Have A Great Weekend

This week, we remembered Jake Brewer and his impact on CtK’s mission, his community, and our democracy. Jake’s mom and CtK’s Founder, Lori Brewer Collins, shared her powerful reflections on how his death has shaped her life.

I live my life 𝑎𝑠 𝑖𝑓 Jake passed a baton to me, 𝑎𝑠 𝑖𝑓, in the form of a post-it note left on his White House computer monitor, he was signaling me to “Cultivate the Karass.”

I live 𝑎𝑠 𝑖𝑓 there’s a purpose to the time I have left, and that I can be instrumental in contributing to his vision for our democracy: that we can genuinely embody transpartisan collaboration. If we choose.

But mostly, I live 𝑎𝑠 𝑖𝑓 he were still here. This gives me strength. And it feeds my hope.
— Lori Brewer Collins

Dear America by CtK Alum Jose Antonio Vargas hit bookshelves this week and included its own lovely remembrance of Jake. “Whenever doubts clouded my mind, Jake was always my first call…He always told me I was enough.”

Read the immigration op-ed Jose authored in this week’s NYT, check out an early review of Dear America, and then catch him on his book tour in a city near you. And join DC area Karassers tonight to support Jose on his DC book tour stop!

Brittany Packnett penned a timely and insightful piece on women and apologies: “The most striking lesson I derived from all of this was a profound life lesson: demand the apologies you deserve.”

CtK Alums Bishop Garrison and Sarah Hunt teamed up for this op-ed about retaining the process for approving wind farms near military bases: “Let’s not also forget that wind energy is a vital economic engine, employing more than 100,000 Americans, and the men and women who serve our country find jobs in wind at a rate 72 percent higher than the average in other industries.”

The Democracy Fund talks about ways that they are empowering religious leaders to overcome paralyzing partisan gridlock and extremist language: “Although some partisanship is to be expected in a democracy, it is also true that civil debate and principled compromise are essential to governing a large, diverse, and complex society like ours.”

As the Carolinas grapple with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, here are a few ways that you can help:

This weekend, we hope that you will take your cues from Jake and Lori. Shine brightly for the people around you, remind them that they are enough, share your spark with others, and dare to live as if. Have a great weekend! We’ll see you next week.

Missing Jake

Friday evening, September 18th, three years ago. That was the last time I saw my son alive.

It was a memorable, joy-filled evening. Jake drove over with Georgia, his just-turned two-year-old daughter. We spent time playing her favorite games, then gave her a bath. He nestled her into bed - singing a song in his notably stage-worthy voice, and soothed her to sleep. It was a beautiful sight for me to witness: my son at his best.

Britt, his sister, arrived shortly afterwards. Jake and Britt were close - best friends really. They noted how long it had been since it was just the three of us at the table. Like all families, we have a way of being that strikes us as especially clever, funny, significant. Things that no one else would find particularly amusing. But it was our way of being, and that night we slipped into our familial “language,” basking in unhurried hanging out together.

All too soon, Britt said her goodbyes and Jake headed to bed early. He was leaving Georgia with me so he could set out the next morning on a weekend-long charity bike-ride. He and his tightly-knit community were riding in support of a mutual friend, Jessy Tolkan, whose brother, Ben, suffers from a rare form of cancer.

So Jake and I said our goodbyes that Friday night. I was roused briefly Saturday morning by the sound of him closing the front door as he slipped out of the house.

We talked one more time that day. He called about 2:30 pm to check on Georgia. He was ebullient. It was a crisp, sunny September day and it had been weeks, even months, since he’d been out on his cherished bike. He was having a fabulous day. We chatted for several minutes, and then closed our conversation with “I love you,” our usual parting words. Thank God. It would be the last words he said to me. How grateful I am for the habit we had of saying goodbye. Because the next call I received was “that call” - the one no parent allows themselves to imagine ever happening to them.

Nothing has been the same since 5:18 pm, September 19, 2015. The tectonic plates of my soul forever shifted. Everything changed: my orientation to time, my sense of what’s important (or not), almost all of my relationships. Every cell of my being has been affected. Who I was no longer exists.

And with that ending, a different portal opened. In the three years since Jake died, I’ve discovered a more expanded version of who I am and who I can be.

As I experience this third year of missing Jake, the week fills with re-activated levels of grief. My heart drowns, my soul aches, and I fight to move through the sorrow. I see a horizon of endless Septembers in front of me; I doubt this month will ever get easier for me.

And yet, paradoxically, and as recently as this morning, I experience the sheer joy and wonder of Jake’s daughters, Georgia and Garnet J., the daughter he never met. They shine bright with exuberance - a constant reminder of Jake’s legacy of vitality and boundless optimism.

