Category Archives: Outdoor Activities

Park City During Peak Ski Season

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North America has its fair share of iconic ski towns; places frequented by winter sport enthusiasts, particularly skiers and snowboarders at this time of year. On one level, the experience in most of these towns is quite similar. There are the hotels and condos, restaurants, sporting goods, all those T-shirt shops, and some form of nightlife to cater to the many young and active people that visit every year.

However, there are some major differences between these towns and the resorts around them that create different experiences. The town of Park City is perhaps most similar to Breckenridge, in that it is a town that was settled in the middle of the 19th Century as a mining town.

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This contrasts with towns like Vail, which were built up around the ski resort after it opened. Also, as is the case with places like Crested Butte and Whistler, the manner in which the town is laid out, the cultural vibes, and of course the resorts themselves make each place a unique experience.

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Visiting Park City February 9-13, skiing the 10th-12th, produced what is perhaps the most typical Park City ski vacation experience, as it is right in the peak of the ski season, but not a holiday or a special event.

This time period also produced a good variety of weather and snow conditions, with a snowstorm rolling in Sunday afternoon, but Monday and Tuesday’s weather being clear.

After this experience, I have concluded that the Park City experience is unique for the following five major reasons.

1. Accessibility

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For people traveling from other parts of the country, this is a major draw. The drive from Salt Lake City International Airport to Park City can typically be done in well under an hour. Getting to most other resorts in North America requires either a longer drive or flying into a smaller airport.

2. Utah Culture

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Saturday evening, my first night in town, I walked into Wasatch BrewPub, which is at the south (and high) end of Main Street. Arriving at a brewpub at 9:30 on a Saturday night is something that feels quite normal to me. Yet, upon arrival, I was informed that last call is in a half an hour.

All the tap beers on the menu were listed at 4.0% alcohol by volume, also reflecting Utah’s culture of caution when it comes to consuming alcohol. There are, however, ways around this.

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3. The Resorts

Several years back, Park City and the Canyons combined to form a mega-resort.

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Like Whistler-Blackcomb, the formerly separate resorts are connected by a gondola.

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Both sides of the mountain have some epic skiing, including aspen glades.

Skiing through the aspen trees is somewhat of a unique experience, as, due to climate and elevation, not all resorts have areas like this.

The Park City side of the mountain probably has the best bowl skiing.

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Skiing areas like this after a fresh snow is a unique, however exhausting, experience.

Deer Valley Resort, just a couple of miles outside of town, is the site of many events at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

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It’s the kind of place where skiers can pretty much do it all, from skiing really fast on a groomed trail.

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To going deep into the woods and encountering random cabins.

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One thing I love about the resorts in Utah is that some of their trails have a double blue, or advanced intermediate rating. In my opinion, the variety of types of trails at many ski resorts in Western North America warrants some being given a rating between blue (intermediate) and black (expert).

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There are, however, some potential annoyances for some visitors. Like many ski areas around the world, Park City has gotten into the cross-hairs of the arms race between competing multi-resort ski passes. Park City resort (which includes the Canyons) is on the Epic Pass, while Deer Valley is on the IKON Pass. Visitors who want to ski both resorts cannot do so on one pass, they must either purchase a one day pass at one of the resorts (as I did), or have both passes (I did meet someone on a ski lift ride that did purchase both the Epic and IKON passes).

Also, Deer Valley is one of only three resorts in the country that does not allow snowboarders.

4. Snow Conditions

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Different parts of the country have different snow conditions. Resorts closer to the East or West coast tend to have wetter snow than those in places like Colorado. Utah’s snow this February was kind of a mix between the two, as much of the snow in the area had come from the same series of storm systems that dumped heavy snow in California.

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These storms have tapped into tons of moisture from the Pacific Ocean, bringing snow to Utah that has some resemblance to the snow at resorts closer to the West Coast.

5. Parking

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Aside from the strange way things close earlier than expected, I love Park City’s Main Street. The lights hung across the street and not so gentle slope from one end of the street to the other produce an evening atmosphere that just feels positive and festive. However I have never seen a street with so little available parking also have so little through traffic. It felt strange to look for parking for so long but also be able to stand in the middle of the road so frequently! Luckily, Summit County Utah has free busses visitors can take all over the areas, most of them going to Park City’s Main Street.

