Kentucky Kitchen Table

By: Connor

The meal took place in my hometown of Lexington, Indiana. It is a very small town that no one has ever heard of. It’s mostly farmland and people are spread far in between. I have learned to appreciate the area though because everyone is very friendly and willing to help each other if needed. I have lived here for around six or seven years now. I chose to eat at my house because I was not as nervous to start the discussion. I also think the location can help with the understanding of people’s answers. Joining me for the meal were five people I know. Those people being Jodi, Jerry, Sharon, Delores, and Abbey. Jodi is an elementary school teacher and has been for over twenty years. Jerry is retired, volunteers at King’s Daughters’ Hospital, and is very involved in his church. He never had the opportunity to go to college growing up because his father became very ill and he had to take care of him. Sharon, Jerry’s wife, also is retired, volunteers at King’s Daughters’ Hospital, and is involved in the church. She also did not go to college. She worked at a bank as a teller most of her life and became very good at talking to people. Delores is Catholic and ninety-four years old. She is retired but still volunteers in many ways. She volunteers at the hospital, helps feed people at nursing homes, and she makes meals for some of her older friends in her neighborhood. Abbey is twenty-one and currently pursuing a major in elementary education and a minor in business at Indiana University Southeast. Her mother is currently an elementary teacher and served as a major influence on Abbey’s decision of her major.
Our conversation was primarily centered around the topic of neighbors. Everyone knew their neighbors and could explain how they met their neighbors. We also discussed what each person could do to better their neighborhood. I learned that everyone knew their neighbors somewhat well. Jodi knew her neighbor somewhat well because her neighbor is retired and is usually on her front porch when Jodi gets back from work, so they usually talk for a while. At the same time, Jodi did not exactly seem thrilled to have had so many discussions with her neighbors. This kind of came in to concern for me. Shouldn’t people want to get to know those around them? By not knowing those around you, it prevents the community from running at his highest level. Although this is a common occurrence, I think people should make an extra effort to make an impact in the areas around them. Everyone else in the group just knew their neighbors’ names. Abbey’s answer was unique because all of her neighbors are family members. She said that she obviously knows all her neighbors, but even with her family all living close together, she may not see some of her neighbors all that much.
When asking each individual if they enjoyed having meals with their family I received a resounding yes, but then I asked if they ever had a meal with their neighbors. I got a no from everyone at the table but Delores and Abbey. That is probably because Delores’s neighbor is one of her best friends and Abbey’s neighbors are family. I was more focused on the people who answered no. The reason is that we have been learning in class deliberation is key. I was thinking about how your neighbors, although you may not know them well, are some of the closest people to you, so wouldn’t you want to know where they stand on different things? I am by no means saying you should invite your neighbors to eat so you can engage in a battle of opinions because that is not the best first impression, but what I am trying to say is that it would be nice to know where your neighbors stand on different issues. By doing so, this would also be making it easier to converse with your neighbors rather than just awkwardly saying “hey” whenever you pass them on the way to your house.
Another thing I want to point out is what I noticed when discussing the required question about citizenship. I noticed when asking what citizenship meant, most of the people could not get past following the laws. Jodi made a good point that being a citizen means doing what’s best for your society and having an opinion about your society, but also respecting other’s ideas of society. This sparked the theme of deliberation and how we must take our opinions and compare them to other opinions to come up with the best solution. Once Jodi made this point, I noticed that the rest of the table agreed and found the point made very insightful. It led me to wonder if everyone knows what deliberation means, but did not realize that they did it all the time. When it came to the other questions, I also recognized that people were openly accepting others’ answers and building on them to develop better answers to questions (specifically the question of citizenship). After Jodi’s answer to the question, the others who were stuck on the idea following laws suddenly started coming up with different answers to the question itself.
Aside from all the answers I was getting I noticed that Jerry was staying particularly quiet. Although I tried to give everyone a chance to speak, a conversation would usually spark up after someone else’s answer before Jerry got a chance to speak. This situation applies to the concept of deliberation in a very important way. Deliberation deals with balance. You do not want one or two people controlling the conversations. Jerry very well might have had some solid points or answers to the different questions, but I will not know because I did not give him the opportunity to answer. This happens in discussions all the time. When one or two people are held out of the conversation, the other’s do not get to hear their point of view. These people who are silent could very well have had an opinion or two that could have changed the entire conversation. That is why some deliberations fail and problems are not solved. Without everyone’s input the best idea may not always be revealed. This was something that we discussed in class. It is important to fairly incorporate everyone in conversations in order to have a complete deliberation of an issue.
By focusing on the concept of neighbors it enabled me to focus on one of the essential questions of our class. The question is, “How do we live well together?” One specific question I asked was about what each person could do to help improve their and their neighbors’ community. I got several answers of things that could be done, but not necessarily things that each person is capable of. For example, Sharon, who is in her mid-seventies, offered the idea of fixing the potholes on their street and repairing the light poles. This sparked to the memory the speech we read, “To Hell with Good Intentions,” Ivan Illich. In his speech he talks about how people should help in areas that they have knowledge of. Sharon is not necessarily capable or knowledgeable enough to fix the potholes and street lights, but she could possible provide snacks and drinks to the workers who are hired to fix these problems. This scenario shows how each person can still play an important role in issues of community. Jodi’s answer was different from most of the others. She stated that she did not think there was anything necessary of improving in her community. I viewed her answer in two different ways. In one way I viewed that she was pleased with her community and was satisfied with everything around her. The other way I viewed it dealt with the idea that maybe she was not involved enough in her community to know what would be good improvements. As a whole, everyone should have a knowledge of their community in order play a role and make an impact for the better of society.
One thing I can take away from all of this is that knowing the people closest to you is extremely important. Your community provides you with the opportunity to make a huge impact. Your community should be the area you have the most knowledge of and should be the area that you want to make the biggest impact on. Another central question of our class is, “How do we solve problems?” In order to solve problems, we must be able to deliberate with one another, but in order to deliberate with one another, we must have a knowledge of the topic at hand. The community you live in is your best opportunity to make an impact. I think people should make an added effort to learn more about the people around them in order to be able to discuss issues with those people.

