My Kentucky Kitchen Table project, held in Owensboro, KY, provided a chance for me to learn from several different people about their role in society. It was interesting to hear all of the different perspectives and how the perspectives changed based on the age of the dinner guests. The dinner consisted of Kassandra, Jeff, Allison, Avery, Nijha, Rose, Isabella, Donny, and me. Kassandra is my hardworking mother. She provided the entire meal for the dinner because she wanted to try out a new recipe that she had seen. She made spinach lasagna and garlic bread. She also provided a beautiful strawberry cake for dessert. Interestingly enough, each of the guests helped in setting up for the dinner by laying place mats out, filling cups with ice and water, and putting silverware out. It was nice to see an element of “citizenship” playing out even before the dinner started. Jeff is my dad. He is 46 years old and works as a maintenance manager for Alcoa. Both Allison and Avery are my sisters. Allison is a college student at a local university and Avery is in high school. Avery brought a friend named Isabella. They do not go to the same high school, but met in middle school where they have remained friends since. Isabella brought her friend from her high school, Nijha. Nijha comes from a single parent household and she is biratial. My grandmother, Rose, lives in a government funded housing complex in the center of our city. She brought one of her friends from her housing complex named Donny. Donny is an U.S. army veteran. While I went into the dinner wanting to get my questions answered, I felt that our conversations sparked a more meaningful purpose for the dinner.
As we all sat down with our plates of lasagna and garlic bread, I started to ask some questions. Each member of the dinner came to the dinner with the understanding that they would be answering questions for a project of mine and so they were all prepared to give thoughtful responses to the questions I had. I asked each person the required question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Interestingly enough, there was a stark contrast between the answers of the high-school aged members and the older members. Isabella said, “[Citizenship means] you’re apart of the country and happy to follow to rules.” Nijha, who seemed shy at first, said “[citizenship is] doing good for others even when no one is watching.” Where as Donny said, “You’ve given everything you could and now you get to receive.” He was directly referring to social security in his response. Rose agreed with Donny and said that she feels that she has less of an impact on society as an older person than “you young people have.”
However the topic that dominated our discussion was that of social issues and the root of all social issues. I asked both Allison and Kassandra which social issue is closest to their heart and why and while their answers were different, they both fell under a similar theme. Kassandra responded, “Abortion because it’s a direct assault against God’s character.” And Allison noted, “Divorce is the social issue closest to my heart because it results in the division of families.” Kassandra later went on to talk about how she believed that many social issues were rooted in a citizen’s home life. I brought up the issue of drug use and how it seems that no matter what we do, drug use will always be a problem. Kassandra felt that drug use begins because of a lack of stability at a young age. Each person began to try and create “mini solutions” for current social problems. And as each person talked about social issues that weighed heavy on their hearts, it almost because discouraging. Similar to our discussions in class about wicked problems, each member of the dinner began to understand the complexity of most of the issues and how the issues seem almost impossible to correct. I explained that in my class, we discussed that their are some issues that are so complex that they can almost never be solved. As Jeff reflected on what we can do to solve some of these problems he said, “[It is our] responsibility to attribute to the common good.” This seemed to resonate with most of the members of the dinner.
The most interesting take away for me were the differences in perspective (and in turn, answers) based on the members’ age. While almost everyone at the table seemed to bring something a little unique simply because we’re human, the older members were more conservative and viewed their citizenship as something that is not as prevalent anymore. It is almost as if they’ve given all they need to, and now it is time for them to sit back and reap the benefits of their hard work. However the younger members all responded in ways that seemed to define their citizenship as an active duty.
I also learned that situations are only awkward if you make up your mind that they will be. I was so afraid leading up to the dinner that I would put my foot in my mouth, or that someone would feel uncomfortable, but everyone seemed to be at ease and there was no awkward silence. Because I knew that Isabella would be bringing a friend that I did not know, I was afraid that the friend would feel uncomfortable or awkward. It turned out that Nijha was incredibly friendly and brought unique and interesting ideas to the discussion. Similarly, Donny, whom I had seldom met but once, was very vocal when it came to our discussion. He was eager to explain his own opinions, but also ready to hear what others had to say. It demonstrated to me the importance of putting myself out there in situations that I may deem as uncomfortable. Ultimately, how are we going to learn anything if we’re not willing to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions?
I felt that the dinner was putting everything we’ve covered in class into reality. We’ve talked about listening to others’ opinions and we’ve discussed how to learn from other people even when you don’t agree. There were times during the dinner where I felt frustrated with a guest’s answer or response, but then I realized that it was my job to listen and hear their point of view. As soon as I could free myself up to do just that, I felt myself understanding that person so much more. Even my own dad and I had differing opinions on current social issues, but we were able to listen to one another and acknowledge where the other one was coming from. That, in essence, is what citizenship is – Being able to work together and understand where someone else may be coming from.