That Event You Always Find Yourself At

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We all have that one event in our lives. Typically it is somewhere in the general vicinity of where we live, but not in the same town. Year after year, we find ourselves there, despite never actually making plans around that event. For me, that event is the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge Colorado.

I’ve been there while on weeklong ski trips with friends from the East Coast, staying at condos within walking distance of both the Riverwalk Center where the event is held and the ski lift.

I have been there on weekend trips, as was the case this year.

I have been there after day trips.

There have even been years where I was able to see the snow sculptures on multiple days, and while passing through town on the way home from destinations further away.

Of course, it helps that the event lasts ten days, right in the middle of the winter, in Breckenridge, one of the country’s most iconic skiing towns.

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It also helps that walking through the snow sculptures is not a huge time commitment. Even if one were to read every piece of information about each individual piece, the total time commitment would be well under an hour.

2019 was quite iconic. The event happened on an excellent weekend. Significant snow fell Thursday night, making for a fantastic weekend of skiing. Each portion of the day seemed to exude some form of picturesque natural scene, distinct from one another!

The sculptures themselves were amazing as well. Here are some of my favorites from 2019.

2017 was also a great year, with a lot of animal related designs.

2016 was also a great year.

2015 was the year that abnormally warm weather (several days with highs close to 50 in town) caused some of the sculptures to become deformed.

This year, the trip that found me in front of the snow sculptures was a weekend trip to Frisco, ten miles north of Breckenridge, and along I-70.

I love to stay in Frisco from time to time. There are a lot of amenities, but it is less crowded than many other places in winter, as there is no ski resort there. However, it is within about ten miles of Breckenridge, as well as several other mountain resorts, including Copper Mountain and Keystone.

The places we go, the people we see, and the activities we take part in have two origins. One are those in which we actively seek; the trips and activities we plan and the people we plan them with. The others are the ones we somehow get drawn into. The places our friends, family and co-workers chose for group activities. The people that show up at the events we go to. Events like this one, that always end up being where we are at the time we are there.

Some would advocate that we do all things with purpose, actively choosing every single action in our lives. That is quite exhausting, and nearly impossible. Instead, we must accept that some of the places we find ourselves and people we find ourselves around will be based on circumstance, and sometimes that circumstance will occur in repetition.

However, the nature of these circumstantial encounters is a good indicator of how well we have aligned our lives with our values and desires. If these circumstances habitually find us in places we do not want to be and around people we do not care to be around, it is an indicator that something about our overall situation is not well aligned with our true selves and true desires.

I am thankful to find myself around these snow sculptures year after year. They are a result of the activity that I did actively chose, skiing, as well as being around people who are up for wandering around to events like these.

A Full Moon Hike to Jefferson Lake

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Hiking at night is something I had never really thought about doing. As is the case with the majority of the people who go hiking, my primary motivations are scenery, connection with nature, and exercise, most of which is far more compatible with daytime.

Most of my nighttime hiking experiences have been in cases where I remained on a trail until just after dark to watch a sunset…

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Backpacking….

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Or starting a hike early due to time constraints or goals, all of which involved reaching a specific place in daytime.

This particular nighttime hike was organized by a group called Mappy Hour. With the motto, “Live in the city, love the outdoors”, they bring together outdoor adventurers of all levels who live and work in cities. Sometimes the input of others helps expose us to activities we would not have otherwise done. Like a lot of people in Colorado, wintertime for me can end up being mostly just skiing. Going on this event exposed me to something different.

Jefferson Lake is outside of a tiny town called Jefferson, in Colorado’s South Park region.

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This hike started in late afternoon, before sunset. As we approached the trailhead, I was somewhat concerned that the high clouds would detract from the experience of a full moon hike.

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Jefferson Lake is accessible by road during the summertime. However, during the winter, the road is closed off right after entering the Pike National Forest, where the wide open ranch land of South Park’s high plains meets the densely packed trees associated with some of Colorado’s highest terrain.

In winter, the final four miles of the road to Jefferson Lake can be hiked or snowshoed, depending on conditions.

Most of this winter hike (3 out of 4 miles) is a very gradual climb, passing by campgrounds, as well as the Colorado Trail. It is a great trail for someone who is new to snowshoeing, however, conditions must be considered, as even in mid winter, there is no guarantee the road will be snowpacked for the entire four mile length.

