A Strong Democracy requires strong leaders.

Cultivate the Karass is redefining the rules of political and social engagement. CtK's loyal antagonists champion strong opinions--and engage with differing perspectives to expand their knowledge and galvanize better problem solving.

We are building a stronger democracy. And we need your help to achieve it.

CtK’s support comes from individuals, foundations, and private philanthropy and is entirely supported by donations from visionaries like you.

This #GivingTuesday, please consider a tax deductible donation to CtK

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Thanksgiving Conversations

Question: Are holiday gatherings, particularly those with family, the best place to have deep discussions about politics, religion, and personal values? 

Answer: Probably not. 

Question: Are they the setting for a lot of these conversations anyway? 

Answer: For most people, yes. 

Over three decades training leaders to have hard conversations, I’ve been able to develop some approaches that are just as helpful at the holiday dinner table as they are in the corporate board room. For most of us, there is more at stake at the dinner table. Here are some suggestions for navigating these potentially explosive encounters in a way that preserves your integrity while respecting others at the table:

  1. Start by assuming positive intent.

    Assume no one has come to the meal intending to be a jerk. There’s a good chance that some of your table-mates feel the same way about you and your ideology as you do about theirs. Put the weaponizing language on a shelf, look at the people around you, and believe that they, too, would rather have a peaceful time together. 

  2. Be inquisitive and honor their story.

    Use this as an opportunity to listen and gain a better understanding of people with whom you share deep ties, even if you don’t choose to be with them for most of the year. Ask questions until you learn something about them that you didn't already know. And if a polarizing comment about politics comes up, try something like: “I realize I don’t know what’s led you to feel that way. I don’t agree, but I’m curious about how you came to this conclusion.”

  3. Honor your own story. 

    Hopefully, your family will reciprocate and give you the opportunity to explain how you have come to your perspectives. But don’t count on it. If you have worked on your own emotional intelligence and have learned to withhold judgment long enough to truly hear another person, then you are the person responsible for the tenor of the conversation—even if others fall short.

    If you feel that remaining silent violates a commitment you’ve made to yourself regarding an important issue, speak up. But be mindful of your words, and be honest about your intentions. If you are hoping to persuade someone to change their opinion, you should probably let that go.

  4. Create an atmosphere of grace.

    Take the time and energy to embody a spirit of grace and allow it to be resident at the table. Yes, this can be exhausting. But it's also an opportunity for each of us to look in the mirror, make a choice about how we want to show up, and then bring this aspiration alive through words that foster connection, reconciliation, empathy and compassion. 

The holiday dinner table can quickly become a battlefield. But it is also an opportunity to buck the tide of polarizing anxiety that dominates America at this particular moment. You can choose to do something different: to listen, engage more fully, and act with genuine empathy towards those you care about. 

The results may surprise you. 

Have A Great Weekend

Lori & the CtK crew at Georgetown IOP!

Lori & the CtK crew at Georgetown IOP!

What have you been up to this week?

We honored our nation’s heroes on Veteran’s Day. "Patriotism has no monolithic voice or singular face. Those who defend us are as diverse as our nation itself — and that is a great strength of our nation." Read the rest of CtK Alum Bishop Garrison words honoring of veterans in this essay.

Lori was at Georgetown on Monday (with lots of CtK Alums), P&P on Tuesday (with lots of CtK Alums), Grinnell College in Iowa on Wednesday, and now she’s gearing up for the Obama Foundation Summit on Monday!

She reports: “Great discussions with brilliant political influencers: Are we a democracy or a republic? Do Americans know the difference? And which one do you think the US should be moving towards?” That’s our question for you this weekend: Are we a democracy or a republic?

A few reads from the week:

We’re gearing up for #GivingTuesday—a global giving movement!—and hope you’ll help us participate. Tune in next week for more details about the Cohort Challenge. And save the date!

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Have A Great Weekend

We want to confess our naiveté right up front.

We thought that the news cycle might slow down for a hot second in the hours after the election. We are heartbroken at another mass shooting. We are tracking election results that are heading to recounts and legal challenges. Things seem to be moving faster than ever.

If you’re willing to keep reading after that confession, we do have a few more thoughts.

First, thank you to everyone who helped make this a record-setting election. We salute every single person who stepped up, volunteered, registered new voters, worked to make our representative democracy even more representative. Congratulations to all of our CtK Alums who knocked doors, did comms, wrote essays, backed candidates, shared expertise, and, at all turns, showed up on behalf of our democracy. We are immensely proud.

Second, let’s acknowledge that this is a complicated moment. We’re all being asked to grapple with a lot of complexity. We’re asking people to hold the tension of the opposites all the time. The ground keeps shifting and the world seems to be speeding up and contradicting itself nearly all the time. (Or, as Alexandra Petri put it: the news is like if the Augean stables were also somehow a hydra.) Reports are telling us of further polarization and an exhausted majority.

So we’re asking you, our alums, our loyal antagonists, to live into your training. Find ways to listen and be open. To be clear, when there is racism, misogyny, anti-semitism or a threat to the republic, we know you will work to reduce hate. But the only way forward is to believe that we are all in it for the sake of the nation, for the future of our country, for the rights of all people. Now is the time to forge productive alliances.

Now is the time for loyal antagonism.


We want to share a few post-election reads and reminders, all focused on healthcare:


And from us to you, one more expression of our gratitude: You are the champions of our democracy, and we are optimistic about the future because of you, because of your hard work.

Thank you.

Loyal Antagonism in A Post-Midterm World

At CtK, we focus on loyal antagonism as a way to bolster our democracy.

