Disaster Creates Compassion

In a scene which resembles Mad Max meets Alice in Wonderland, where you not only have cars studded with steel and shooting flames, but also giant Cheshire Cats with glowing smiles and a 50 foot flower pollinating passers-by roaming the desert, human nature is always at its best at the annual Burning Man Festival.

It’s not unusual for otherwise complete strangers to walk up to a fellow ‘burner’ and offer sunscreen or water or even food if they look to be in need. As a demonstration of this underlying trait, a man once walked into Burning Man with nothing, not even a shirt on his back, and was able to survive a week in the desert solely on the kindness of others. This radical experiment proved what this fifth-year burner has always known –” people care about each other and will help if they can.

It’s a complete gifting society with no commerce and no money exchanged. People just look out for each other in a celebration of not only radical self-expression, but also radical self-reliance. Participation is the key, and spectators are discouraged.

Only one thing outside this crazy life-extravaganza on the Black Rock Desert can bring out the best in human nature: a disaster.

It was while following a 5-foot-mouth-with-protruding-tongue costume that led us to hear about the devastation in New Orleans. We ducked beneath a parachute covered geodesic dome to protect us from the harsh desert sun. A group of people inside were talking. With virtually no communication in or out of Burning Man, we had not yet heard of the tragedy, but the news was quickly spreading by word of mouth.

“Remember New Orleans?” a dust covered, skirt wearing man said to me.


“It’s gone.”

He further explained about the hurricane and the devastation and the mounting casualty rate. The conversation inevitably moved to Global Warming.

While making Internationally Speaking I came across several global citizens who were concerned with Global Warming –” and even more concerned with the US Government’s lack of concern.

We’re going to see more and more abnormal weather and severe storms in the future: from the way Florida was bombarded with hurricanes last year, to the Tsunami tragedy, to the pleasant temperatures in a normally scorching Nevada Desert in August.

Very little Tsunami Aid came from the US –” and what they did give they were embarrassed into giving from less wealthy nations who gave considerably more per capita. What can they now expect in return from our international neighbors?

Yet the goodness of human nature prevails when even 35,000 people camping in the desert managed to set up a spontaneous relief fund with their extra food and money.

In another town with the same population, my home town of Huntsville, TX (known around the globe as Execution Capital of the World due to its 9 prisons and infamous rate of state sponsored killings), my mother busies herself making food for the 1100 displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina residing at local hotels and shelters. Her church, along with many other organizations, has made it top priority to help these people be safe and comfortable. Although my husband and I are still on the road returning from Black Rock City, we look forward to helping in these relief efforts upon arrival. For the first time in our ‘burner’ history, we’ll be returning to a society that is as kind and generous as the one we left back in Nevada.