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The road also passes by another wonder of nature I often fail to consider, a beaver dam. Apparently, we humans are not the only ones capable of using trees to create infrastructure.

The final mile before arriving at the lake is a bit steeper, but still not overly strenuous. However, for those not accustomed to hiking in snow, or snowshoes, it can be a bit exhausting.

We watched the moon rise over the mountains to the East.

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Gradually lighting the lake up, one segment at a time.

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By the time the moon had fully risen, the entire lake, as well as the entire forest surrounding it, was noticeably lighter.

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The amount if light the moon can provide is something that those of us who spend most of our lives in cities often fail to appreciate. However, on this evening, the difference between an evening with full moon light and one without would be on full display. The evening of January 20, 2019 was a lunar eclipse, which began to manifest a few hours after sundown.

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Lunar eclipses occur at a much slower pace than solar ones. This lunar eclipse began to show just before 8:30 P.M., but would not reach totality until 9:41 P.M. in Central Colorado. During the lunar eclipse, the sky grows far darker, the way it appears during a new moon, and the moon itself takes on a red color, whose true beauty can only be truly appreciated in person. This National Geographic photograph, taken by professionals with professional equipment, would come closest to giving it justice- way closer than any photo I could take!

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The event was nothing short of amazing, in a manner that cannot be properly expressed through words or even pictures. At the end of the hike, I felt content in a manner that is rarely achieved in day-to-day life, due to the combination of being in motion, observing spectacular scientific phenomenon, and being in a social setting.

Hiking at night in the middle of winter is something I have never done before. However when it comes my primary motivations for hiking, getting exercise, scenery and connection with nature, this activity met all three criteria. There are plenty of times in life when we focus too much on a specific solution, activity or procedure, rather than the overall motivation. This causes us to narrow our options too much. This event reminded me how important it is to stay focused on the overall motivation rather than one specific activity or solution. This goes for all areas i life, not just outdoor adventures and weekend activities. As long as we stay open-minded, pay attention, and keep our overall goals in mind, we can find some amazing experiences!

Opening Day At Breckenridge

Breckenridge, Colorado – November 7, 2018

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It was the first time I ever went skiing on Opening Day. It’s not that I don’t get excited about the ski season, but Opening Day at any ski resort typically does not have a lot to offer, other than saying you were there on Opening Day and often a celebration. Typically, it is one or two runs open, wherever the resorts decided to focus their snowmaking operations.

For some reason, resorts in Colorado are always in a hurry to open, most opening before Thanksgiving, some before Halloween. Resorts in places with even colder climates, like Sun Valley Idaho and Big Sky Montana, simply open on Thanksgiving. I guess in Colorado, there is pressure to open earlier, given its popularity as a ski destination and significant competition.

The problem is, some seasons start with a bang, some with a whimper. Last year, in early November, there as very little snow at most major ski resorts in Colorado. In fact, there was little to ski on well into the season, even past the New Year.

Snowpack Nov. 7 of 2018 vs. 2017

What a difference a year makes! Whereas 2017-18 started off with a whimper, 2018-19 started off with a bang! Snowpacks at this point in the season are over three times what they were last year. Most people at the resort cannot recall a season that started off with this much snow for over a decade!

The result is starting the season off, not just with a few good runs, but with a powder day!

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Of course, even with this much snow, only one part of the resort, and only one major lift, was open. So, despite the fact that it was a Wednesday, there were still significant lift lines to contend with.

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Everything about the experience was odd, but in a good way….

It was odd to start the season, on the very first day, with over a foot of fresh powder.

It was odd to ski on a Wednesday in the middle of what feels like a work week, as opposed to as part of some kind of a weeklong trip.

It was also odd, because the makeup of the crowd at the ski resort seemed somewhat different than usual. Maybe this is a result of the specific circumstance. The fact that Breckenridge would open early, on a Wednesday, as opposed to the following weekend, was only announced at the end of the prior weekend’s larger than expected snowfall. It was also only announced the prior evening which runs would be open. The result was that the crowd tilted significantly more towards what appeared to be college students. It seemed like young men aged 19-25 made up almost half the skiers and snowboarders on the mountain that day. I saw a lot of fast paced skiing and boarding on challenging powdery trails, and heard that “woo” noise when someone hits a jump or a key area more frequently than I had ever before!

