On Friday, April 7, 2017, I along with five others attended our Kentuckys Kitchen Table assignment. Our group had dinner at WKU’s campus Chili’s in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The people in our group included Anne and her friend Jill. Anne is an environmental health sciences and philosophy double major from Frankfurt Kentucky. She wants to work with water quality in the future. Jill is a recreation administration major from Louisville, Kentucky, who plans on working for the national park system. Hannah invited her friend Thomas to join her for the dinner. Hannah is a chemistry and biology double major from Madisonville, KY. She plans on going to dental school. Thomas is from Brandenburg, KY. He is majoring in exercise science and plans on becoming a clinical exercise physiologist. Mahesan, who is the friend I brought with me, is a biology major and chemistry minor. His parents both work in the healthcare profession, which has had an impact on him wanting to become a doctor. I am a senior accounting major and I plan on becoming a CPA for a public accounting firm. My family lives in Owensboro, KY, but we are originally from St. Louis, MO. While each of us at the table was a member of the Honor’s College we all had diverse backgrounds that helped to make a memorable conversation.
Our conversation started with us introducing ourselves and speaking a little bit about ourselves. At around this time the server came to the table and we learned that Anne is vegetarian and Jill is vegan. We then had an interesting and informative conversation on dietary choices and lifestyles, how people should work with dietary restrictions, and even other dietary choices and food allergies. After speaking about dietary choices, we talked about the required question of what citizenship means to us. One of the main themes in our conversation was that citizenship is about our personal choices to help those around us and working daily to be an individual who is concerned about what is happening around them. The point was made that most people have a desire to think of themselves, but also a need to connect with others. This could help make a case for deliberation and town hall forums. These settings are a more personal form of being involved in citizenship than say voting. They have the potential to allow others of differing viewpoints to connect and learn from each other. If we can put a face to a cause or viewpoint we can sometimes bring our walls down to see from other perspectives. I brought up that I believed most people are naturally good or have good intentions. One rebuttal to this was that humans are very self-interested and as an infant our minds are naturally a blank slate that is written upon by our upbringing and experiences. This makes the case that people’s good intentions may vary greatly depending on their experiences.
The next question we asked was what we think are the best things in the world, or what is good in the world today. I mentioned that in my economics class we had been viewing overall rates of poverty worldwide and per these statistics recently the global standard of living has been on the rise with less people in poverty. The rebuttal to this was how do we truly know that the statistics are accurate and that globally there have been many social justice and human rights violations. These human rights violations can be evidenced by Syrian chemical weapons attacks or many country’s oppressive treatment of women and persecution of the LGBT communities. This theme relates closely to the wicked problems readings, which consisted of the wicked problems handout and Carcasson’s article on dealing with wicked problems through deliberative engagement. We talked about how these human rights violations are wicked problems since they are difficult to end, but we can seek to minimize them to the best of our abilities. Like the bridge metaphor, the shape of the world (our side of the bridge) is rather dangerous. We do not want to be here with the atrocities happening worldwide. We want to be on the other side of the bridge where people’s human rights are protected and the world is a safer place. One way is for countries to openly talk about these issues and work together to help alleviate them. Not only should representatives of countries deliberate, but it is important for people to deliberate and help alleviate these problems locally. Working together on both fronts may help drive the metaphorical car (us) across the bridge.
A key social justice and human rights issue we talked about was sex trafficking and the prevalence of sex trafficking in Bowling Green. We talked about the factors that go into this complex problem. Due to Bowling Green’s large number of refugee populations, its location near a busy interstate, and lack of resources to fight this issue it has become more prevalent. We discussed how there are organizations that are seeking to help people escape and recover from sex trafficking experiences.
