The Problem With Burning Man–And a Solution

Mind-blowing art installations. An inspiring culture of creativity and love and colorful self-expression. A sharing economy free of bureaucracy and discrimination. Endless partying and opportunities for psychedelic experiences and sexual exploration. A body-positive environment where clothes are optional but you’re not sexualized unless you want to be. Intimacy with strangers and all the hugging, cuddling, and oxytocin you could imagine. Breathtaking desert sunrises and dust storms that awaken your primal survival instincts. Hundreds of workshops on topics ranging from sexual kinks to transcendental meditation. A tribal experience burning a symbol of evil and corruption and everything that is wrong with the world.

All of this—the culture of Burning Man— resonates with my own personal values. The experience has become wildly popular because it addresses serious problems we all face in modern life—isolation, monotony, conformity, consumerism, disconnection from nature. Most of my closest friends in San Francisco have spent months preparing for the week-long event that starts next week. They tell me it’s a life-changing experience that nothing else will ever come close to.

But I’m not going this year, and I don’t plan on going anytime soon.
Why not? The obvious reason is that I can’t afford it. After ticket costs, camp fees, transportation, and preparation expenses, it would cost me at least $2,000, which is way out of my vacation budget.

But even if I could afford to throw $2,000 at a one week vacation, I don’t think I would go. Here are some major problems I see with the whole festival:

1. It’s terrible for the Earth.
The Black Rock Desert is an inhospitable environment that is not fit for human habitation. I don’t know of any way to pack in all your own water, prepared food, and power supply (you HAVE to have air conditioning in the orgy tent!) without excessive amounts of plastic packaging and fossil fuels. On top of that, you have to buy all sorts of camping supplies that you’ll never be able to use again once they’ve been destroyed by playa dust.

I’m not sure how the eco-conscious hippies justify all the unnecessary waste and pollution, or how they sustain their serotonin-depleted bodies for an entire WEEK on cliff bars and freeze-dried dinners.

2. Talk about PRIVILEGE!
The culture of Burning Man preaches an all-inclusive philosophy that shares the love with people from every race, religion, and sexual orientation. Nobody talks about the minor exception made for everyone without $2,000+ and a week of vacation time to throw away, oh and you have to know the right people to get those elusive tickets and you need to find friends you can camp with who you’ll also have to trust to save you from a bad acid trip, and good luck finding a ride out to the middle of nowhere for you + 14 gallons of water.
If that’s not a way to discriminate against the under-privileged then I don’t know what is. I’d rather spend my time spreading messages of love and enlightenment to communities who don’t already have it all, contributing art and giving back to people who really need it. I’d rather cultivate intimacy with strangers who don’t have everything in common with me and put my energy into strengthening the relationships that surround me in my everyday life.

3. It doesn’t last.
Burners go through months of arduous preparation all for one week in a utopian city where they can escape the suffocating torture of the corporate grind and feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. At some point during the week, they reach an epiphany about the oneness in everyone, recognizing isolation and greed and bureaucracy as the source of all the hurt in the world. They undergo a spiritual transformation as they burn the effigy of evil, and then promptly go back to their fluorescent-lit cubicles where they ignore their feelings and sell consumerism so they can climb the corporate ladder and buy themselves the newest luxuries to stave off the existential dread. Maybe the burning man inspires you to quit your job or start having kinkier sex, but you still revert back to avoiding eye contact with strangers, paying your taxes, and bickering with your significant other.
If so many people share these values, why can’t we use them to build a community that lasts? Why does it have to be a temporary experience that disappears after a week and forces you to return to a life filled with everything you hate? Why not devote our energy to creating a real solution to the isolation and monotony of modern life?

It would make a lot more sense to find a place in nature that’s more hospitable to humans and build a permanent enlightened community. That way we don’t have to destroy the environment in the process and we can make it accessible to people of all socioeconomic classes who share our values.

I know of numerous living spaces in the Bay Area that are attempting to create more permanent intentional communities based on these values. Some of them are very successful, but they’re missing out on the crucial factors of being close to nature and requiring primal survival skills (aside from being extremely overpriced). I’ve done some research online and even traveled to visit several communities around the country with no luck finding what I’m looking for.

