We met up at Blake’s house, a two-story in a residential neighborhood of Bowling Green. It was a Thursday evening unlike any other… Well, it wasn’t all that crazy.
Days before, Blake, Andrew, and I had met up for a few minutes to work out details of our collaborative supper. We talked about who would bring what piece of the meal, and what was going to make this project go smooth and swift. I think our main goal was to get everything planned out so that later in the week our dinner would be a calm and welcome environment for discussion and understanding. Not a bad goal, I think. Ultimately, we learned each other’s faces and exchanged numbers, communicating something about a willingness to reach out when it came time to see each other once again.
Because of this positive, face-to-face pre-interaction, I think our dinner went better than it could have gone without the interaction. It created a connection between some members of the group so that we had a comfy start before we would all eventually be corralled into sharing heavier thoughts and opinions amongst the group – a daunting task, yet, the main point of the supper.
Thursday came, and I travelled with Camille, a bright, freshman girl whom I had met at the beginning of the school year in my dorm. She agreed to accompany me because she thought the dinner would be an interesting experience. On the drive over to Blake’s, we talked about our aspirations for the future, which was founded in the academic and social obstacles of the now. Camille had just decided to drop her pre-medicine track and go for an engineering major. She is still interested in service industries, such as healthcare, but is switching gears for a bit. So, Camille and I had our heads wrapped around education and careers before we even stepped foot into the beautiful home in which we were destined to spend a couple hours conversing around a kitchen table.
We arrived a bit early and were greeted by Blake and his mother, Stacy – a nurse practitioner with three young adult children. Throughout the meal, she was not shy about sharing her observations and did a great job contextualizing our conversation in a more “grown-up” way. Overall, she was the pragmatist, and helped guide the rest of the group’s theorizing back down to earth.
We each contributed to the meal: Blake with mac n’ cheese and apple pie, Camille with baked beans, Andrew with the most exciting food, fried chicken, and I with chocolate cake, which Andrew had heartily requested. It was a fine meal for college students who were used to neither creating meals nor eating foods outside of their dorm rooms and dining halls.
As we ate, we talked about the neighborhood we were in, and what it was like years before, as Blake and Stacy’s family had been situated there for 12 years. This spurred us into talking more deeply about each of our own neighborhoods and their demographic makeups. Later on, we discussed the concept of a neighbor, and how each of us interacted differently with the people living in our communities. This brought up the question, “Do we owe our neighbors anything? And if so, do we owe them more or less than the people who are not our neighbors?” We defined and redefined the term neighbor to exclude and then include people who were beyond a certain proximity of us and outside the communities with which we associated. Andrew brought up the point that we might feel a stronger bond with the people closest to us, but that we should not prioritize them any higher than the people who are living across the globe from us. We all had a slightly different opinion on how much we should be involved with the lives of those around us. It was nice to hear the extremes and the middle grounds all represented on this particular issue. Hearing these diverse perspectives made me see how much experiences can shift your stance on socially and politically charged issues.
Once we began thinking globally, I think all of our brains started awakening to the many possibilities of ways the discussion could continue because we all became at least somewhat more vocal.
Technological advances and growing communities were the next topics we discussed. With healthcare being central to and Stacy’s profession and Camille’s probable future, we spent a considerable amount of time thinking on the ways technology had been detrimental and beneficial to the many communities, including the overall global community.
Blake is a film major who seemed to be very involved with film/theatre projects taking place at Western Kentucky University. In the few hours I knew him, he seemed to me passionate about people and their inner workings. At least, he tended to talk about how individual’s problems fit into the wicked problems we were discussing.
Andrew is a math major. He plans to teach mathematics at the collegiate level. As you would expect, he liked thinking about the logistics of solutions and how they might not “add up” to solving all parts of the problem.
The largest portion of our discussion had to do with the educational industry and where it was headed. As college students and a mother who had two in college and one who would probably end up there soon, we had given thought to this topic and felt our opinions had weight because of our experience. It was also interesting that Camille and I had discussed education earlier in the evening. That probably helped us communicate our opinions more clearly over supper. Andrew enlightened us with statistics on the educational crisis in The United States, and he and I were able to compare our understanding of the academia in other countries.
We also talked a bit about the different cultures we were a part of or simply knew about because of second-hand experiences. A few of us had in common that we had gotten close with some exchange students (Blake’s family even hosting one) and all of us had some exposure to young adults like ourselves who were very obviously of another ethnic background. What everyone shared on this topic was fun to hear.
By the time we were cleaning up the table, we were quite comfortable with one another and had transitioned into telling funny memories of our grade-school teachers. I think we all left feeling jovial.
Although we didn’t solve any wicked problems, I think we all learned about a perspective on a topic that we had never heard proposed before. Our conversation was very relaxed, and so it was an easy space to share. At the very least, we grew in our empathy for people and in our knowledge of problematic circumstances. We each came out of the supper better equipped to contribute to humanity, and I think that is where this type of deliberation does the most good. This type of deliberation surely did not help much of anything about our world, but it did help us grow as individuals striving to be citizens and community members every day.
In class we read a lecture by a professor at UC Berkeley named Robert Hass. At the end of his lecture, “Green Fire, the Still Point, and an Oak Grove: Some Reflections on the Humanities and the Environment,” he included this quotation:
This is the world our students are inheriting. They are going to need a sense of urgency and patience and a sense of complexity and everything they can learn about the processes of the natural world, if we are going to protect what our science tells us is at the core of life, the richness and diversity of the gene pool. The task may be beyond us. Wildlife biologists these days often have meetings with titles like, “Which Species Can We Save” or “Which Species Are We Willing To Save.” But we have to act as if we can accomplish it. We have to act as if the soul gets to choose.
This quotation correctly appropriates an urgency to the significant, or wicked, problems that society has not been able to successfully address. Hass is focused here on a scientifically pronounced issue we are faced with, but that does not mean his observations cannot translate into how we are tackling other wicked problems. A central theme of my Kentucky kitchen table and the citizen and self class is that we are responsible for change needed to better society. During the meal, we had discussed what citizenship meant to each of us, and came up with the idea that it may be different for everyone, but is grounded in a sense of community welfare. Hass is similarly saying that we are the determining factor of the state of our world. But just our empathies will not spontaneously act outside of us; we must both allow them to work through us and believe that “the soul gets to choose” for what and whom we become impassioned. That change in us – our developing understanding of other people – will be what changes the communities in which we live.