This fall, I had the pleasure of hosting my Kentucky Kitchen Table in my own dining room. Since I have lived in Bowling Green, Kentucky my whole life, it was a convenient ten-minute drive from campus for me and John Mark, the cohost of the project. Around the table (from left to right) was John Mark, a junior in the Honors College at WKU who is majoring in creative writing; DeAnn, John Mark’s mother, a very sweet woman who works as a physical therapist and is from Roanoke, Virginia; Rick R., my father, who works as a cognitive behavioral therapist, is infamous for his cheesy “dad jokes,” and is from Minnesota; Rick T., an accountant, history buff, and talker of all things politics who is from Carroll county and had lived in Franklin, Kentucky for many years; Kathy, my mother, who works as a marriage and family therapist, has the kindest of hearts, and is from Tennessee; and myself, a freshman in the Honors College at WKU who is majoring in chemistry and biology.
As the night began, we all gathered around the table and each enjoyed a big bowl of chili or two, making a few brief comments about my dogs who were loudly pleading for liberation from the bedroom in which they were locked in for the night. Since the 2016 presidential election was earlier in the week, I knew political talk was inevitable, but I was excited to hear the various opinions that our guests had brought to the table, nevertheless.
Like most Kentucky Kitchen Table projects, we started out by discussing what it truly means to be a citizen, apart from voting and paying taxes. The common response to this question was along the lines of how you should offer help to those who are in need, and how you should respectfully voice your opinions to the community when the opportunities arise. In other words, you should be open to serving the community in hopes of making it a better place to live. Connecting these ideas to the class, I presented the idea of how Thomas Jefferson highly valued town meetings because it was the healthiest way that the community could discuss societal issues. After we explored many different answers, Rick T. posed his own question in response: where has civility gone in today’s society? His explanation to the question was composed of his experiences throughout his life, telling us about his noticing of society beginning to shift toward a lack of respect for one another’s opinions. John Mark followed by talking about how people’s ideas are so polarized from each other, which oftentimes leads to people arguing with a closed mind, thus neglecting the idea of seeking a common ground to settle upon.
Switching the mood of the conversation, I asked those around the table what they thought some of the best things in today’s society were. Those who were quick to answer listed off things such as technology, medicine, education, transportation, and the growth of capitalism and freedom. DeAnn, reminiscing about old technology, asked me and John Mark if we happened to know about microfiches. As we shook our heads no, DeAnn and Rick T. both took the opportunity to explain to us how troublesome it used to be to have to use a microfiche to research information for a school paper since all of your work had to be done at the library. In contrast, the point was made about how our generation is fortunate enough to live in the age of technology, and how we are always roughly five clicks away from finding the answer to a myriad of questions online. Being the philosopher that Rick T. is, he once again smoothly made his way into the conversation and posed another great question: is the convenience of technology always a good thing? We made the conclusion that in moderation, it is a good thing. Rick R. talked about how thousands of years ago, people relied on each other for both safety and social interaction, and in contrast, people now just hunker down in the comfort of their home because technology and social media provides people with a sense of social connectedness. This is one of the largest reasons that keeps us from getting to know our neighbors, and many of us are guilty of it.
Finally, with the election fresh on our minds, I posed the question, “what is some advice that you would give to the president-elect?” A mutual agreement amongst everyone at the table was that the best piece of advice to is to tell him that the government is an institution, not a person. This piece of advice would be good to tell the president-elect so that he may humble himself, and it is also a good piece of advice for those who are troubled by the thought of Mr. Trump in office. Rick T. took this opportunity to access the perpetual history vault in his noggin to compare this situation to one seen earlier in American history: Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Rick T. explained how Reagan was viewed as unfit for the presidency because he was a “stupid actor,” but went on to hold his own because of the smart individuals that he surrounded himself with in office – something that I think most of us hope Mr. Trump will do. Also, one of the biggest revelations that occurred at the table was when Rick T. stated that he was a Blue Dog Democrat. As a look of confusion emerged from many of our faces, Rick T. quickly explained that it was a term used for democrats who hold conservative views on many issues. After Rick T. dropped this bomb on us, I personally began to question my stances on political issues and sift through the views that I can consider bipartisan. As for DeAnn, she learned that her political views best matched up with Rick T.’s, considering herself a newly-found Blue Dog Democrat.
In closing, I came into this project expecting the night to be short, boring, and full of expected answers; however, I was shocked at how insightful and enjoyable the night turned out to be. I am very thankful that I was required to complete this project, and I would absolutely do it again. From the time I asked the first question of the night, to the time we cleaned up the dining room table, two, almost three hours had sped by. Never in my life had I perceived the saying, “everyone has something to bring to the table,” as being so accurate. If you ever have the chance to organize your own Kentucky Kitchen Table, I highly encourage you to, for you may walk away from the night with a different perspective on society, or maybe even discover that you are a Blue Dog Democrat, who knows…