This past weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a Kentucky Kitchen Table, where six of us sat around a table and discussed citizenship and other issues globally. We had our Kentucky Kitchen Table at Chili’s, a restaurant at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, KY. There were six of us there, all of us with different backgrounds and studying different majors. Ryan was the host of our group. He is from Owensboro, KY and a junior at WKU studying accounting. There was Mahesan, who is from Clarksville, TN, and also a junior. He is studying biochemistry at WKU and plans to go to medical school once he graduates. Then there was Jill, who is from Louisville and a freshman currently studying music, but she is looking to change her major next year. Jill is also a vegan, which is something very interesting that I had the opportunity to learn what that entailed. Next, there was Thomas. He is a senior at WKU and graduating this year with an exercise science degree. He is from Brandenburg, KY and looking to becoming a clinical exercise physiologist once he graduates. The next person is Anne, who is also a freshman at WKU. She is from Frankfort, KY, and studying philosophy. Although Anne is not a vegan, she is a vegetarian since she came to college, and she loves it. Lastly, there was myself. I am a junior at WKU, and from a small little town by the name of Madisonville, KY. I am a biology and chemistry double major, and planning on attending dental school, preferably at the University of Louisville, to become a dentist.
Honestly, I was a little nervous of how the night was going to go. I am sometimes a shy, quiet person that does not care to talk very much with other people that I do not really know. I was more nervous of how the conversation would go if there were any awkward pauses where no one really had anything to say or add to the conversation. However, once we got there, it was very natural to talk to everyone, especially when Anne was from my Honors 251 class, and Mahesan and I have had several of our major science classes together since sophomore year. Knowing these two in addition to Thomas, made the evening go much smoother than expected. It was also great to get to know Ryan, Jill, and Anne more. I learned a lot about them and took a lot of what they had to say throughout the dinner. It was great to talk to people that I would have never talked to or met here while at Western, and it was great to see everyone’s different perspectives. It was also natural for me to have dinner around the table because my family has always done that when I was growing up. Every night, my mom would cook dinner as I helped, and we would have dinner together as a family, taking about our days and what we learned at school or church if it was Sunday. Although we do not do that as much because of the busyness of our schedules and the fact that I have moved to college, I still remember those days and miss them. I have such great memories sitting around a table and just talking with my family.
The first question that we asked each other was the question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” This was a great question to start out with because it allowed us to break the ice as well as carry the conversation onto other topics throughout dinner. The overall agreement of the group was that being a good citizen means being a good person and caring about others. Citizenship is working together towards a common goal, putting others’ needs ahead of your own, and building a community of people. Thomas made a good point that people were more like this in the past. Neighbors cared for one another and people and communities interacted with one another more compared to now. Due to technology, people, especially our generation, have become more self-centered through texting and emailing. We do not have to speak with each other face to face anymore if we do not want to. We can limit our relationships with others and just focus on ourselves if we desire to. In addition to this, technology causes discrepancies in communication. We have misunderstanding because of the lack of body language and mannerisms. I have experienced this in my own life when texting others. I mean to say one thing, but the other person thinks that it means something else because they could not see my facial expressions or hear my tone of voice. Although technology is great and has many positive aspects, there are also drawbacks to it where it takes the personal connection away from relationships. Ryan concluded that people are all naturally good. We choose to help others in our own way in which we think is best. However, there is always something to learn from the generations before us because they have been where we are. We cannot ignore their wisdom and personal experiences.
This discussion led us to talk about another question: “What do you think are the best things about our world today?” Ryan answered this question first looking at the world from an analytical and economic viewpoint. The standard of living has greatly increased compared to the past. People and countries have become more economically stable. However, as Jill pointed out, the increase in the standard of living does not necessarily make people around the world happier. There are still so many people without necessities to live or do not have basic human rights. This brought up the question of do we raise the standard of living first or do we focus on giving people their basic human rights. Will giving people their basic human rights raise the standard of living, or will raising the standard of living give people their human rights? We came to the conclusion that this is a very wicked problem that does not have any one correct answer. For me personally, giving people around the world human rights seems out of reach. I don’t understand how that can ever happen because of the communications and agreements that would have to be made among so many countries together. I do not see how relationships between The United States and the Middle Eastern countries can ever be mended because we are in such conflict with each other currently. However, we concluded that if we each do our small part in the community, we can have such a great impact on others on an everyday basis. We are unable focus on international issues, but we do have the opportunity to focus on our own communities.
If we come together as a community, we can do so much good in the world. I learned through this experience that people who are random strangers can have a calm, rational conversation even if we disagree on some things. This is what people across the nation need to take a part in, especially when discussing major wicked problems in our own nation as well as across the world. Learning this also relates to what we have been talking about in our Honors 251 class throughout the semester. It reminds me of the article we read of “How We Talk Matters” by Keith Melville. He writes in this article that how we talk truly matters.We need to speak calmly and rationally with others whom we do not agree with. We need to see their point of view and see where they are coming from because we all have our own personal experiences that we have gone through. What we talked about at dinner also reminded me of the articles we read about the environmental case study and the wicked problem of saving our plant from carbon emissions. I learned through these readings, or deliberation in class, and what we discussed at our Kentucky kitchen table, that even if we cannot make a huge difference personally around the world, we can make a difference in our own communities. We can change our habits and the way we think about ourselves and the community. We can truly impact others positively just by talking with them and forming a relationship with them. If we take the time to understand where they are coming from through their experiences and to learn their point of view, we might be able to actually learn something new and see things in another way that we would have never considered. Not only will this allow us to become good citizens, it will also give us the opportunity to become people that care about others and put others’ needs before their own. Through this experience, I hope to take what I have learned and use it in my everyday life now as well as in the future.