This is what I imagine: A modern village surrounded by nature that is largely self-sustaining. There are minimalist private living spaces and large central areas for recreation and communal activities. As soon as you walk out your front door, you’ll see children playing in green spaces and spontaneously bump into your neighbors, who will also be your friends. Everyone must embrace shared values of radical honesty, nonviolent communication, and authentic self-expression. There is a culture of contagious creativity that welcomes nudity, polyamory, and psychedelic experiences. The community is full of music and sports and dancing and all sorts of activities so you don’t need to drive anywhere to find entertainment. There are people of all ages who participate in raising the children and sharing any skills they can contribute so that no one is left isolated or in need. I want it to be a safe, private place away from the pollution and stress of city life, but still within a short drive of an urban center and well-connected to the outside world through technology. Residents could work remotely or survive on a small budget since expenses would be low and most needs would be met internally.

My gut tells me that my vision is too idealistic to ever become a reality. There are too many complicated details, and if such a thing were possible then it would already exist. But the growing popularity of Burning Man and other festivals gives me hope. Clearly, people are starting to see the problems with modern American life. That’s why thousands of burners spend months in preparation just for the chance to escape it all for a week and experience the way humans are meant to live. If we could redirect even a fraction of that energy towards building a lasting solution to our problems, then we could make SO much progress. We could demonstrate that it’s possible to live in peaceful communities that fulfill each others’ needs and treat the environment with respect.

My goal is to settle down in a village like the one I described within the next 5 years. Instead of going to Burning Man, I’m going to devote my time and energy towards finding or building a community that will last.

The problem is, I have no clue where to start. Do you know of any places I can find what I’m looking for? Any ideas for how to make it happen? Would you be interested in joining me?

Why I Practice Polyamory

Yesterday I posted an article on Facebook that generated a heated debate about polyamory. Instead of responding to the comments individually, I decided it would be more worthwhile to express my thoughts in a blog post.


I was raised to believe that I would save myself for marriage and spend the rest of my life sharing intimacy with one person. After several years of philosophical exploration, deep introspection, and monogamous relationships, I’ve radically changed my perspective.

Even though I’ve been attracted to the concept of polyamory for almost 2 years, only recently have I begun to practice it actively. I’ve been afraid to discuss it in public because it’s so widely misunderstood, but I’m ready to change that.

I’ll start with a disclaimer that I’m only speaking for myself here. People practice polyamory in many different ways; I’m going to talk about the way I see it personally. The lifestyle doesn’t work for everyone, and I’m not trying to convince you to adopt it. I have huge respect for monogamous couples who stick together through hard times with a healthy relationship. I just want you to understand and respect my behavior, and to be aware that monogamy is not the only option for fulfilling relationships. I want to break the taboo and encourage acceptance for non-monogamous lifestyles.

Polyamory comes from the roots poly ‘many’ + amor ‘love.’ It’s about loving more than one person. For me, it means I’m open to maintaining romantic relationships with multiple people at any given time. It’s not about casual sex or threesomes or cheating or lack of commitment. I seek emotionally and physically intimate relationships with some level of commitment, where everyone involved consents to non-exclusivity. Sometimes my partners know each other, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes there’s sex, sometimes there isn’t. There is always an emotional connection, clear communication, and mutual respect.

Many poly people have a “primary” partner who takes priority over other relationships. They might get married or have kids, staying committed as partners and parents while simultaneously having other romantic relationships with full knowledge of everyone involved. I don’t have a primary partner at the moment, but I foresee this model of polyamory working best for me. I would eventually like to settle down with someone and have children, giving them as much attention as they need while maintaining my freedom to pursue other relationships.

For me, independence is the greatest benefit of this lifestyle. I don’t want anyone to own me or control my actions. I don’t need someone to complete me or be my “better half.” I’m a fully autonomous individual who can make my own decisions about whom I spend my time with. I can have friendships with all types of people without anyone worrying about what goes on.

Polyamory puts less pressure on my relationships because I don’t expect any one person to meet all my needs. When I was monogamous, I tried to find “the one” who would perfectly connect with all my passions—music, hiking, philosophy, languages, traveling, writing, entrepreneurship, nutrition, psychology—all while having unique interests of his own that he could teach me about. Not only is it unrealistic to expect one person to fulfill all my social, intellectual, emotional, and sexual needs, but it burdens the relationship with impossible expectations. I can appreciate the ways we do connect and accept our differences where we don’t. I can enjoy a strong intellectual connection with one partner and obsess about music with another. I have high standards for emotional awareness and intellectual compatibility in all my partners, but I never expect them to be perfect.

There are certainly plenty of downsides to polyamory. It takes incredible emotional maturity and communication to make it work. It’s not easy to manage my time, devoting enough attention to the people I care about while setting aside time for myself. Sometimes I feel jealousy. Just like other painful emotions, I embrace it, explore it, and use it to grow. There is still heartbreak, betrayal, and unrequited love—polyamory doesn’t solve all the problems. Neither does monogamy. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve decided it’s the best path for me.

