A Culture of Generosity- what burning man & the internet have in common
I’m blown away. I have been in a phase of spending most of the day everyday glued to my laptop screen navigating the fruitful landscapes of the web. Yes, we all know that there is an overwhelming array of cool content hanging out there in this virtual net in ‘cyberspace’.
What is blowing me away is how much valuable advice and informative gifts everyone is giving away! For a while I was roving around like a greedy bandit gathering a bunch of educational treasure and stashing it my computer and mind. Now I am intentional and discerning in my gathering. Sure, a lot of the free gifts are dangling carrots luring people onto newsletters and hopefully into paying for products and services. But, I am glad to be on these newsletter lists and know about the offerings available to me.
It reminds me quite a bit of the ‘gift culture’ at Burning Man. (for those who don’t know, BM is a huge participatory week long costume party in the Nevada Desert- an experimental visionary artistic explosion with very few rules, one of them being not to sell things, only barter and gifts)
It takes a while getting used to, having people giving to you without expecting money. Giving affirms that you are abundant and sets goodwill in motion, which does come back to you. It is really profound to free ourselves from the paper chase and cultivate another kind of economy, based on a creative currency. Innovation, Information and Inspiration become a valuable currency, in the desert, on the web, and in the world that we are building.
The generosity factor is taking the Competition to Cooperation equation one step further. Yes, we need to be less divisive and competitive and learn to cooperate with each other more. Cooperation is something that can (and should be) taught in schools and workshops. There is another level beyond this though. A level at where you recognize interconnectedness and interdependence as more real and more important than your personal identity or agenda. When you see personal success and happiness is tied into community and collective success, you have an inherent motivation to contribute to others. Generosity is a natural extension for someone who understands Oneness on an experiential level.
In fact the measure of a great person in many tribal societies is one who is the most generous, and one who leaves a legacy. At Burning Man I see people pour thousands of dollars, and countless hours of visioning and hard work into their theme camp, an art car, a fire opera, a sound stage, etc… This is not an investment that gives back to them in a tangible sense, and so from a business perspective it makes no sense. But since our culture has strayed very far from the model of giveaway and leaving a legacy of generosity, I think it is healing and transformative for people to invest so much into a gift and then give it to an appreciative community. Many go so far as to allow their thousands of dollars and months of work to go up into flames, as a part of the ritual of the offering.
That reminds me of the tradition of Tibetan sand painting where monks make these incredibly intricate, elaborately beautiful paintings out of colored sand, only to scatter them to the winds as an offering to impermanence. Some see impermanence as a reason to despair, consume, and basically take all that they can get. Others see it as the reason to get busy giving the gift that you came to this world to give.
“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” — Winston Churchill
In this incredible time, life’s banquet tables offer us a taste of anything and everything. May we sample the fruits of others with gratitude. May we concoct our own masterpiece to bring to the potluck. (after all, it isn’t a dinner party in our honor, it is a potluck in everyone’s honor) The world is full of abundant tables and empty tables and full nets of the mind and empty canvases. My wish is that you find a fit place to offer your gifts, to live your calling with generosity, and to leave a legacy.