Giddy Up

Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, Colorado

How is your mood/mindset today? Is it intentional, or did it just happen? What word would you choose for it?

For a couple months now I have practiced setting an intention for the day before getting out of bed, encapsulated in one word. I try to make it aspirational, but often I land on something to counter some heaviness or negativity I feel upon waking. It’s like self-reassurance or something, a DIY pat on the back. On 12/15 I awoke mopey, apathetic, and unmotivated. Thursdays are my busiest days at work, so I had to 打起精神來 (da qi jin shen lai), as Ma always says–literally ‘hit rise energy come’–something akin to ‘get moving’ in English. So my mantra for that day became “Giddy up.” I don’t remember the last time these words even occurred to me, but they apparated that day and carried me through.

The next day I started listening to now Senator John Hickenlooper‘s memoir, The Opposite of Woe: My Life in Beer and Politics. Somewhere in the middle of the book, someone attended a psychology class wherein the professor asked a series of questions along the lines of: What is the opposite of joy? Sadness. What is the opposite of X-emotion? Y-emotion. What is the opposite of woe? And a student stood up and said, “I believe that would be Giddy Up.” HA!! It took me a second… 😉 Henceforth Hickenlooper calls up the phrase in his own self-motivating moments.

So now I feel cosmically connected to “Hick” junior (read this Twitter homage to his dad–I dare you to not be moved). My senior year of high school, I was invited by girls I admired to attend an Amnesty International event at the Wynkoop Brewery, which Hickenlooper had opened with some partners only a couple of years before. I will always remember that day fondly, feeling so included. The stories of that restaurant venture, the first ever brewpub in Colorado, and his life in general, are told with moving poignance and good humor in the book, which I highly recommend. Sometime during his tenure as governor of Colorado, I started following him from afar. These last 10ish years, I have always found him to be down to earth, smiling, and approachable in interviews and public appearances. And I absolutely love that he has always refused to run negative ads during any of his political campaigns. His Facebook posts share good work done in Colorado and Congress alike, and help me feel connected to my home state through someone I admire and feel proud to ‘represent’ me.

Throughout the book he tells engaging stories of his meandering life paths, personal and professional intertwined. He owns his flaws as well as his strengths, neither over- nor underplaying either. His ex-wife has surmised that due to emotional losses early in life, he became a pragmatic, rational-dominant thinker and doer, which served him well in business and then politics. Along the way he also had opportunities and support for self-reflection, including marriage counseling. He has done the inner work of developing his emotional mind, which I also very much admire. Today, working in such a polarized governing body as the US Senate, I hope he can set a dialectical example of respect, pragmatism, and collaboration that others will follow.

I know many of my people in Colorado have mixed feelings and opinions about Uncle Hick, as I will now think of him. Of course that is to be expected, and he himself respects it. He recognizes that in government, trade offs are the norm–if nobody is 100% happy with your work, then you’re probably doing it right. Hearing his perspective, both seriously committed and self-depricatingly lighthearted, as a scientist (English major turned geologist who took 10 years to finish college)-entrepreneur-politician, gives me such hope. He discusses the importance of public-private collaboration and the need to update or eliminate obsolete regulations. He embraces an evidence-based, team approach to novel problem solving (eg inventing effective and accountable recreational cannabis policy in the first state to make it legal). He keeps his compass pointed toward the core value of helping people, while leveraging business tactics to grow economies, and not wasting resources. He describes how he chooses battles worthy of fighting, all in good time. After study and deliberation, he is willing to change his mind on important issues, out loud and without shame (eg capital punishment).

I know I must be severely biased toward Uncle Hick just because he is from Colorado. Often during this book, I recalled feeling a similar admiration while listening to Neil Gorsuch’s memoir; he is another Coloradan. I imagine these two men differ greatly in ideology and politics. I also imagine that they respect each other and would engage in healthy dialogue around their differences if given the chance. Colorado is a big place, with a vastly diverse geography and population. It’s also one of the healthiest, most desirable places to live, by any metric. People there are consistently the friendliest folks I ever meet, compared to anywhere else in the world. There is just an ethos, something ineffable and yet palpable, that allows differences to be acknowledged and overcome, and things to get done. One day I will get back there and participate in person. Cannot. Wait.

Giddy up, indeed.

Steady Into the Storm

It swirls and circles

Dark, tense, looming

Mal-energy precedes in time and space

Imprints from the last pass

Check gear, reinforce, fasten

No more stalling

Raise the mainsail

Eyes open, shoes tied, jacket zipped, nothing loose

Clench up, onward with confidence and faith

Verbal lightening

Thunderous stares

Roiling emotions

Raw dysregulated tempest gale

The expert seafarer

Sets in self-assured, well-moored, steady

Calm on the horizon in focus


This too shall pass

On Malice, Validation, and the Butterfly Effect

A mash-up quote; still helpful.
Image from
Likely sources:

Friends, here is my latest confluence of ideas for making a more lovingly connected world, from three articles I have read this month:


Readers of this blog may know that I’m a big fan of David French. He writes columns for The Atlantic and The Dispatch, and serves the latter as senior editor. He is politically conservative and one of my intellectual role models. Last weekend he posted an article, “A Blow Against the Malice Theory of American Politics,” which I highly recommend. Some highlights:

“Negative polarization (or negative partisanship), as I’ve written many times, is the term for politics that is fundamentally motivated by animosity for the other side more than affection to your own party’s leaders or ideas. 