Pop culture leads us to believe that love is a zero-sum game. You have a fixed amount of love, and whatever you give to one person means that much less for anyone else. But when I actually gave it a chance, I realized that my heart doesn’t work like that. The more love I give, the more I have to give. I’ve expanded my capacity for empathy and connection, and I have a greater depth of feeling for myself and everyone I care about.

I hope this gives you insight into why I’ve chosen polyamory, and why monogamy doesn’t work for everyone. Please comment or reach out to me if you have questions.

You can check out these resources if you’re interested in learning more:

  • Sex at Dawn: A scientific perspective on the evolutionary psychology of monogamy and polyamory.
  • Polyamory Diaries: Personal stories about a polyamorous lifestyle.
  • Kimchee Cuddles: Thought-provoking comics about polyamory.
  • More than Two: A broad resource for all the questions you have.

6 Secrets to Cultivating Fulfilling Relationships

In an age where most people have hundreds, if not thousands, of “friends” on social media, it’s a wonder that we have so few meaningful relationships that truly fulfill our social needs. In recent years, social isolation has become such a big problem that health experts now recognize loneliness as the number one risk factor for disease.

It takes work to turn casual friendships into fulfilling relationships. Here are some tips that can help you get there.

1. Spend quality time alone.

While this might sound counterintuitive, you need to have a good relationship with yourself before you can connect with other people. Make time daily to introspect and get in touch with your feelings. Meditation and journaling can help with this. A simple practice like writing a note at the end of every day putting words to your feelings and exploring what happened to cause them can do wonders for your self-awareness. When you do this regularly, you won’t feel so desperate to rant to someone about your stressful day. Instead, you’ll feel more grounded and open to hearing out a friend or connecting over things that really matter.

2. Live in the moment.

You already know that it’s rude to use your phone while spending time with friends, but you probably do it anyway when you run out of things to talk about. Challenge yourself to resist that urge and enjoy the moment of silence. It won’t be awkward until you make it. Use the pause to reflect on the other person’s experience and ask them about their current life situation or their feelings about the future.

Even when we are engaged in conversation, it’s easy to let our minds run away and start comparing this person to that other friend who’s so much more interesting and doesn’t smack their lips together when they talk. When you notice this happening, gently bring your mind back to the present moment and pay attention to the details, listen for the inflection in their voice, look for the gaps they’re leaving in the story because they don’t think you care.

3. Figure out how they work.

It’s fascinating to discover how much we all have in common, but it’s just as important to understand what makes people different. I’m constantly surprised by the ways other people describe the worlds inside their head. Make an effort to ask good questions so you can figure out what motivates them, what they’re struggling with, and what influences that shaped them. The Enneagram of Personality is an amazing tool for understanding the fears and motivations of close friends and revealing how they differ from your own.

4. Don’t try to change them.

Can you remember a time when a friend or family member tried to pressure you into doing something they knew would be good for you? Maybe they sent you articles about why you need to start meditating, or bought you a book about how to quit smoking. Chances are, it didn’t work. You probably felt some resentment towards them. That’s because when someone pressures us so strongly, we get the feeling that they need us to change. That they can’t accept us the way we are. Even if it’s something as obviously beneficial as eating healthy or quitting smoking, it feels like they don’t really care about our best interest.

You never want to be that person. Maybe you’re embarrassed that your partner is overweight, so you subtly suggest going on a diet. The problem here is that your own happiness depends on the actions of another person. It’s absurd to expect your partner to change themselves just to make you happy, all the while pretending that they need it for their own good.

The only way to sustain a fulfilling relationship is to accept them as they are. If that’s not good enough for you, then you don’t have to be friends. If they’re engaging in a behavior that seems unhealthy, the first step is to recognize that they have their reasons for doing it. Once you’ve established respect for their decision, you should ask them with genuine curiosity why they are doing it. Maybe they’ll tell you they’ve evaluated the costs and benefits and decided that they prefer the pleasure they gain from smoking. Or maybe they’ll admit that this is something they struggle with, and they would love if you could provide accountability while they’re quitting. Whenever they do give up bad habits and improve their lives, you can share their joy without attaching it to your identity.

