There are moments in life when you discover things about yourself.
Back in the day, I was the theme camp organizer for a lovely group of people at Burning Man (More Carrot, or the Carrots. we were), and we brought a farmers market gifting fresh produce to people at the event, though that detail isn’t particularly relevant to this story.
As the event was coming to a close and we were starting our pack-down process, we woke one morning to discover someone had pooped in our camp near one of our trucks. I needn’t go into any detail about how incredibly uncool, undesired and un-“leave no trace,” un-burner and un-fun this discovery was.
What was “cool” was that in whatever state of mess The Pooper had been in he had also dropped or left his phone while he did the doing of the poo-ing, and so we had ourselves an interesting situation. We had a phone to return, we had some poo that needed picking up, and we had a possibility of it all happening at one time.
We discussed the situation and how to handle it, then someone in our camp contacted the phone owner–how, I don’t recall, but they got a message to him to come pick up his phone, though they intentionally did not mention the pile-o-poo.
When the guy came to get his phone, I was the one who spoke to him.
He was my age, ish. Bare in clothing except for a pair of shorts, boots and socks, goggles and a dust mask. I was not in a mood to be pleasant. Holding his phone in my hand, I said to him, “You dropped your phone when you took a sh*t right there,” pointing to the poo. “And you’ll get it back when you pick it up. Here’s a bag and a piece of cardboard. You need to take both with you when you leave.”
He became belligerent. And I didn’t back down. He said he hadn’t pooped by our truck. I told him his phone had been found just a foot from the poo. He argued with me, telling me it was his phone and I needed to give it back to him, but he wasn’t responsible for the poop. I told him he’d get his phone when the poo–his poo–was in the plastic bag I was offering him. (It was, alas, a clear plastic bag…that’s what we had available.)
He was nasty, aggressive, belligerent, yet with every attempt to cow me he only made me more determined. I was protecting my camp, my people. I wasn’t going to make any of them pick up someone else’s poop when the dispenser of the poo was standing in front of me, clearly guilty by his response and resistance.
My heart was racing, my adrenaline was high, my determination even higher.
Yes, eventually, he picked it up and bagged it. Yes, of course, we gave him his phone. And, yes, after he left and I decompressed with some of our camp members, my heart rate eventually returned to normal.
I remember that experience (beyond just the absurdity of it all) as a moment where the integrity and protection of our tribe–our precious group–was paramount, where our space–our little bit of land, of playa–was sacred to us and not to be defiled, where our home was special and lovingly created and cared for by our camp, and that was worthy of being protected.
And I remember how safe I felt–even in the face of this man’s anger and belligerence–because I knew everyone at camp at that time was aware of what was going on, whether they were standing right behind me, as some were, or were merely in the camp and aware this confrontation was coming up.
It might have been “easier” (less confrontational, for sure) to “just deal with it” and clean up the poop– and we certainly would have had to do so had he not dropped his phone, but he had. He had dropped his phone! He had made it possible to find him among the 70,000 or so people at the event. And he had made it possible to make him accountable for his own actions. Principles were at stake, and for as many times as I have bent myself to make someone else’s life easier (the Unhealed Empath I was for the first near six decades of my life), I knew at that moment it was more important to take a stand for my tribe and to take a stand for the 10 Burning Man Principles them than to make someone else’s experience easier.
And I hope we’re all the better for it: me, my camp members who stood by my side and supported me and, frankly, for the depositor of the poo, as well.