We train loyal antagonists to remain open to contrary opinions, listen, and engage in productive dialogue across ideological divisions. Loyal antagonists hold their own opinions at the same time that they place value on the opinions of others. Persuasion is not our focus.

When leaders engage with differing perspectives, they expand their knowledge base. This leads to better problem solving. This creates space for vulnerability, honesty, and collaboration. Shared values and understanding help remove barriers between people.

CtK is redefining the rules of engagement by creating a space that fosters immediate bonds between people who might usually hold positions that are diametrically opposed. The bonds that this training forms often go beyond CtK and manifest in real-world working relationships and friendships that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

We saw that throughout the midterm election cycle where CtK Alums from across the ideological spectrum stripped away the rhetoric and got straight to the point: How do we best protect our democracy?

We are all here for the democracy. Together, we can forge a strong path forward. Now is the time to be a loyal antagonist. Join us.

Have A Great Weekend

This is it! The last weekend before midterm elections.

If you are supporting a candidate, consider helping them with their last minute GOTV efforts. Host a phone bank, knock some doors! If you’re a parent (or an auntie, uncle, grandparent, or a babysitter of any variety) CtK Alum Katie Bethell’s organization Paid Leave US offers 5 Tips to GOTV with Kids This Weekend.

Then, join CtK Alums like Anton Vuljaj and #BeAVoter: make sure you get to the polls! Make sure that your friends are voters, too. Behavioral economist Dan Pinker shares some science to help you get your friends out to vote!

Turned away at the polls? Here is what you need to know.

Low civic participation is one of the most profound challenges we face in the U.S.
— Ashley Spillane

Here’s what five of our CtK Alums had to say this week about how we can make our democracy better for everyone:

Plus two announcements!

We’re proud to announce that CtK Founder, Lori Brewer Collins, has been invited to speak at the Obama Foundation Summit and Patriots & Pragmatists later this month!

ACA registration is open from November 1 to December 15. If you or someone you know is in need of healthcare coverage, sign up now.


On Gratitude

We asked CtK.Campfire Alums to share a little about what the experience has meant to them. We were humbled by what they had to say.

“It is rare to be in an environment that simultaneously fosters vulnerability and warmth, inspiration and humor. CtK provided us with the tools to connect, to share pieces of ourselves and to share the stories that draw us to our work. It also gave us the space to open up and truly hear others’ stories, especially those that we are not accustomed to hearing. I came home from the weekend newly reinvigorated to imagine possibilities for our collective futures — and to start taking the actions that will turn those futures into reality. I believe every leader should have an opportunity like CtK: the opportunity to be surprised, to challenge our assumptions, to touch our third rail questions, and to hear the sorts of perspectives that add new nuance and depth to our work. I am grateful to be joined to this community, and I look forward to watching the ever-growing imprint it will leave on our next-generation cross-partisan political community.” -Ari Wallach, Cohort III

I believe every leader should have an opportunity like CtK: the opportunity to be surprised, to challenge our assumptions, to touch our third rail questions, and to hear the sorts of perspectives that add new nuance and depth to our work.
— Ari Wallach

Have A Great Weekend

CtK Alums in the news over the past week:

  • CtK Alum Sara Houlobek quoted in this important essay on healthcare and tech, “Just as Holoubek declared 2018 the year of pilot testing she also shared a prediction about next year. ‘2019,’ Holoubek said, ‘will be the year of bad voice tech experiences.’”

  • CtK Alum Katie Harbath on facebook’s efforts in the lead up to global elections: The “war room is something new that we’re trying in terms of having a physical presence, and we’ll reevaluate and see how it works here after the U.S. midterms to determine if this is something that we want to continue for major elections going forward.”

  • Devoted Health, founded by CtK Alum Todd Park, former chief technology officer for the Obama administration, also features the work of CtK Alum DJ Patil who previously served as the U.S.’s chief data scientist during the Obama administration. Find out how they plan to utilize tech to direct healthcare to seniors.

  • CtK Airlie Retreat participant Ben Yee with his latest newsletter.

Have you published something recently? Been quoted sharing your expertise? Launched a venture? We’d love to recognize your work! Please let us know what you’ve been up to.

As for our CtK team, well, we’re each gearing up for the midterms in different ways.

  • Lori is in Europe training global leaders—and getting in a little Tuscan r&r as well. (She voted early, before she left the US.)

  • Jen is in Northern Manitoba Canada with polar bear biologists learning about bear biology and climate change from the (relative) warmth of a Tundra Buggy. (She also voted early, before she left the US.)

  • Loretta is holding down the fort in DC and making sure that CtK keeps moving forward. (She’s planning to vote on Election Day.)

What are you up to? We’d love to hear from you!

From the Campfire: Rules of Engagement

At Campfire, we ask people to show up and be vulnerable. But we never do it without laying the ground rules.

How can we ask each participant to tell the group about the people and experiences that led them to where they are today or expect them to let their initial wariness dissolve without some parameters? Because, really, we want to get to a place where we see each other as human, where we respect whatever forces delivered each of us to this place. Without a foundation forged in mutual respect, how can we expect to discuss the state of democracy, civic engagement, and hyper-partisanship constructively?

So here they are, our ground rules:

  1. Be an active, constructive contributor.

  2. Commit to respect all points of view and agree not to weaponize.

  3. Assume positive intent.

  4. Be brutal in your honesty and gentle in your delivery.

  5. Maintain confidentiality about who’s in the group, what was said, and the details you’ve absorbed. In short, observe the Chatham House Rule.

We believe these rules translate into the foundation of a well-lived personal and professional life. We take them with us and try to live by them every day.

And we make time for walks, shared meals, and—whenever possible—conversation around a campfire. We’d recommend that you do, too.