Life is full of ironies. Two electives I took during my coursework at Vanderbilt Divinity School a few years earlier included Hope & Despair and Soteriology (the study of salvation). I thought they'd provide insight. Not so. I left each class with ten times more questions than I started with. How naïve I was when I wrote papers for these classes! I had no idea despair would visit me so tangibly, so fiercely, a few years later. And diving into scholarly literature about humanity’s salvation, while theologically fascinating, is pretty much all theory.

Nonetheless, the classes did help me articulate one point of wisdom that’s anchored me since the call telling me my son had not survived. The pearl I discovered: to live life “as if.” I discovered that within the unanswerable questions of hope, despair, and salvation, there is a choice. To live as if despair is survivable; as if it’s a teacher for insights found only by way of passing through it. I choose to live as if salvation is possible; as if I save the essence of my own soul by connecting with others.

Despair has added dimensionality to my life I would never have known or asked for. It shapes and informs my work. I’m a better executive coach as a result of passing through this territory, a better facilitator, a better observer of groups. I would never choose the events that led to despair, but I have absolute choice about how I’ll respond to it.  

So, I live my life as if Jake passed a baton to me, as if, in the form of a post-it note left on his White House computer monitor, he was signaling me to “Cultivate the Karass.” 

I live as if there’s a purpose to the time I have left, and that I can be instrumental in contributing to his vision for our democracy: that we can genuinely embody transpartisan collaboration. If we choose. 

But mostly, I live as if he were still here. This gives me strength. And it feeds my hope.

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Have A Great Weekend!

This week we remembered 9/11 and honored the heroes who rushed toward the chaos. They embody the best of who we are as Americans. We sent voters to the polls in two states. Our alums took a hard look at some pressing issues on ethics, national security, climate change, and critical feedback. We’re heading into the weekend tracking Hurricane Florence and hoping that everyone in its massive path stays safe.

CtK.Campfire Alum DJ Patil with his perspective on ethics and data science, an essay from the new book he co-authored: Ethics and Data Science (get the ebook here).

“The question that we need to address is what can we do to ensure that data and technology work for us rather than against us?”
— DJ Patil

A piece from CtK.Campfire Alum Bishop Garrison on the need for more women of color in national security. “Women of color have a deeply profound and compelling American experience that provides them with a keenly sharp and unique voice in the protection of our nation and its allies. We would all be smart to listen to them more.”

Libraries provide access to so much more than just books! A great op-ed on the importance of information and interaction in today’s world. “If we have any chance of rebuilding a better society, social infrastructure like the library is precisely what we need.”

Some thoughts from CtK Founder Lori Brewer Collins on the value of paying attention to the “what” rather than the “who” when you get feedback—and what it means for our current political moment.

Early voting will for the general will start in coming weeks. We’re issuing our weekly reminder to check your registration. There have been numerous reports throughout the primary season of active voters being purged from the rolls. Don’t assume! Confirm! And then encourage other people to register and vote!

Lori will be on the road this fall hosting a series of conversations, happy hour events, and spectrum exercises throughout the country. You can support loyal antagonism by showing up! Find the full list of events here!

And, as always, a weekly reminder to talk to strangers, read a perspective from an ideologically opposed publication (and support good journalism), have coffee with someone you don’t agree with, and be a loyal antagonist. Have a great weekend! We’ll see you next week.

Grownups, Feedback, & the What

I live in a professional world where grown-ups frequently receive anonymous feedback. I’ve learned a lot about adult behavior by observing how people at all levels of an organization, some with seven- and eight-figure incomes, react to their reports.

At the outset, the feedback receiver is encouraged to pay attention to the “what” of the message, not the “who” gave it. The premise is that there’s value to be derived in the comment, regardless of who said it. 

This is wasted breath.

Every adult I’ve ever given 360 feedback results to goes straight to guessing who said it. The instinct is to determine who said what so they can decide if the comment has merit. If they think it’s person A, they take it seriously. If they think it’s person B, they can write it off as irrelevant. They do this even if person B’s comments are a gold mine of insight. 

So, it’s been fascinating to watch how DC and the rest of the country react to the New York Time’s anonymous op-ed article. Our governing and policy-making adults are behaving no differently than their corporate counterparts. Here's the pattern:

  1. First, everyone wants to be held blameless. Feedback reports invariably include comments that reflect that we’re less than perfect. I’ve yet to see anyone enjoy receiving “constructive” feedback. Even if they say they do, they don’t. It stings and we don’t like it.

  2. Nonetheless, the mature leader wants to know how to use the information to become more effective.

  3. The less mature leader finds reasons the feedback doesn’t actually pertain to them. They offer defensive rationale to prove they are innocent. 

  4. The more mature leader is able to grasp that their positive intentions don’t automatically translate into intended effects they have on others. They seek to align their actions with desired intent. This is where the juice is.

  5. The less mature utterly miss this linkage. In fact, they actively work against it: they expend energy faulting everyone else. The other person clearly “took it the wrong way.” 

