My mom is recovering from complications from a hip replacement surgery while parts of our house are being remodeled. Therefore, with the permission of Dr. Gish, we had to change plans and meet at a restaurant instead of eating at home. Although the situation wasn’t ideal, we had a really great time getting to know one another and had some great conversations about citizenship.
The members of the table were: Steve, a Democrat and a Catholic, moved around a lot when he was a kid because his father served in the Air Force. Fonda, who spent her childhood in a very conservative town in West Virginia, has always been very liberal and a confirmed Episcopalian. She has spent her life being a social worker and helping those who need it. Elizabeth is a Republican and a Baptist. She grew up in extreme poverty but has since made it to the upper middle class. Jeffery is a Republican and a Baptist. He was the only one (with the exception of me) who did not have a college degree. He was however, the first one of his family to get out of the farming business and start his own business. He is part of the upper middle class. Zack is a graduate of WKU and is currently in law school. Zack has traveled the world more than anyone at the table. He hopes to one day work in International Law.
The evening started off with me asking everyone what it meant to them to be a citizen. A couple of the ideas were that being a citizen meant being tied to the community and being involved in that community. While others took it a step farther and said that it also meant being part of the country as a whole, not just the community. They thought your identity as a citizen meant that you were part of something much greater than yourself. One at the table said that not only are you part of something greater than yourself but as a citizen you must give 100% to keep your country and community great.
The conversation then turned to how religion affects their actions as a citizen. Only one of them said that religion doesn’t affect them as a citizen. They said that they firmly believe in a separation of church and state. A couple of the guests strongly disagreed with this sentiment. They vote, do community service, and other various activities based on their religion. The conversation turned to issues like gay marriage and Syrian Refugees. One of the members at the table said they didn’t agree with gay marriage. I was raised in a family where gay marriage has always been accepted, so this is a different view than what I am used too. It was a unique experience having a civilized conversation about such controversial issues at a dinner table. I can’t say we came to an agreement about the issues but we came to a mutual tolerance of each other’s beliefs.
I then asked if they felt obligated as a citizen or through their religion to help other people. I was surprised that I was the only one who thought that a citizen should be obligated to help other people. This is not to say that they didn’t agree that people should help other people but that it was not an obligation. They all talked about their involvement with charities and how they feel morally compelled to help impoverished children or victims of abuse but they weren’t obligated to do it. I was curious and asked if someone who had a lot of money or a lot of resources would have more responsibility to help those in need. Some of the members at the table didn’t think it was a responsibility exactly but if you are able to do something then you should because there are not enough resources for all who need them. One member of the group thought that a person’s wealth was their own, and it was up to them to decide what to do with it, and that they had absolutely no responsibility to anyone to donate their money or time to charity.
I asked them if it was important to be part of a community that valued charity and/or what other kinds of things they value in a community. They all agreed that communities that prioritized charity and where neighbors were involved in their community were things that they valued. One person mentioned that they want a community that is not only involved but strives to be close knit. A few mentioned wanting a lot of diversity in their neighborhoods. They said they enjoy learning about different cultures and when their kids were younger they made sure they were exposed to people from every walk of life. Another member of the table said that this wasn’t important to them. They would rather have a neighborhood with people of similar education, socioeconomic status, and backgrounds. They said that they relate to people better that are similar as opposed to diverse.
In seminar we talk a lot about tolerance vs. acceptance. I realized it is very easy for me to say someone who doesn’t accept gay marriage or someone who may be racist needs to at least be tolerant of those that are different from them even if they don’t accept them. It is, however, incredibly difficult for me to tolerate someone who is against gay marriage or racist or intolerant of others. My first instinct is to say something back and tell them that they are wrong or it’s not okay to treat someone like a second rate citizen. While it is not okay to treat someone like a second rate citizen, nothing gets accomplished by me getting angry at someone who has a way of thinking that maybe isn’t so accepting (or at least what I think is accepting). I thought a lot about the patience readings and how patience doesn’t just apply to learning or perfecting a skill, it also applies to dealing with people. There were times during the dinner that I had to demonstrate patience to try and understand where people were coming from. I really think being patient with people and understanding that many situations are more complex than they seem at first is a skill and a virtue that the world could use today.
I think this assignment also made me realize how important it is to have the patience to have conversations with everyone in the community before someone initiates a plan to help better the community. A lot of the members in the group wanted a close knit community; some wanted this by having lots of diversity while others wanted their neighbors to be of the same education and socioeconomic class as them. One person wanted a complete separation of church and state while the others wanted religion to be heavily involved with their daily civic lives. It takes time to go through and talk to all of the stakeholders that could be affected by an initiative but at the end of the day you could really alienate a lot of people if you don’t get their opinions and ideas first.