5. Don’t rely on one relationship to fulfill your needs.

So many monogamous relationships fail when the partners isolate themselves from all their friends and expect each other to fulfill their entire range of social needs–from intimacy to adventure to emotional support and intellectual stimulation. There’s no one human being who can connect with you on every single level like that. Those unrealistic expectations will put a strain on any friendship or romantic relationship. That’s why we need multiple close friends who we can connect with in different ways. If there’s someone who loves to go rock climbing with you but can’t hold a conversation about your favorite books, that’s okay—go make friends with another book nerd. Focus on the ways you do connect and make the most of those.

6. Be vulnerable.

Vulnerability can be terrifying. You’ve been wounded in the past, so you’ve built up defenses to protect yourself. But those same walls that keep you safe will shield you from the love and intimacy you crave. You can be cautious about it, but you have to let them down if you want to truly connect.

When you reveal your fears, struggles, and weaknesses to someone you trust, you will feel a sense of belonging, knowing that they accept you for who you are. It encourages them to reciprocate and unveil their own secrets that they’ve kept inside.

It takes incredible courage to be this authentic. There are no guarantees that you won’t get hurt. But you will open yourself up to the most fulfilling source of love and closeness.

Speed Reading

When everyone around me is checking book after book off their reading list, I start to wonder if I really should take Tim Ferris’s advice about learning speed reading skills. I could get through so many books, and it would be so impressive. Imagine how smart I would get if I could finish 2-3 books a week!

Sometimes I find myself inadvertently employing some of those methods—skimming paragraphs, taking note only of the main ideas. Some books aren’t worth any more attention than this. But what I’ve realized is that the books I love deserve so much more. The best writers hide their treasures within unexpected imagery and clever wording. If you don’t take the time to unpack each sentence, then you’re missing the best part.

As I read Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, I can’t help but marvel at the depth to which her writing draws me in. If I start to read too quickly, a phrase or image will jump out and make me pause, then reread the last paragraph to find what I’ve missed.

Her words are so thick I can almost chew them. They’re so rich that I have to run my tongue over them, tasting all the subtle flavors. And they nourish me, filling up my hollow insides, giving me strength through their beauty.

To give you an example, her narrative on dealing with grief is especially poignant:

The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it, like a nicotine craving, I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away. After a while it was like an inside shower, washing off some of the rust and calcification in my pipes. It was like giving a dry garden a good watering. Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit.

I’m pretty sure that it is only by experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way that we come to be healed—which is to say that we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace.

While I disagree with some of the conclusions she draws in the book, her writing awakens something inside me that leaves me craving more and inspires me to try to reach others in at least a glimmer of the way she has touched me. If you want to open yourself up to this transforming art, then you have to slow down and pay attention to more than the plot line. For books like this, speed reading will ruin your experience in the same way that rushing through life will sap the joy you can gain by living in the moment.

Don’t succumb to the pressure to read faster. It’s not about the number of books you can put on your list. Instead, read deeper. Make sure you’re getting the most out of everything. If it’s a flavorless, slimy book on marketing that you just HAVE to read if you ever want to succeed in your career, then plug your nose and gulp it down like the medicine that it is. Otherwise, throw that book out the window and go find yourself some true nourishment.

How Praxis Changed My Life

I remember coming home from the career fair in tears. The room had been full of sleek HR reps looking for students with all the majors that couldn’t be farther from my own fluffy Liberal Arts degree: Engineering, Finance, Chemistry. Some of them almost laughed when I handed them my resume with feigned confidence. The only people who showed any interest were the insurance companies and telemarketing farms.

I was a failure, doomed to sell my soul and answer insurance claims for the rest of my life. Sure, I was good at writing research papers and winning grants from dead rich people, but what good was that in the real world? I wanted to do something important that would make a difference, yet I had no idea where to even start.

A few weeks later, I attended a very different event. A friend of mine dragged me out of bed on a Saturday morning to attend the Students for Liberty regional conference at Duquesne University. I reluctantly went along, skeptical that anything good could come of it.

After listening to a lineup of doomsayers preaching about the futility of politics and the coming collapse of the economy, a speaker came up with a different tune. It was Isaac Morehouse, giving a talk about how entrepreneurship can change the world. He explained that we can have hope for the future if we look at what has been effective in the past—namely, technologies that connect people and let them experience freedom without engaging in debate.

He spoke about a business he was starting called Praxis, which offered a program for young people seeking to create an entrepreneurial career. The idea was to fill the disconnect between hardworking, ambitious young people with no connections in the workforce and startups starved for fresh talent. He believed that young people needed to get experience working in real jobs before they could have any idea what they wanted to do with their life. College was about as effective for career preparation as reading a book about bike riding would be for learning to ride a bike. And there was nothing shameful about changing course when you realized you were on the wrong path. You didn’t have to surrender your life to a soul-sucking corporation. You could design the life you wanted to live by viewing yourself as a startup and creating a job for yourself.