I also came into the ski day in an odd place from a personal standpoint. For a variety of reasons, I had a lot on my mind. On days like this, truly immersing oneself in an experience can be a battle inside one’s own mind. How can we stop ourselves from thinking about whatever is confusing us? The events of the prior few days? An upcoming event that we are anticipating with nervousness? Or even that existential question, about life, existence, the battle between good and evil?

What I found to be the key is noticing what is physically there, in front of me. It came in kind of an odd way. The view from the top of the ski lift is something I had seen before, many times, having held a pass to this resort for the past six season. What caught my eye, and got my mind off everything else, and onto the amazing experience I was having skiing, was the clouds!

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Specifically, while riding the ski lift, I looked up and noticed these cirrocumulus clouds, in a pattern that seemed like a series of lines, broken up just enough to display patterns on scales both large and small. They identified patterns, hidden in plain daylight, related to the transition that the Central Rocky Mountains had just undergone, from a snowy period, to a dry one. They were the balance of order and chaos we often seek in our day to day lives, and, for several minutes on a ski lift, they were all the stimulation I needed. I was content, and living in the moment.

Fall Camping at Cottonwood Lake

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This fall has been one of the most exhausting periods of my life in a long time. There is a reason I am writing this blog, in early November, over a month after this experience. Life is rarely constant. Sometime we are up, sometimes we are down. Sometimes we are comfortable and sometimes we feel everything is spiraling out of control. There are also periods that are slower and periods that are busier.

Exhaustion often has a variety of sources. Sometimes it does happen simply because someone is doing too much. However, I have seen tons of people who are extremely busy manage to have what appeared like really good energy levels. I have also seen people with little on their schedule appear extremely exhausted.

At this current moment in time, both personally, and throughout my country, there are other sources of exhaustion that are quite prevalent. Our news is often sensationalized and our political climate is downright toxic. We also have yet to incorporate new technologies into our lives in a healthy manner, leading to large-scale mental health issues which are beginning to manifest in horrible ways.

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The amount of time we spend in front of screens continues to increase. It is now over 11 hours per day. This has caused people to interact less and less with one another, leading to loneliness. The number of people who said they have nobody in which to confide in, about deeply troubling personal matters, has tripled in the last three decades.

I may have personally created additional exhaustion, in my life specifically, by taking on more work and over-doing some other endeavors. Seriously, I had no idea those tomatoes would grow so well!

When exhausted, we often have the instinct to stay home, rest, do nothing for a while. However, this is not always the best course of action. In my case, it would not have removed me from some of the sources of stress and exhaustion. How often, in today’s culture, does “resting”, really mean watching something on television, while also scrolling through news and social media on our phones. This form of “resting” still involves some amount of mental energy being dedicated to the very things that are causing many of us stress, which appear in the news, on social media and frequently on the television as well.

Sometimes, it is far better to power through the exhaustion for a little bit in order to get away from all this.

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Going camping takes work. It requires preparing meals, gathering supplies, picking out a location, traveling there, then setting up camp and building a fire. This is far more effort than it takes to turn the television on, or grab a smart phone while laying in bed. However, there is far more reward: actual relaxation.

Cottonwood Lake is about ten miles west of Buena Vista, Colorado, right in the center of the state, in the San Isabel National Forest.

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The campsite we found, a couple of miles further up the road, turned out to be one of the greatest places ever for viewing fall colors in the Rocky Mountains in Late September.

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It was amazing not only to see the colors at this one particular spot a couple miles west of Cottonwood Lake, but to see them at all different times of the day. In particular, at times around sunrise and sunset, the orange color in many of the leaves appeared deeper, and even more vibrant and colorful!

Most importantly, after finding the ideal camping site, getting the tent set up, starting the fire, and cooking dinner, the experience was far more relaxing than anything I would have done at home.

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Despite the full moon, I was able to get to sleep not too long after 9 P.M. With no lights, televisions, or random noises interrupting, it felt like I slept off all the exhaustion of the previous weeks. With the feeling of being rested, and my mind completely disconnected from all the stresses of back home, the return trip felt even more beautiful.

