Burning Man and Stoicism

When you think Stoicism you don’t think “wild sexy party”, but Burning Man has an ethos of Stoicism that goes deeper than their talk of radical self reliance. It’s not just that you have to rely on yourself at Burning Man for food/water/shelter—the social norms there encourage you to take full control of your own emotional wellbeing.

Here’s a list of things at Burning Man that would be (to lesser or greater degrees) taboo to say:

– Hey can you turn down that music? It’s annoying me.
– Hey can you not dress like that? I don’t like it.
– Hey could you put on clothes? I don’t like looking at your weiner.
– Hey can you not fool around in public? It grosses me out to see that.

(Though this isn’t fully general. If I said, “I’m feeling sad, may I have a hug?” this would be perfectly fine, even encouraged.)

If I had to give a thumbnail definition of Stoicism I’d put it this way:

Stoicism: Hurt feelings, anxiety, stress, and all other emotional worries, should be remedied by *internal* influences.

The reverse of Stoicism doesn’t have a good name, but it does have subscribers.

Anti-Stoicism: Hurt feelings, anxiety, stress, and all other emotional worries, should be remedied by *external* influences.

Different communities diverge on where they think is sane to be along this axis. Burning man encouraged me to experience more Stoicism than I was used to, and I think that was healthy.

I think, in general, more emotional resilience is a good idea to foster for the same reason more physical resilience is a good thing to foster: Things can go bad, and you won’t always have your crutches. But just as you don’t want to ask someone to endure more than they can, e.g., run a marathon before they are ready, you shouldn’t try to ask someone for too much emotional strength too quickly.

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