Sand storms bring out interesting conversation.
That’s what I was thinking as fine dust hit every inch of my face, flooding my sunglasses and burning my eyes. I pulled a white bandana up over my face, and then — as suddenly as it started — it ended.
The three people seated around me came back into view, I took a sip of water, and we continued where we left off. Just another late morning at Burning Man.
I’ve since returned to San Francisco from the middle of the Nevada desert, but I brought a few things back with me. My camp, called Maslowtopia and organized by famed hotelier Chip Conley (author of Peak), gathered a motley crew of around 100 all-stars from around the world, including incredible artists, organic chefs, and wise Fortune-100 co-founders…
One of those all-stars was an A-list entrepreneur and former top-tier investment banker. Trained at Harvard as a lawyer and forged into the consummate dealmaker, she had literally built economies from scratch. Moments before the sandstorm, she had passed me a piece of paper.
Like me, like my mentors, like the billionaires I’ve met, she had her moments of doubt (I’ve written about this before).
No one is immune.
Her solace, and her elegant remedy, was on the piece of paper. It was the below poem, titled “Kindness” and written by Palestinian-American Naomi Shihab Nye.
I am not a poet. Furthermore, I almost never “get” poetry, as sad as that sounds. This prose, however, immediately hit me (it was visceral) as relevant and valuable enough to share. It’s from Naomi’s short collection, Words Under Words, which is now the only book of poetry I’ve ever purchased of my own free will.
I hope you’ll pass this along to those in your life who may need it.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.