At the time, these ideas contradicted nearly every piece of career advice I had ever gotten. But they resonated with something deep inside of me and ignited a spark of hope about my future. They revealed a path where I was in the driver’s seat instead of sitting on a conveyor belt.

At that point, Praxis had not even launched their first class. Nonetheless, I followed my gut and applied. Then despite discouragement from family and friends, I decided to begin the program as soon as I graduated from college.

I started the program in June 2014 still lost and confused about how to design a fulfilling career for myself, but hopeful and determined to figure it out. 12 months later, I completed Praxis with new life goals and a clearer path to get there, as well as the tools and confidence to handle whatever challenges life throws at me along the way.

Over the course of the program, I learned that surrounding yourself with people who inspire you can transform your life. I learned that I never want to be the smartest person in the room. I learned that it’s okay to change your mind and admit you were wrong, even about the most fundamental beliefs—and that I only want to be around people who will embrace that change. I learned that sometimes the most effective way to change the world is to become the truest, most fully alive person you can be and wait for others to follow your lead. I learned that life without creativity is meaningless, because we might as well be robots. I learned to accept the fact that there will always be people who criticize me and dislike me, so I might as well speak my truth without shame. And I learned that I must never stop learning for as long as I live.

I still have plenty of doubts and fears about my future, but unlike before, I now fully believe that I am capable of creating the life I want to live and making a difference in the world. I understand that the change must start with myself, so I am committing myself to a series of personal development projects to develop my creativity as well as pursuing some daunting challenges through my work.

Thankfully, I’m not doing this alone. For the first time in my life, I truly belong to a community of passionate young people and mentors who are embarking on similar journeys. I can feel the contagious energy as each person becomes more alive and more true to their self, lifting others up with them as they climb, and I realize that this is what the world needs more than anything else.

Land

I like thinking about each person’s life like a plot of land. At birth, we’re given a certain amount of land of a certain terrain. Then it’s up to us to do what we want with it.

Before you build anything on your land, you need to explore it–to figure out what type of soil you have to work with, what defines the landscape. Even if it’s not optimal, you can cultivate the land.

Then, when you’re ready, you can build something. You can construct a humble abode, or you can make something tall enough to inspire those in the land surrounding you. You can even build something that will shed light on the surrounding land, helping others to explore the dark regions of their land that lie in the shadows.

Anne Lamott has some similar ideas:

Every single one of us at birth is given an emotional acre all our own. You get one, your awful Uncle Phil gets one, I get one, Tricia Nixon gets one, everyone gets one. And as long as you don’t hurt anyone, you really get to do with your acre as you please. You can plant fruit trees or flowers or alphabetized rows of vegetables, or nothing at all. If you want your acre to look like a giant garage sale, or an auto-wrecking yard, that’s what you get to do with it. There’s a fence around your acre, though, with a gate, and if people keep coming onto your land and sliming it or trying to get you to do what they thing is right, you get to ask them to leave. And they have to go, because this is your acre.

Being Normal

“You’re not normal.”

Has anyone ever used those words to hurt you?

My high school experience was basically 3 straight years of this insult being shoveled onto me until I was buried so deep that I could barely see the light. It took me a long time to realize that I should actually be taking those words as a compliment.

Unlike many of my classmates, who could magically conform to whatever absurd fashions were trending at the time, I couldn’t seem to do it—even when I tried. I thought something was wrong with me, and I hated myself for it. Being different meant being a loner, and I thought I would never be successful until I learned how to fit in.

The education system rewards this type of conformity. You succeed in school when you follow the rules to a T and never dare to question authority.

But the real world doesn’t work like that. Especially as machines take over automated tasks and humans are left with the creative work, success awaits those who are able to break the mold and be brazenly different. You can’t change the world unless you’re willing to stand out from the crowd.

Don’t ever try to be normal. Figure out where you’re different, and then cultivate that area. Be proud of it.

Dreams

Last night I dreamt that I was walking down a staircase that led me deep under the earth. The air down there was barely breathable, but I couldn’t turn around. I told my companion that I was suffocating and he didn’t hear me. When I finally realized that I was stuck in a dungeon with no way out and I couldn’t breathe, I awoke.