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It was like some kind of opening of the mind was needed to fully take in what was in front of me.

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The life I returned to was not too different. I still have the same ambitions. Smart phones did not become any less addicting, and world news and politics did not become any less depressing. We can escape from our lives, but we cannot escape forever.

Plus, it is not always bad. People that are busy, and even sometimes exhausted, can also be happy, if their mind is on the right things and they find themselves in the right environment. Sometimes it is the ones that are idle, not having all the experiences life has to offer, trapped in fear and “analysis paralysis”, that are the most prone to depression.

More importantly, all activities have busier and calmer periods. Jobs have busier and calmer periods, and there is not too much for me to do in the garden in November. It is easy to interpret a month or so with little to no rest as evidence that one has taken on too much in their lives. This may or may not be the case, and when the activities someone is involved in are generally making them happy, it is far better to endure a busy and stressful season than to give up on activities that are producing a sense of fulfillment.

The Colorado Classic

71 cyclists, all averaging a speed right around 30 mph, somehow ended up within 12 seconds of each other 2/3 of the way into an 8-lap 72 mile race. The strange thing is, this was the only time for the entire duration of the final stage of the 2018 Colorado Classic where all the riders were packed so closely together. Earlier in the race, a few riders would pedal ahead of the pack, forming what is referred to as a “breakout group”.

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Having not watched too much professional cycling, I am not familiar with the complicated scoring system, or how cycling teams work together. However, in what I have watched, from the perspective of mostly just monitoring who wins each race, it rarely seems beneficiary to form one of these breakout groups, especially early in the race. Seeing a few cyclists pull ahead near the beginning of a race always reminds me of when I used to bet on horse races. At first, I would get excited when the horse I bet on started out leading the pack. Experience would later teach me that that horse that jumps out ahead at the start of the race almost never wins. With rare exception, some other horse, usually one of the ones favored to win, would make a move about 2/3 of the way into the race, while the initial leader would run out of steam, finishing near the back of the pack. I’ll often joke that if I see the horse I bet on in the lead at the start of the race, I can all but throw that ticket away.

That is exactly what I tend to see happen at bike races. The cyclists who “breakout” put themselves at a disadvantage as they face more air resistance than those who stay in the main group, often referred to as the “peloton”. Time and time again, I have watched a breakout group form a lead, sometimes several minutes, just to see that lead slowly evaporate just in time for the end of the race. I would imagine all the riders trying to sprint to the finish line at nearly the same time, but with those that formed the breakaway group far more exhausted as they pushed against more air resistance all day long.

In a depressing metaphor for life, the breakaway group represents those that chose to take a different path, other than the tried and true. Like the 90% of Startups that fail, their path is tougher, and also a lot less certain.

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However, as discussed in detail in Bicycling Magazine, breakaways can be successful, when done…

  • Under the right conditions
  • Intelligently
  • With the right mix of people

The same is true for startups, as well as anyone else trying to “break away”.

Being back in Denver the weekend of the Colorado Classic, I got to witness the final two stages.

Stage 3, I got to watch from Lookout Mountain, which is outside of Golden about 15 miles west of Denver. It is Denver’s version of the mountain that overlooks the city, and is actually quite popular for cycling. The 1800 foot climb is a great after work workout, I have done many times.

Watching professionals ride a road you commonly ride is both exciting and humbling, as they do in 25 minutes what takes me 35-40.

Stage 4 was a very different experience. As is the case every year (for the Colorado Classic), the final stage is a series of laps around town.

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Cyclists rode down 17th Avenue in both directions during each lap, meaning it was possible to see them pass by the same exact spot 16 times! It is here where spectators witness, in person, breakaway groups get slowly caught up to by the pack.

There was even a bike shop, along 17th Avenue, that set up a set of bleacher seats for fans. Pro cycling, obviously has a smaller fan base than major sports like baseball and football. However, smaller groups often feel far more like a community than larger ones, and there is a kind of comradery between cycling fans that does not always exist at other sporting events.

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Watching multiple groups of people try to “breakaway” from the pack, but fail to win the stage reminds me of my own personal struggles. Like many people, I struggle with issues of individuality vs. conformity. It definitely had a negative impact on my high school experience, where there is a lot of pressure to conform. I still feel it now from time to time.