“Under the malice theory, the key to electoral victory is unlocking that anger. That means highlighting everything wrong with your opponents. That means hyping their alleged mortal threat to the Republic. Because of pre-existing animosity, your message will fall on fertile soil.

“In this context, it’s easy to see how kindness and graciousness are seen as weakness, or at least as a lack of conviction.”

Basically, if we think of our political opponents as a ‘them’, an other, we make them an abstraction. If we paint them with broad brushes in various shades of ‘evil,’ then we make ourselves fundamentally susceptible to tyrants who manupilate that fear and hatred for their own purposes. We follow blindly out of emotional hijack, deluding ourselves that we are being totally rational. The ultimate tool of such tyrants is dehumanization, making ‘the other’ a thing rather than a person, something we could not possibly relate to or care for.


One potent antidote to dehumanization and malice politics is emotional validation. I found this article while writing Monday’s post on how to be less shitty to one another. If you read any of the essays from this post, read this one! More highlights:

“Emotional validation is the process of learning about, understanding, and expressing acceptance of another person’s emotional experience. Emotional validation is distinguished from emotional invalidation, when a person’s emotional experiences are rejected, ignored, or judged.

“Validating an emotion doesn’t mean that you agree with the other person or that you think their emotional response is warranted. Rather, you demonstrate that you understand what they are feeling without trying to talk them out of or shame them for it.”

When we talk about people on the ‘other’ side of politics from us, what do we say? Do we speak in generalizations? Do we assume nefarious motives, declaring that they are just bad people? Maybe we say we ‘can’t imagine,’ ‘don’t understand’ how anyone would vote the way they do? What assumptions do we make about how they live their lives and how it must be completely different from us? Validation requires us to put down these generalizations and see each other as individuals, humans, people with whom we are in relationship (and we are all in relationship)–to move in closer, as Brene Brown asks us to do. It’s a practice in empathy and ultimately, a neutralizer of negative partisanship.

Why should we validate one another’s emotions? Because it helps us connect, especially across difference. When we feel validated, we let our guard down. When we feel seen, we de-escalate. Then we are more likely and able to engage in discussions, even disagreements, with more openness and curiosity, respect and collaboration. But someone has to take the first step on the path to de-escalation, to lead by example and invitation.

The Butterfly Effect

In my Quirky Nerd post, I mentioned this idea at the end, in passing. I like to include links to interesting ideas, and found the essay on Farnam Street by Shane Parrish and/or his team. Parrish hosts The Knowledge Project, one of my favorite podcasts. Ever since learning about the self-organizing nature of culture, I have felt validated (ha!) and increasingly confident to point out how the impact of any given node in any system both impacts and is impacted by that system–because everything is connected! I define myself as a node, and I am a member of multiple systems at once (we all are). Some systems are nested (family, neighborhood, city, state, nation); some overlap (Chinese-Americans, physicians, working moms). Looking from the most complex and simultaneous perspective, we can then see how the state or movement of any one node may have direct and indirect ripple effects that propagate and eventuate in dramatic multi-systemic change.

Or, it may not. It’s a paradox–anything you and I do can have transformative effects or no effect at all. I wrote about this as the Optimistic Nihilist. From Farnam Street: ” John Gribbin writes in his cult-classic work Deep Simplicity, ‘some systems … are very sensitive to their starting conditions, so that a tiny difference in the initial ‘push’ you give them causes a big difference in where they end up, and there is feedback, so that what a system does affects its own behavior.’

“We like to think we can predict the future and exercise a degree of control over powerful systems such as the weather and the economy. Yet the butterfly effect shows that we cannot. The systems around us are chaotic and entropic, prone to sudden change. For some kinds of systems, we can try to create favorable starting conditions and be mindful of the kinds of catalysts that might act on those conditions – but that’s as far as our power extends. If we think that we can identify every catalyst and control or predict outcomes, we are only setting ourselves up for a fall.”

My point here is that when I start to feel too small to make a difference, I just remember my role as node. I may not see the waves that my attitude, words, actions and relationships create in the world. But I believe wholeheartedly that I can and do make a difference–a big one, potentially. I just don’t know exactly which day, which conversation, which post, which relationship will incite the shifts I agitate to make–toward mutual understanding, accpetance, cooperation, and connection. Thus, anything and everything I do matters, so I keep it up. I commit to playing the infinite game of human connection, and my just cause is to de-escalate, defuse, and disarm us, in service of interpersonal peace. But anything I do could not matter at all, so I don’t have to burden myself with perfection and exhaustive hamster wheeling.

It’s a perfectly joyous paradox.

Thanks for reading to the end of this long one, folks. Past the halfway mark of 30 days, woohoooooo! I’m still having a lot of fun, hope you are, too!

Peace out, my peeps—ODOMOBaaT.