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10 Philosophical Principles Centred Around Burning Man We Could Learn From

Burning Man festival in California.

Now In its 30th year, August 28th – September 5th 2016 sees Burning Man returning to North-East of Nevada, Black Rock city. An idea started by a group of radical pranksters in San Francisco, the very first Burning Man in 1986 held just 35 attendees. Today, the annual arts and community festival draws a crowd of more than 70,000 people from all walks of life around the world.

In 2004, the co-founder of Burning Man, Larry Harvey, crafted 10 interesting and philosophical principles that define the community’s ethos and culture.

The experience is almost impossible to describe but the principles remain the same, developing an endless culture of possibility, creativity and self-expression.

Radical inclusion

What can we learn from this? 

Anyone can be a part of the Burning Man family. This principle is based on the premise of welcoming and respecting the stranger. So next time you’re out somewhere and you spot a stranger on their own, be mindful of your presence and include them in your conversation/group. 

A group of people standing in front of a sign that says Burning Man.


What can we learn from this? 

Burning Man dedicates itself to acts of gift giving. It does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value, meaning you should give things freely and not expect anything in return. Many patrons are urged to bring small presents for people they encounter throughout the festival. 


What can we learn from this? 

To preserve the spirit of gifting, the Burning Man community seeks to create social environments that are free from commercialism i.e sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. Most of the bars within the festival are free and the only thing available for purchase is ice and unbranded coffee. In this day and age, it’s almost impossible for anything to have zero marketing, endorsements, branding etc so call it what you like but to us, this feels like a detox from globalisation. 

The sky at Burning Man is cloudy.

Radical self-reliance

What can we learn from this? 

This principle encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources. It focuses on your own powers and the ability to trust and rely on yourself rather than others. 

Burning Man 2015

Radical self-expression

What can we learn from this? 

Arises from the unique gifts of the individual. Only you can determine what to express to others. This principle is all about passion, creativity and becoming involved. It’s also about the freedom you have to express who you are as a person. 

Burning Man

Communal effort

What can we learn from this? 

At Burning Man, many individuals value creative cooperation and collaboration. It strives to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication. If Burning Man has taught us anything, it’s the importance of being a part of a greater community. 

A group of people standing in the desert near a large airship at Burning Man.

Civic responsibility

What can we learn from this? 

Community members must assume responsibility for their own welfare and endeavor to communicate common responsibilities to participants. In short, Citizens of Burning Man must comply with local, state and federal laws and have a responsibility to look after themselves and each other. 

Burning Man festival in California.

Leave no trace

What can we learn from this? 

It’s all about respecting the environment. The community will leave no physical trace of whatever they gather. They will clean up after themselves and hopefully leave the place in a better state than they found it in. Hence, no rubbish bins anywhere in sight. 


What can we learn from this? 

Is on the belief that transformative change can only occur through the medium of deeply personal participation achieved by doing. Everyone is invited to work, to play and to open their heart. It’s like anything in life – if you just sit by the sidelines and do nothing, not much happens. Get out there and immerse yourself in awe-inspiring experiences. 

Two men jumping in the air at Burning Man.


What can we learn from this? 

This is the most important touchstone of value in culture and probably the most difficult principle to understand. The Burning Man community seeks to overcome barriers that may stand between the individual and their inner selves. This is all about the quality of the experience itself. It’s how you participate in society, how you make contact with others and understanding what stands between you and your inner being. 

Watch this beautiful video of Burning Man from 2015 below…