KENTUCKY KITCHEN TABLE
Williamsburg is a very small town with little to no diversity in the population to speak of. This town is, for the large portion of my life, what I called home and today- hundreds of miles away- the town still impacts my perceptions of the world. Returning home after over a month of absence was, of course, a needed aid to the homesickness I can occasionally feel. However, much more rewarding than any remedy to my nostalgia, I returned with purpose and an assignment to complete- my Kentucky Kitchen Table.
Naturally, my mother- who must constantly be aware of the everyday workings of my family- was informed of the dinner and the purpose it would serve. Of course mother insisted that any thing she could do to help me ace an assignment should be done. So, believing that my homecoming could be even more exciting with close friends and family, she decided to invite around twelve people. As mother and I often do, we politely debated why this would not be an effective endeavor and I encouraged her to limit the number to ten people. Fortunately, the people that she had invited had prior engagements but we were still able to draw in what I would call (as it relates to Williamsburg) relative diversity. My mother was able to get my father and sister to participate in the dinner- a task that may sound simple but, in actuality, involves coordinating with a highly independent teenager and an insistently stubborn adult. Further, we were able to have my mother’s best friend, Stacy, and Stacy’s daughter, Macy, in attendance. So, in total, we had six people in attendance: Sheri (my mother), Alan (my father), Hailey (my sister), Stacy, Macy and, of course, myself (the outlier). I also wanted to encourage everyone to make something, despite my mother’s insistence that it would be rude to invite guests and then expect them to cook. However, Stacy and Macy did make homemade brownies for desert and I brought in rolls and drinks for the meal (a settlement that satisfied my mother as she got to cook the rest of the meal). I felt that I was able to collect a relatively diverse group of people even though there were only six people in attendance. I also felt that having perceptions from two generations would offer a mix of opinions while, at the same time, I would be able to get opinions from a variety of opinions from individuals of different career fields. My mother works in public administration in our local health department and my father is a history teacher at our county’s alternative school. With Stacy as a nurse, I felt we would have opinions from individuals with differing incomes and experiences.
Despite being raised in this town where very few people seek higher education and, I imagine, even fewer attempt to place themselves outside of the world that they are exposed to every day, I was pleasantly surprised at how productive my Kentucky Kitchen Table was. While deliberative engagement might not be a term that is tossed around frequently in Williamsburg, it is certainly a subject that I wanted to bring up during my dinner. Our class had a list of pre-selected questions that I chose to go through and then subsequently ask for answers to follow-up questions. While I was able to predict some of what the table said, I was not able to completely conjure up what every individual person would say. What did not surprise me was the frequency in which religion or, specifically, Christianity and its moral teachings were mentioned.
Williamsburg, centered in the bible belt and my family- centered around the bible- are both unsurprisingly insistent upon the application of scripture in every day life. However, despite this strong belief of the scripture’s varying applications, both my family and our guests admitted to knowing very little about scriptural teachings and instead presented that their foundations lay within only what they knew of the bible or what they inherently believed was moral. I am the outlier in my family because, as previously mentioned, I am not religious and I do not draw my morality from any scripture or religious doctrine. It seemed that my assertion that morality was largely dependent on the individual was followed by responses of various statements to contest the allegation. The primary argument was that we should draw all of our morality from the bible. I found the assertion interesting for a variety of reasons- the largest being that they had stated before that they knew very little about scriptural teachings and instead drew their morality from what they “felt” was right. I suggested again that morality was subjective and, again, was met with shows of disapproval, despite the fact that they had just said the same thing. Citing “feelings” as a source of morality seemed to be, not only acceptable, but widely believed. It seemed as though the group drew a distinction between a feeling and a subjective belief- though what that distinction is I am unsure. What I do know is that I was unsurprised. Not simply because of the circular reasoning or their unwillingness to use the word “subjective” directly, but more so because I knew that, at least in Williamsburg, the spiritual feelings that they were citing as their source of morality were shared by a large portion of the populous and therefore could be much more easily understood. While religion was certainly not what we focused on during the dinner, it plays a very obviously role in my community and therefore was necessary to discuss.
What did surprise me were some of their responses on citizenship and the roles that we need to play in our local and global communities. Because Williamsburg is indeed such a small town, I erroneously assumed the groups limited experiences with cultures prominent outside of our town would, in turn, create perceptions that were very culturally insensitive. To be perfectly clear, there were some instances where this was indeed the case; such as when Stacy claimed that she had to give an injection to the child of “an illegal.” While I recognized that some of what was said was, indeed, culturally insensitive, I also recognized that their prevue of understanding was largely limited to what they were faced with daily in Williamsburg. Despite the side-comment about the “illegal”, Stacy also made a few points that I thought were very uncharacteristic for most people in Williamsburg. Citing the current situation with the United State’s Syrian refugees- individuals that are often met with scrutiny by a good portion of citizens in my small town- Stacy claimed that it was not only a Christian’s duty to help the less fortunate, but also our duty as global citizens to help one another through difficult situations. For the most part, everyone at the table agreed that in the situation of refugees, it was our duty to help in whatever way we possibly could. My mother cited our experience in Haiti as her reasoning for aiding those across the globe who demonstrate true need. I was honestly very surprised that the subject of refugees not only came up with very little debate, but also with a very clear desire to help the population of another country so foreign to most in my town. I will never forget the day in Honors 251, when we were going over the various beliefs and they were largely affected by what we saw every day. For example, Professor Gish stated that, while her family was mostly opposed to the United States accepting refugees, they would certainly accept one into their home and do as much as they could for them. Up until this dinner, I felt that my family would feel the same. Perhaps my family and our friends made this realization as well and therefore are now able to express a firm belief that the US should do what it can- just as individuals should.
I will reiterate that we talked about many more topics over the course of this dinner, however, they all were intentionally focused around our identity as citizens and how we came to develop these outlooks on our world. I believe that in just a few topics alone, I was able to discern more about my family and our friends’ outlooks on life. I believe that what I learned relates very closely to one of the central themes in our class: “How do we live well together.” I think that by understanding our identities and how they can relate to our perceptions of the world around us, we are better able to think about or adjust our biases accordingly. While the vast majority of people in Williamsburg draw their identity from conservative values, they do not all necessarily agree with every every aspect of the political philosophy. I believe that this held true with my very conservative family expressing that we should be doing more to help the refugees rather than simply turn them away. If our mission is to live well together, putting on someone else’s shoes and choosing to walk a mile in them is a magnificent way to start that process.
Ultimately, I took away from the dinner that perhaps I had taken my family and my town for granted when it came to their opinions. In suggesting that my parents and our friends had never tried to see the world from someone else’s perspective, I neglected to think that, perhaps, I was not trying to understand why they believed how they do. I believe that the most important lessons I learned from my Kentucky kitchen Table are as follows: because you are familiar with a person’s beliefs does not mean that you fully understand why they believe what they do; further, only by understanding our identities and attempting to understand the identities of those around us can we reach that ultimate goal of living together harmoniously.