As is the case with pro cycling, there is a time to break away and there is a time to stay with the pack. The same is true in our other life pursuits. We all would prefer to stay true to our individual selves all the time. However, there is a often a cost for refusing to conform, sometimes legal or financial, but often in terms of lost opportunities and relationships. The challenge is to know when that cost can be endured so that we continue to feel like we are living our own lives, while also knowing when we need to be patient and flexible.

WE Fest and the Culture of Northern Minnesota

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What is American Culture? This is a much tougher question to answer than most people would want to admit. Sure, there are those things about America that foreigners notice right away. For instance, the portion sizes.

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But, large portions of food, large amounts of soda, big cars, loudness and exhibitionism are not the only things that define American Culture. In fact, they do not even unite the entire nation, as there are places in the United States where these are not the customs.

American Culture cannot be described in one sentence, one paragraph, or even one page because of how far from homogenous it is. Traveling within the country, one would find many different sub-cultures. It is even possible to argue that every state, every city, and sometimes every neighborhood, has its own unique traditions and customs.

Of course, to claim there are thousands of sub-cultures in the country would be, in a way, getting too hung up on minor details. However, there is definitely grounds on which to claim there are several dozen cultures with significant distinctions from one another.

The culture of Minnesota can generally be thought of as in the same category as Wisconsin and Michigan. The entire region has an abundance of lakes. Minnesota is “The Land of 10,000 Lakes”. This culture seems to revolve around going to the lake, being on a boat, fishing, and drinking beer. People from the metropolitan areas often own second homes or cabins along a lake and travel there on the weekends. This seven week old infant living in Saint Paul is already preparing for his third trip “up to the lake”.

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Northern Minnesota specifically is fairly sparsely populated, putting it one one side of the most obvious cultural divide in the U.S.; urban vs. rural. Generally speaking, on either side of this divide between large metropolitan areas and places more sparsely populated. The expectations are different, the attitudes are different, and, the music is different. There is perhaps no better way to get immersed in the culture of rural America than to go to a country music festival.

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WE Fest is a major country music festival in Detroit Lakes, MN. The attendance, in 2018, was said to have topped 65,000. Here, the different customs and attitudes were on full display.

The U.S.A flag was everywhere! So were messages, from performers and attendees alike (often on their shirts) showing support for the American way of like, the military, and other mainstays of American culture.

This is not to say people in the cities do not love their country. But, there does seem to be significantly less exhibitionism about it. There is also, in some sub-cultures, particularly the ones centered around major academic institutions, a greater willingness to criticize actions taken by the United States of America. In some cases, this comes across as downright cynicism.

To be honest, there is something about the flag waving, proud, traditional rural culture that feels warmer …  happier. It feels far better to believe in something and take pride in it than to succumb to cynicism and long for something else. Cynicism can feel quite cold at times, and self-loathing creates sadness.

Yet, the more traditional culture can also feel unnecessarily restrictive.

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Seriously, let the dogs and cats have fun too!

While exhibitionism can be annoying to some people, taking excessive pride in one’s country truly only becomes harmful when it leads to one of two outcomes.

First is the hostile treatment of outsiders. In the case of National pride, this would be treating non-Americans as lesser human beings. This is not to say that most, or even one-in-ten flag waving rural Americans have ever advocated treating outsiders poorly. It is to say that, excessive pride in a group of people, whether it be a nationality, a gang, or even something like a personality type, can lead to some form of non-beneficial disconnect from those with different traits.

Second, is when pride leads to an attitude where no criticism, even if constructive, is tolerated. Not all decisions are good decisions.

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Loving another human being can sometimes mean needing to tell that person when they are choosing the wrong course of action. Loving oneself means seeking ways in which to improve. The same can be said for a nation. Like an individual, a nation needs to try to avoid poor decisions and seek ways in which to improve. Pride can lead to avoiding all criticism and seeing no need to take suggestions or improve, which is detrimental.

Maybe this nation, like every nation, needs people to remind them that the nation is great, with a great culture and heritage. But, also needs people to point out some shortcomings, help it avoid repeating past mistakes, and point out areas where improvements can be made. These are the traits of a balanced individual, and hopefully, going forward, can be the traits of a balanced nation.