After some lengthy analysis of this and earlier parts of the same dream, I realized that the dream was telling me something: I’ve been pursuing too many conversations where my voice is not heard, where I’m traveling down a tunnel with no way out. Unlike conversations that let you explore new ideas without fear of judgment, these discussions turn into debates where everything I say is used against me, and my opinions don’t really matter. That’s what it feels like when you get defensive about a position you hold, and you argue for it with all your might, but you know it’s never going to get you anywhere.

The dream helped me understand a part of my life that I wasn’t paying attention to.

Your subconscious knows more than you do. Sometimes the only way it can reach your conscious mind is through your dreams. It’s easy to dismiss them as trivial, but if you take the time to analyze them, then they can reveal powerful connections in your life and point out things that you would never be able to understand.

Pay attention to them. Write them down. Unlock the power of your subconscious mind.

Dreams are the deepest messages of our soul, but expressed in symbolic code.

– Daniel Mackler

Wander

I like to wander. I like to take untrodden or forbidden paths to explore new territory, where the travel is an end in itself, not the means of getting to a destination. If I come to a fork in the road, I can choose the most appealing path without worrying where it will end up or whether I will get lost. When you go places you’ve never been before, you open up your mind and realize that what you know is only the tiniest sliver of everything that’s out there.

My mind likes to wander too. To explore forbidden or eccentric ideas and see where they take me. To let curiosity guide me down unfamiliar trails where there is no end in sight. That’s where the best discoveries happen—you stumble upon them when you’re least expecting them. You don’t have a particular end in mind or a problem to solve, you just let your mind play around.

This type of exploration makes for the best conversation. You can voice the thoughts that pop into your head without evaluating them for appropriateness or fearing judgment, because you’re merely exploring the thought with another person. There’s no such thing as a wrong turn, because you’re not in a hurry and you can always circle back. You can follow the tangents and see where they lead you. Because you never know when you’ll come out of the woods to a stunning overlook of the world beneath you, where all the muddled pathways are laid clear.

Stop Being So Polite

Whenever I’m expressing heartfelt thanks to you, I don’t want you to tell me it was “no big deal”—not if it was a big deal for you to help me.

Whenever I’m genuinely apologizing to you for something hurtful, don’t tell me not to worry about it.

Whenever I give you a compliment, don’t thank me for my “kind words” or tell me you “feel flattered.” If what I express is genuine, then I’m not saying it out of kindness or flattery—I’m saying it out of honesty.

Whenever I’m confiding in you about something that’s upsetting me, don’t tell me that it’s nothing to worry about, even if it’s the most trivial thing in the world. Don’t tell me that you’re “sorry to hear that” either, just because that’s what you’re supposed to say.

If you’re going to do nothing but regurgitate pre-programmed responses, then I might as well be talking to a robot.

I want to know how you really feel about it. Tell me that you’re glad I noticed how much work you put into something. Let me know that you felt warm and fuzzy when I told you that. If you felt hurt or sad, express that too. If you forgive me for having hurt you, then let me know. If you’re unable to forgive me because you think I’ll hurt you again, tell me that too. You can even tell me that you’re at a loss for words.

All of the above responses have one thing in common: they dismiss my emotions, treating them as misguided and insignificant. The thing is, there’s no such thing as a wrong emotion. All genuine feelings flow naturally from events and causes. While they can be expressed in unhealthy ways, on their own there is nothing wrong with them. Dismissing them doesn’t make them go away, either. It merely shoves them out of your path so they can resurface in some other way.

So when you tell someone that what they feel strongly about is “no big deal” or nothing more than “kind words,” that communicates that what they feel doesn’t matter. It will likely discourage them from sharing their feelings with you in the future if they feel that they won’t be valued.

Being guilty of this myself, I understand that most people don’t respond like this with bad intentions. I think there are two reasons people make these mistakes.

1) It’s hard to respond with sincerity, because it puts you in a vulnerable position. The listener might dismiss your emotions or use them against you.

2) Etiquette. As children, we learn that we can only express certain sentiments if we want to be accepted. In the name of politeness, we are taught that we must censor the feelings we have that are inconvenient to those in authority. Thus we fall into ruts of predictable conversation in order to protect ourselves from punishment.

But as adults, we no longer have to live to appease authority figures (assuming you’re not in a job where you do—if you are, get out.) We can now escape the shackles of our history and cultivate the habits that serve us best. When speaking with people who are close to us, we can make the effort to abandon the Script of Etiquette and choose to speak from the heart.

The world would be a much better place if we could simply express our true feelings.