  6. The least mature become obsessed with discovering who gave the comment. And they relish the idea of payback. 

What’s been dismaying for me is to see the obsession with finding out who wrote the op-ed article. Speculation about the intent and the character of the author(s) has essentially become the story. 

In other words, there’s no value in the message since we don’t know who wrote it. The focus has been exclusively on the “Who.”

What if we paid attention to the “What”? What if we assumed that it’s worthwhile to consider the content of this particular piece of feedback, even if it’s a message we didn't want to hear?

Because that is where the juice is.

Have A Great Weekend

The first week of September is in the books!

With it came two more primaries and the Kavanaugh hearings. The Senate provided numerous examples of free speech and not a lot in the way of loyal antagonism. In the face of contentious hearings, high stakes decision-making, and mid-term elections, how can we model and foster loyal antagonism? We're hoping to hear from you.

Here's what we've been talking about this week:

Hope, faith, and voter turnout.

A little Childish Gambino to close out summer.

DeRay Mckesson (and his ubiquitous blue vest) featured in Vanity Fair! And he's embarked on his book tour. Catch him in a city near you! (DC tonight!)

Bishop Garrison in his new role as interim Executive Director of the Truman Project for some Friday motivation.

Lori is coming to the West Coast later this month! Spectrum exercises anyone? Find out more here and keep an eye out for details on facebook!

Have coffee with someone who sees the world differently than you do. Check your voter registration. And be kind to strangers. 

"We are better than this, America is better than this." Reflections on John McCain and what it means to cultivate the karass.

John McCain’s memorial service provided vivid evidence that we are not alone.

For a few golden hours, partisanship was visibly suspended. We set aside the petty arguments and the self-righteous rants. We listened. We came together to commune with the honorable, the true, the noble. We did this as Americans from all walks of life. 

For a few golden hours, there was a palpable kind of relief. A sense of reconnecting with a side of our collective identity that has seemed to be dormant. 

So, we know it’s possible. 

Even at a time when it feels that we are inescapably divided, we saw evidence that it’s not true. We’re not as far apart as we think. We are capable of living out the highest values that founded and still animate our democracy. We can abide with others while upholding our ideals; ideals that are expressed differently and with great variety, but that ultimately hold us together.

As McCain himself put it in a letter he wrote days before his death:

"We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country, we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do."

This is what we mean by Karass.

And this is what we’re cultivating.

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Have A Great Weekend

It was a week filled with loss and hope and powerful reflections on what it means to be a loyal antagonist and how we can overcome division and heal our democracy.

At CtK, we're always working to emphasize and amplify these messages about how relationships lie at the core of our communities and are the cornerstone of our democracy. Your personal connections, your willingness to reach out and reach across to learn more--without trying to persuade or change the opinion of your conversation partner--these are the efforts that will make the difference.

We are not hopelessly riven. We can connect. We will uplift. Thank you for continuing this work. 

Here are a few things we read this week worth sharing:

Today, we leave you with Vice President Joe Biden eulogizing his friend and political sparring partner, the late Senator John McCain. "All politics is personal. It is all about trust." -Joe Biden

Have A Great Weekend

It was quite a week. (Aren't they all?) 

More primaries (we'll say it every week from now until the election: get out and vote! Make sure you're registered! Take the time to visit vote.org to make sure your voter information is correct and encourage your family and friends to do the same.), lots of conversation about the state of our nation (see below for more on that) and sad news about the death of Aretha Franklin.

The Queen of Soul was remembered as a powerful presence, gifted musician, genius, and trailblazer. RIP.

A number of articles this week focused on exactly the kind of divides that CtK.Campfire exists to repair.

There is hope!

Congratulations to CtK.Campfire Alum, Bishop Garrison, who will be joining the Truman National Security Project as the Managing Director, Policy and Advocacy!

Have a great weekend! Get out for coffee with someone who holds different views. And be nice to strangers.

Have A Great Weekend

A few themes jumped out this week. We were reading about...

Local journalism and the role it plays in democracy:

  • The Democracy Fund looks out A Year After Charlottesville. Among other observations: "Powerful reporting of the rally and counter protests captured the attention of the nation. At a time when local news outlets are shuttering, the Pulitzer Prize winning photo-journalism of the Charlottesville Daily Progress demonstrated the industry’s role in telling local stories, and of the importance of Democracy Fund’s efforts to support innovators reinventing the business model for local news.
  • "In rural communities, print newspapers are still very important." NYT on Trump's tariffs and what they mean for local newspapers.

Economics and politics through a gender lens: 

And congrats to Cohort I Alum DeRay McKesson who has a new book coming out! You can pre-order On the Other Side of Freedom at deray.com. A portion of all pre-order proceeds go to the @NAACP_LDF to support their work in/out of courtrooms as they fight for justice!