By DrFran Babcock
Ronon Carver is a Burning Man/Burn 2 Ranger. She loves Burning Man, Burn, and Second Life™. All of this becomes apparent as you listen to her answer these questions about her time in SL.
This interview is so late because Ronon was on the playa in First Life, and returned to take up her duties as an SL Ranger seriously. Once you read this interview, you will understand, as I did, what’s behind the woman behind the dust mask:
SL Newser: One if the first rangers in Burning Man, after placing a stick on the ground, is reported to have said: “On the other side of this line, there exists a world where everything is different.” After all these years in both First Life Burning Man, and Second Life™ Burning Life and BURN2 in what ways has this been realized for you?
Ronon: That Ranger was actually the FIRST Black Rock Ranger, Danger Ranger, the Rangers' founder, in 1992. His statement was realized for me with my first Burning Life in 2008, where I was introduced to the Ten Principles (http://www.burningman.com/
whatisburningman/about_ burningman/principles.html#. Unh8cJSbjYt), and
then even more so at my first Burning Man in 2009. It was completely unlike
anything I'd ever experienced and very different from my world which (at that
time) was driven by the Protestant Work Ethic. I've never experienced
volunteering, especially on that scale, and especially where people volunteered
for the betterment of the community, rather than for self promotion or
advancement. I was inspired by all these people working together to pull off
this fantastic event, and by artists and builders who made things simply for
The community created by all these people offers an alternative to our consumer-driven, socially stratified culture. Instead of the brutal, dog-eat-dog, what’s-in-it-for-me world where people struggle to climb the socioeconomic ladder, you find one of compassion, cooperation, and collaboration; where giving and self-sacrifice are the norm and people are valued for who they are, rather than for what they are and what they have. It levels the playing field where we're all equal, and having expensive toys doesn't make you better or more important than anybody else. You never know who that guy standing next to you is. He could be an unemployed bus driver or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. But, it doesn't matter, because we all have equal value as human beings. This is extremely empowering
How this has affected me in the default world is I've challenged myself to include the Ten Principles in my daily life. I try to be more accepting of other people, especially of those whose belief systems are very different from my own, and I have become active in my community through volunteer work and social activism. I regularly donate to several causes, work to lower my carbon footprint and reduce my consumption, try to be more self-reliant, and so forth.
SL Newser: Why did you become a ranger in First and Second life ?
Ronon: I became interested in crisis intervention as part of my grieving process after I lost my son. There was no help available in my local community, so I turned to online resources. I read a lot, talked to a lot of people, learned a lot, and became interested in helping others. I started listening to people more, paying attention to life more, and working less. I took foster parent training, crisis intervention training, peer support training, and help line training. I now provide peer support counseling with crisis support lines and groups, both in SL and in the default world, volunteer with the American Red Cross’ Disaster Action Team, work with domestic violence and other crime victims, and participate in grief support groups. Becoming a Ranger was a natural progression of what I was already doing.
SL Newser: What are the joys of the work you have done?
Ronon: Seeing the relief on people’s faces. It's incredibly empowering and validating to people when they realize someone is hearing them without judgment and doesn't think they're crazy or unimportant.
SL Newser: What are the difficulties/challenges in the work you have done?
Ronon: Dealing with emotionally distressed people can always be difficult, and the environments in which we work create a lot of challenges, whether it’s the hot, dusty, arid desert, or the cold, sterile, digital world. In Second Life™, text-based communication creates its own special challenges because it’s so easy for communication to be misinterpreted, especially since to a large degree, it is the reader who sets the tone, rather than the writer. A huge part of human communication is expressed through facial expressions, posture, tone, and vocal inflections. Without these cues, the reader has to use his or her own perceptions and assumptions to interpret the message. Even a positive message can be interpreted as an extremely negative, hurtful, snarky remark, depending on how the reader chooses to interpret the text-based words. (Think of how many ways you can say “Have a nice day!”) In BURN2 Ranger training, we stress approaching every situation with the assumption that everyone has good reasons for what they’re doing and that they’re doing their best. This sets the tone for a positive interaction.
SL Newser: I would be in gross denial if I didn’t acknowledge the tons of drama surrounding Burning Life and BURN2. What has been your experience with the politics of Burn, and in what ways have you managed it?
Ronon: I think any time you’re dealing with a group of people working on a project, you’re going to have drama. I haven’t found the drama in Second Life™ to be much different from the drama found in many first life groups. “Drama” is a product of people not having all the facts. They’re being “dramatic” because they have only one side of the story; some information, rather than all of it, and they react on it. People are afraid of the unknown. This is a common and normal human reaction; it's not one that's confined to Second Life™, or to BURN2.
One way that we have managed this is to be as open as possible. Previously, planning meetings were closed and anything said was held confidential, which helped create an atmosphere of distrust. Now, meetings are open to everyone, and no part of the planning aspect is held confidential. Want to find out how and why? Come attend a meeting. Everyone is welcome. You can just sit and “lurk” if you want, but be prepared! We might just ask you to do something.
We’ve also changed the way the organization is structured. We no longer use hierarchical departments, so there are no territorial disputes. Anybody can volunteer to help with anything, which allows people to focus their volunteer efforts where they're most interested. It also creates opportunities for people to branch out, learn new skills, and take on greater responsibilities. And, it also means we’re no longer needing to rely on a few key people for critical functions, which creates a less stressful environment.
SL Newser: What is your vision for Burning Man 2013 and BURN2 2013?
Ronon: My vision for Burning Man 2013 was to work fewer shifts and spend more time in camp with friends, but I ended up spending more time on shift meeting new friends. I love being part of the Ranger team and interacting with Rangers and other participants.
For BURN2, my goal is to be more of a mentor and advisor. I’ve been volunteering here for six years now, and it’s time for me to step back and make room for people with fresh ideas and different ways of thinking and doing things. Ladyslipper Constantine did a great job of almost single-handedly training all the Rangers this year, as well as running the day-to-day on-playa operations. Other Rangers pitched in, as well, helping out in various leadership capacities.
SL Newser: What would you like folks out there to know about Second Life™?
Ronon: Second Life™ is a wonderful, creative place full of amazing opportunities. Like Burning Man, it is a place where people can be the individuals they wish to be.
SL Newser: Anything else you want to share?
Ronon: Anyone who wishes to learn more about Burning Man should check out the website at http://www.burningman.com/ or BURN2 at http://www.burn2.org/. Both sites also have have applications for those who wish to participate as volunteers, as well as information about other ways in which people can participate.