Politics, Burning Man & Gifting

Originally printed in Bliss Babe Magazine

As exciting as it may be to live in a democracy, few things can dim one’s spirit like an election cycle. The news is filled with fear, water cooler convo’s regurgitate angry soundbites, and online comments reek of righteous indignation.

It brings out the worst in people. It forces us to pick teams and magnifies our differences. Amidst all the anger and divisiveness, it can feel like the world is beyond repair.

But when I calm down, I remember that my job is not to fix the darkness in the world. My job is to shine my light.

This can feel like a selfish pursuit, but I promise, it is not. Read on.

I had a transformative experiences 18 years ago when I first attended Burning Man. I experienced a Gift Economy where people freely give things to one another — not because they will get something in return, but because it feels good to make someone else happy. (This is different from “barter” where goods and services are still exchanged in same traditional transaction format of our monetary commerce system.) Over the years, Gifting at Burning Man became a deep passion and a profound part of who I am.

But one week of rose-colored glasses isn’t enough to tint your worldview for the entire year. You need to look for opportunities to Gift everywhere.

That is why I started looking for ways to Gift year-round.

Everything changed when I started seeing everyone around me as an opportunity to make myself happier. How? By making *them* happier. Even in tiny ways: Holding a door open, being a good listener, or giving a dollar to the person in front of me at the store who couldn’t afford their second item.

These tiny acts of kindness have rippling events. Not only to they change the way you see yourself in the world, but they transform the worldview of everyone who witnessed it. The person you helped now knows that there are open-hearted people in the world. The other people waiting in line now have an example — a role model saying it is okay to be kind.

And often this is what the world needs. Simply permission to be the kind and giving people we want to be. This is why those “pay-it forward” chains continue for so long at Starbucks. When people pay for coffee for the person behind them. People *want* to be better…but they also don’t want to be suckers. They don’t want to be taken advantage of.

But I would argue that it is impossible to be taken advantage of. Even if your kind act does not set off a chain of ripples, it still confirms that YOU ARE AN AGENT OF LOVE. It is who you are in the world. And when you act in this way, you start to attract kind and loving people into your life. When you start to see yourself as a helper…as one who gifts…you can’t help but act differently in the world. You will do kind acts because it makes you feel better. And as you act selfishly, the ripples of your actions will make the world a better place.

Best of all, when you can see your fellow humans from this perspective, it doesn’t matter what their political views are. There is no “us” and “them.” Just millions of opportunities to make yourself happier.

So as the election season (thankfully) comes to a close, remember that a daily campaign of kindness is the real winning ticket.

I’m John Halcyon Styn and I approve this message.

This article originally appeared in Bliss Babe magazine.
Photos by Eric Schwabel.

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