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Burning Man, Davos, and the Power of One

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You can stop war.

As you read this, more than 40 wars and armed conflicts are underway around the globe. Right now. This moment.

Whatever justification people claim for these wars, the suffering they cause is universal and devastating. The war in Israel and Gaza and the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 are only the most recent examples.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed. "I am only one person," you might be thinking. "I can't make the fighting stop by myself."

But you can. The key is our human network.

That brings me to Burning Man and a surprising connection I made earlier this year with another event half a world away, the World Economic Forum (popularly known as "Davos," for the Swiss town in which its annual congress is held).

I'm sure many of us who attend Burning Man have heard some colorful yet dismissive descriptions of Black Rock City (usually by those who've never been there) as "self-indulgent," "insular," even "frivolous."

So I was fascinated this year to hear the same sort of disparaging descriptions applied to Davos. I wondered how this could be, since the two events are normally viewed as polar opposites.

When I serendipitously met up with other Burners at Davos earlier this year, it highlighted for me the commonalities of focus and activities in both movements.

Burners, sometimes described as dancing hippies in the desert, and Davos attendees, viewed as the world's elite, have both been criticized as detached from reality, with Burning Man as a utopian fantasy lacking solutions for real-world problems, and Davos brushed off as ignoring the plight of the common man. Neither could be further from the truth.

My deepest impressions after participating in both Burning Man and Davos activities over the past few years are the open-mindedness of the people whom I befriended, the striking similarity of humanistic discussions I've held in both communities -- on inequality issues, gender and LGBTQ rights, water issues, the climate change crisis, veganism, and Buddhism -- and shared intentions to contribute our individual talents and influence for the betterment of humanity.

While it's true that the origins of Burning Man and Davos are as different as the scorching summer sand of Black Rock City and the icy winter snow of Davos, there is a definite yin-and-yang quality between the two. As many of us are aware, Burning Man began in 1986 as a grassroots, organic movement, a tiny local neighborhood celebration of the solstice, which gradually grew to the event we know today with some 60,000 participants. On the other side of the world, Davos started in 1971 Europe with key leaders in government, academia, and industry.

What is most important today, however, is that both movements have grown into global networks, and in the process created community groups in which people can focus on specific issues, all aiming to improve the condition of human life on Earth.

The Burning Man movement officially aims to "lift the human spirit, address social problems, and inspire a sense of culture, community and engagement." Similarly, the World Economic Forum focuses on its official conviction that "all issues are solvable if the relevant decision-makers are able to interact with each other." Although their original activities started from opposite directions (bottom up/top down), the current state of both movements is cross-pollination, bringing together those who share the founding spirit of each community across all sectors of society.

Both global communities are collections of smaller communities: Burning Man is a network of like-minded groups whose missions align, branching out to Black Rock Arts Foundation, Black Rock Solar, and Burners Without Borders. The World Economic Forum comprises 38 communities based on a stakeholder concept, including the forum of Young Global Leaders, the Gender Parity Programme, Women's Communities, and Global Faith Leaders.

My experiences with Burning Man and Davos have convinced me that the members of both carry essentially the same spirit to foster peace, culture, and education in our respective nations and local communities.

In other words, I witnessed an active and engaged force for peace, a humanistic movement that will spread around the globe, one person at a time.

Are you "just one person"? Then you are exactly the person this movement needs now.

As we look forward to another Burning Man celebration, I hope all who attend this year (and everyone else who attends in spirit) will consider the world with continually wider hearts and minds, transcending all superficial differences and preconceived notions with ever-growing confidence that our intentions are shared by countless others who may never have heard of Black Rock City. Even Davos is Burning.