Kentucky’s Kitchen Table: “Finding Your Identity”

By Luke

After several weeks of scheduling conflicts and procrastination, our group was finally able to meet at our host Emily’s home for our Kentucky’s Kitchen Table project, which, to my enjoyment, ended up being a chicken taco night. After consuming an unsafe amount of Mexican food – as well as a delicious West 6th Amber Ale – it was finally time to have our discussion, which began of course with brief introductions.

Our host for the evening was Emily, a Bowling Green native currently completing her graduate degree at WKU involving an intricate combination of humanities courses. Dubbing herself as “Elisabeth Gish’s protégé”, Emily plans on living in a Chicago-based commune for approximately 9 months following graduation, and eventually hopes to attend divinity school in the Boston area.

Next around the circle was Daniel, a freshman on the path to nursing school. He briefly described his catholic-school upbringing in Louisville, which concluded with attendance at Saint Xavier High School. Like myself, Daniel enjoys reading and Netflix, but he also mentioned his heavy involvement with theater in high school. Volleyball is another of Daniel’s hobbies.

Ethan, another freshman honors student, was also in attendance. His interest in the broadcasting program brought him to WKU from Nolensville, TN, and his primary hobby involves working with the WKU-PBS television station. In addition, Ethan enjoys Netflix and hanging out with friends. He also mentioned being a baptist, although not extremely devout (this adjective described nearly all of our religious affiliations, aside from Emily’s).

The final member of our dinner/discussion was Alex, a fellow senior, who is wrapping up her degree in Agriculture this semester. Originally from the small town of Gallatin, TN, Alex enjoys horseback riding (specifically “barre racing”), kayaking, working on her truck & car, and shooting guns at the range with her father. She mentioned playing volleyball in high school, and identified as a southern baptist.

Only one of the “conversation starters” listed in the handbook (the required question) was officially addressed; however, our nearly two hour discussion encompassed several of the other questions indirectly. When asked about what “citizenship meant to her” (aside from voting, paying taxes, and following laws), Emily began detailing her somewhat abstract, yet immensely intriguing perspective on citizenship, which I’ll attempt to recollect.

She began by stating that we as individuals are citizens of several communities simultaneously. Some are obvious and based merely on residential locations such as hometowns, home-states and national residence (think “American citizens”). Others are more personal and greater in number/variety: extra-curricular clubs or groups, churches and other religious congregations, athletic teams at varying levels of competition, family units (whether traditional or not), friend groups, etc. As a result, human beings develop varying “identities” generated through association with varying communities (your personality/behavior around friends or colleagues changes when around parents and family, for example). According to Emily, as we grow and progress through the numerous chapters of our lives, we change how we prioritize the communities we belong to, and this in turn changes our identities over time. As a result, though any person at any given time may belong to a diverse collection of communities, one generally takes precedence over others and is responsible for what Emily referred to as that person’s “primary identity.” Think of it this way: when someone asks you to “tell a little about yourself,” the community associated with the majority of your description is your main priority (at the time) and is responsible for generating your primary identity as an individual.

For example, everyone in attendance other than Emily mentioned that practicing religious faith (i.e. our “religious community”) had become less of a priority since beginning school at WKU – an example of how priorities change in regards to communities we are citizens of. Personally, my social fraternity has been the most important community in my undergraduate career until now, and had previously generated my primary identity. However, as I prepare to graduate and move on to veterinary school in the fall, I’ve found that my primary identity has shifted, and the communities involving my girlfriend and select close friends have taken precedence. I’m sure that once I begin classes at Auburn this fall my “academic community” will become much more of a personal priority and change my primary identity. Being able to apply Emily’s theory to my own life helped it resonate all the more.

To conclude, Emily encouraged us to examine our own lives and practice articulating what our primary identities may be at the present time. This reminded me not only of Martha Nussbaum’s reading from Week 1 titled “Socratic Pedagogy: The Importance of Argument” that encouraged self-examination, but also Jonathan Haidt’s “The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail” from Week 2 that urged readers to try and pinpoint the sources (i.e. the communities) of their own intuitions as a way to aid in debate and discussion. Discovering what motivates the decisions you make and the opinions you possess is critical to understanding yourself and properly empathizing with those around you, and I believe Emily’s theory attempts to get at the heart of what makes us who we are as individuals. If we find that we are satisfied with our primary identity, we should work to cultivate it and give our best to the communities responsible for its formation. If we are unsatisfied, however, perhaps we should begin to shift our priority to communities that can help us become the best versions of ourselves and support others in doing the same.

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Back row (from left to right): Ethan, myself, and Daniel. Front row (from left to right): Alex and Emily.

 

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