Another key theme we discussed was the role of rapidly advancing technology in the wicked problems of society and our lack of deliberative engagement. We talked about how it was normal in previous generations for families to eat together for dinner daily. We were a more familial and less individualistic society and would discuss life with each other. It seems that nowadays we are always on the move. Our smartphones, tablets, wireless headsets and other mobile technology have enabled us to just grab a quick bite to eat then to spend time to enjoy our meals. Even when people enjoy meals together they are tempted to have their cell phone’s out on the table. It’s almost as if we need to be prepared for when someone may text or call, instead of just enjoying the company of a friend or peer. Humans are social beings, but we are turning to text based, online, and even online video technology to fill these needs. This reliance on technology is not necessarily a negative thing, as technological advances have also benefited society. For the purposes of this class we agreed that text-based and other communications cannot fully substitute face-to-face deliberative engagement. For example, there is still an awkwardness factor on skype conference calls. It is also easier to misinterpret textual communication, especially when trying to express multiple viewpoints. In this situation, face-to-face communication allows for necessary social ques, tones of voice, and inflections. There is also a personal sense of being in the presence of others in face-to-face communication. These factors contribute to effective deliberations.
Related to the rapid evolution of technology and individualism is the treatment of the elderly in society. Thomas shared some of his experiences of working with the elderly. He mentioned that oftentimes those in elderly living communities are put into these care facilities after having just lost a spouse or loved one. Many are also placed into care because they are becoming unable to take care of themselves. What they need most during these times is the love and support of family members. Many times, though, these elderly individuals rarely receive family visitors. We discussed the emotional and physical toll that loneliness and stress has on the elderly. While it is heartbreaking to hear of the neglect that the elderly often experience, there are countries and programs that seek to help the elderly stay connected. One such program in Finland seeks to offer young adults reduced rent at a senior home. In this way, the younger generation can spend time with the older generation. The experience of an elderly individual spending time with a younger person alleviates their loneliness. It also allows the younger generation to draw on the knowledge of the previous generations.
I learned many important things from our Kentucky Kitchen Table. I learned the importance of seeing the world in a human perspective. I am very used to viewing the world in my limited knowledge through statistical trends. When many people are involved I tend to think in a way that distances myself from the situation. I learned that whether the world is less in poverty than years ago, there are still large amounts of human rights violations occurring worldwide. Many countries are still struggling and dealing with wicked problems. Often countries or foreign aid go into a country, but do not reach their intended destination and attempts to help other countries can end in worse results socially and economically. I started to realize the prevalence of wicked problems in our world. The point we had made in class and the readings about wicked problems being caused by those who intend to remedy them started to resonate with me. Oftentimes a new politician comes along and vows to remedy America’s problems, but does not realize the unintended policy consequences that worsen the issue. In these types of situations if our representatives could reason through deliberation instead of polarization, we could come up with better plans to help alleviate societies problems.
I also learned from our conversation of the treatment of the elderly. It never occurred to me the stress that many elderly in elderly living homes are going through even before they come into the facilities. I learned to empathize with their situation and put myself in their shoes. Thomas brought up the point of how people would feel if they were 90, recently lost their spouses, and were put into a home where there is a chance their familys will not visit them often or at all. In the class and readings on empathy we had talked about having the correct balance of empathy to understand that each other’s points of view are valid without making someone’s situation our own. I feel like empathy is useful when deliberating, because deliberation requires listening to opposing viewpoints. Listening to opposing viewpoints often requires empathy.
To sum up our conversation themes, we first touched on dietary choices, lifestyles, and food allergies and being empathetic in regards to that topic. We then talked about citizenship as the individual ways we seek to help the world around us and how deliberation seeks to solve local and global problems and help the world around us. Relating deliberation to citizenship is an important aspect of the class. The next topic we touched on was the state of the world as it relates to wicked problems of human rights violations. One such human rights issue is sex trafficking, which is a more local issue than many are aware. There was some debate on if human beings are naturally good and the rapid advancement of technology was discussed. We ended with a discussion on elderly people being neglected by family and the importance of empathy and sympathy for them at that stage of their lives. To sum up what I learned from the dinner, I learned about the prevalence of wicked problems in our society and the difficulty there is due to polarization to talk about these problems. I also learned the importance of empathy in the context of wicked problems and the need for it to truly listen when deliberating. Overall, I enjoyed our Kentucky Kitchen Table meal. I found it energizing to have a meaningful discussion around the dinner table and realized that I should try to have memorable meals with my loved ones and friends more often.