gifting

In a Manner of Gifting // Ilse Kauffeld

Midburn is devoted to acts of gift giving.
The value of a gift is unconditional.
Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
(The Ten Principles, Midburn)

The manner of giving is worth more than the gift

Compared to other large festivals, one of the most unique features of Midburn is its gifting economy. Besides ice, nothing is for sale. All Midburn participants give everything else freely as gifts. When you are walking around the city, you might receive: a free hug, a neck massage; a polaroid picture of you taken by a professional photographer; a pancake breakfast or a delicious fruit salad; a pair of vintage sunglasses; comfortable flip-flops, a beautiful flower crown or a shiny necklace. Perhaps you will be offered a yoga lesson at sunset, an African dance lesson by an experienced dancer or a ritual cleansing.

The culture of generosity that defines Midburn doesn’t simply appear out of thin air. Participants are urged to follow The Ten Principles, a code of conduct that includes gifting, communal effort, radical inclusion and participation. These guidelines are published front and center in the festival program, and often pop up in conversations in the city. It is impossible to ignore them.

Giving opens the way for receiving

Eliminating money from social interactions could be a key contributor to the spirit of generosity that permeates the Midburn atmosphere. An influential set of studies showed that even just thinking about money makes people less likely to help or spend time with others. It seems that being around money brings out the worst in humans.

Since nothing is for sale at Midburn, this means that virtually all human interactions take place in social markets, where sharing and caring rule the day. The highly visible constant stream of gift-giving not only reassures you that others are cooperating, but also motivates you to pay these favors forward, an action known as generalized reciprocity. The social structure of Midburn, where everyone must work together to stay safe in the harsh desert and ‘leave no trace’ environmentally, and where people are organized into small camps, provides the optimal conditions for generalized reciprocity to take hold.

How will you fulfill the principle of gifting at this year’s Midburn?

The willingness to share does not make one charitable; it makes one free.

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