man is the act of giving things of value to others without an expectation of receiving anything of value in return. Thus, giving isn’t intended to be exchange or bartering, but instead, brightening someone else’s day is gifting’s only reward.
You’ll see people in our community put a lot of thought and effort into the gifts they give others. That said, often the best gifts are spontaneous in nature or just the simple gift of a sympathetic ear or helping hand. Gifts often act as an introduction to someone new, a positive way to break down the barriers between strangers. At the same time, gifts given to people you already know are just as valuable and help deepen personal bonds and a sense of community.
The flipside of gifting, though, is making sure the gift isn’t an imposition on the receiver. We work hard to make sure our gifts are welcome and not a burden.
Modern society constantly bombards us with sales pitches, consumerism, and materialism prompts. Many people rely on Burning Man as a needed respite from this deluge.
To help these people, we make a collective effort to eschew brands and logos and acts of commerce at Burning Man and other burner events. We de-emphasize selling things to one another to focus instead on gifting things to one another.
In practice, this means we cover up logos on equipment. We flip shirts with logos inside out, or wear things with no logos altogether. We don’t advertise to each other or try to sell things to each other with a profit motivation. We don’t talk about jobs and salaries and “keeping up with the Joneses.” That said, you will see tickets to burner events and experiences publicized, but these monies are only intended to cover costs and not to produce a profit.
The desert environment at Burning Man is a harsh one, and we each commit to bringing everything ourselves we need to survive and thrive in this environment. We are open and appreciative of gifts others may give us, but we are not reliant on them to have a good time.
In practice, this means each person brings everything they need to burner events. Where there are signups for community chores…say for a camp dinner…these acts by others are appreciated, but if they don’t happen, each person is prepared to take care of themselves. This self-reliance provides a safety net when things don’t go as planned.
One of the best things about Burning Man is that it strives to create a judgment-free zone for exploration and self-expression. People are encouraged to be who they want to be, act how they want to act, and say what they want to say. Efforts to recapture child-like feelings of wonder and merriment are celebrated.
In practice, this means people are encouraged to “be themselves” and to act more freely than they might at home. It also asks for extra tolerance from others for things they might normally find a bit annoying, all in the spirit of letting folks embrace the the special freedom found at Burning Man and burner events.
There is a don’t-cross line, though, and that’s where free behavior and expression alienates other people, negatively affecting the community’s desire to be radically inclusive. This means things like hate speech against race, gender, orientation, or background are not tolerated. It means we don’t allow singling people out for personal attacks. It means we don’t seek to derail the hard work and efforts of others for our own enjoyment.
Many hands make for light work, and the tough environment at Burning Man can be made much easier by working together on theme camps and infrastructure. The same can be said on art projects, with banding together making it easier to create, fund, transport and erect/take down pieces.
Collaboration is a key element of many efforts in the burner community, and we work hard to create and protect opportunities for folks to work together.
Safety is an important consideration for Burning Man and burner events. While people are encouraged to be radically self-reliant, care and effort is needed to think through and plan for situations where things might go wrong.
While Burning Man and burner events create a special bubble that functions a bit differently than the rest of the world often does, there’s no escaping the need to comply with local, state, and federal laws and regulations to maintain the ability to put on Burning Man and burner events year after year.
Leaving No Trace
Leaving no trace is critical to the survival of Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert. The event takes place on protected federal land, and Burning Man’s permit with the government requires it to leave the land as it found it before the event to be allowed to come back.
In practice, this means participants are asked to take home everything they bring with them to the event, including trash. we adopt this same practice for other burner events. Participants are also asked to think carefully about not bringing items which might leave tiny bits of trash behind. Wood splinters are the most common form of matter-out-of-place (“MOOP”) left at Burning Man and remains a big problem there. Items like glitter, feathers, small beading, and fragile fabrics are also an issue.
Avoiding MOOP is a constant topic of discussion and concern in the burner community. In short, the idea is to clean up after yourself, and ideally leave things cleaner than you found them.
Everyone is invited to share in the work and play at Burning Man and burner events. An often heard refrain is “no spectators.” The goal is to get people off the sidelines and into the mix so that they might have more meaningful experiences.
With respect to chores, everyone is expected to contribute as much as they can given their unique circumstances. People shirking work so that it falls on others’ shoulders tends to create tension and is discouraged.
Immediacy encapsules the idea of being in the moment. Participants are encouraged to put down their cell phones and focus on what’s happening around them, again with the idea in mind of creating more meaningful experiences and memories.
Immediacy often goes hand-in-hand with the idea of Participation, and helps encourage participants to dive in and try something new in this moment, not in the ethereal future.
Plus One: Consent
Consent is not one of the original ten principles, but many burners include it as an additional key touchstone value. “No means no,” and the absence of no does not mean yes. Consent isn’t permanent and may be withdrawn at any time. Focusing on clearly communicated consent from all involved helps participants ensure that whatever is about to happen is enthusiastically okay with all involved.
In practice, it means going the extra step to make sure everyone explicitly says “yes” to whatever is about to happen and that they’re sober enough to do so – whether it’s something simple like a photo or something more intimate. This extra step is asked of everyone, even if it might potentially “kill the mood.” Killing the mood is viewed as a vastly preferred outcome to something potentially taking place that is not okay with everyone and leaves lasting damage.
With the scene set for what Burning Man is all about, we’ll now move on to some specifics about preparing for the event. First up is thinking about Tickets.