On April 14th, I had my Kentucky Kitchen Table at a host table in Bowling Green. The host’s name was Lauren, and the three people at the dinner besides myself were Madison, Nicole, (and technically, Lauren’s two-year-old daughter, Tenley). The only person there I had ever met before was Madison, so the other three individuals were complete strangers to me. Lauren was from New York City and was a married mother of two who worked as a sociology professor at WKU. Nicole, Madison, and I were all three students at WKU. Nicole is a journalism major, Madison a nursing major, and I a CIT major, and all three of us were born in Kentucky. Our group was not exactly racially diverse, and three of us had been raised in similar places, but overall I think there were diverse things about us, we had all had differing experiences throughout our lives and, for the most part, each had a different take on the issues we planned to discuss.
I drove Nicole to the dinner, so on our way there we were discussing how we thought the dinner was going to go. Of course, given the fact that we were strangers were going to be eating dinner with even more strangers, we expected the worst. All the way to the moment we were about to open the door we both expected a very awkward and tense experience, so you can imagine our surprise when the door shot open to reveal Lauren holding Tenley with a huge grin on her face. She told us to make ourselves at home and that she herself was running behind from multiple things she had to do. We saw that Madison had already arrived and had already settled in, so overall, we felt a lot more at ease and ready to begin the discussion.
The first question we began to answer was the one pertaining do the thing we love most about living where we do, and for most of us that was considered Bowling Green. Personally, I still consider myself to live in Hopkinsville, but regardless, the three of us students had different reasons compared to Lauren. We all liked the towns we lived in because they felt like larger cities compared to our hometown. We felt like we were escaping the small-town life that Kentucky is usually stereotyped to have. Lauren, on the other hand, was from New York City so her experience was more of the exact opposite. She thought that living a slower and more simple life was ideal for having a family, even if the initial experience left her with total culture shock. Talking about Bowling Green lead Lauren to discuss her job as a professor and what that meant to her. Since she specializes in sociology, a study of society, she felt like she had an impact on the world and that her work served a greater purpose. She tried to understand societies in order to determine what it was that either helped or hurt peoples’ ability to come together. The rest of us either had no job or worked minimum wage jobs, so the greater importance sort of didn’t apply to us, but we did agree with Lauren’s point.
The next thing we began to discuss was the meaning of citizenship (beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws). Lauren’s answer to this was that the main role for any citizen was to show respect and compassion for others, something that really tied in with her profession. She also tied this into the fact that people when people have a disagreement, yelling biased opinions does nothing as a solution. People should learn to support their opinions and make decisions based on research and facts, not the influence of others. This point was generally agreed upon by the three of us, as compassion for your fellow citizens does seem like arguably the most integral part of being a citizen. The four of us then talked about the extremist views we had been exposed to in our lives and about the clear inequalities we witness in the world. For us that had lived only in Kentucky, we felt like we experienced a lot of radical or extremist views within our hometowns and even within our families, but as individuals who had tried to live beyond that bubble, we were able to rationally analyze and decide things for ourselves.
After this the conversation took a turn towards systematic oppression and highlighting the large inequalities that we can see within our society. We came to a consensus that for some people, opportunities to excel are harder to come by than for others, whether based on racial, gendered, class, or other grounds. With this in mind, we talked about how the idea of an “American Dream” based around a meritocracy doesn’t exactly seem to work. If some individuals start off with less of an opportunity that others, a system based solely on merit would be a broken system. Of course, it shouldn’t be made so that people who are able to excel on their own already should be punished, but that the starting line should be at the same spot for everybody. We talked about this issue from many different viewpoints and all of us had examples of times when we felt that maybe the system had left us at a disadvantaged spot. Overall, this conversation lasted the longest but served as probably the biggest window into how experiences differ.
When asked what social issue was closest to her heart, Lauren said that many were very prominent in her mind. Being involved in sociology, social issues are a main part of her work so choosing was extremely tough. But, she finally said that the most pressing issue for her currently was regarding the Fairness Ordinance in Bowling Green. The ordinance makes it so that people cannot be discriminated against in the workplace or when buying a home on the basis of gender identity or sexuality. As it stands in Bowling Green today, this ordinance has been shut down by the commissioners and doesn’t look like it will be implemented any time soon. This aggravated Lauren because she found it very inhumane to continuously allow discrimination to occur in modern society, especially in a situation where really nobody loses anything to have it overturned. For Nicole sexual abuse was a very concerning topic. She was very concerned with having people become educated to learn what the people around them were doing. Madison discussed sexism that still exists within not just everyday lives, but specifically in the workforce. She has had issues regarding sexism at her place of work, so she believes that addressing sexism would serve to benefit everyone. For me, I did not really comment on this question because I couldn’t exactly think of a social issue that sat closest to my heart than any other.
The main thing that I was able to tie back to the class was the importance of learning to talk to people in an effective way (or work well together), a key theme of being compassionate with others. Of course, this applies to the individualistic conversations people may have. When we talk to each other, it’s important to be respectful and listen attentively to what people have to say. These ideas are outlined in the “How We Talk Matters” reading by Keith Melville. The only way we can achieve a true conversation and exchange meaningful ideas is through deliberative speaking in which all everyone is on equal ground in importance. Even beyond individual cases, I think this idea sort of applies to how groups interact within society. In order to see true equality and change in the world, all people are going to have to approach issues with a clearer head and properly outline their positions rather than arguing nonsensically.
Overall, the dinner was actually a very enlightening experience. Of course, a dinner isn’t going to change my whole outlook on life, but I most certainly walked away with some new ideas in mind. The most prominent being that I as an individual cannot know everything about an area, despite knowing all the facts. This being because of peoples’ experiences that also help define the issue. As I listened to what Nicole, Madison, and Lauren had to say about the issues of compassion and inequality in our modern society, they fleshed out their opinion with more than facts, but also with experiences unique to them that helps them have a better grasp of the issue. This sort of made me think that the only way a person could ever really understand an issue completely, you’d have to analyze every single experience a person has had relating to that issue, basically an impossible task. Nobody can know everything, and we as individuals have to rely on each other to understand the world we live in. That is what I learned from this dinner.