KKT

Union Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Sam


My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in my home in Union, Kentucky. The names of the people who participated in the dinner, not including myself, are Vince, Elizabeth, Janice, and Manda.
Vince, my father, is 53 years old and a father of three. He spent his early childhood in Southern California, but went to high school in Northern Kentucky so his step-father could pursue a job opportunity. After graduating high school, he immediately went into construction and has been in construction sales ever since. He was raised Catholic.
Elizabeth, my step-mother, is 42 years old. She grew up in Gallatin, Tennessee. She later left Gallatin for Bowling Green as she attended WKU. She obtained a degree in education and was a high school business teacher for a few years before deciding teaching was not her passion. After some time in real estate, she then settled on a career in Human Resources. Roughly eight years ago, through mutual friends, she met my father. She is Methodist but mainly identifies as Christian.
Janice, my grandmother, is 76 years old and a mother of four. She grew up in rural Indiana and, pursuing a job opportunity and family, eventually moved to Southern California. At the time, she was a secretary for a phone company. This is where she met her husband, who would later move her and her four kids to Northern Kentucky. Once in Northern Kentucky, she got a job at a local news station while working on a degree in education. She would go on to spend many years teaching middle schoolers. She is Catholic.
Manda, my grandmother’s friend, is 70 years old. I invited her to dinner because I do not know her very well, and I believed she could add a unique and diverse perspective to the conversation. She is a mother but did not specify how many kids she has. She grew up in Peoria, Illinois in a progressive household. Her mother was a member of the media, so Manda, naturally, pursued a career in broadcasting. She moved to Northern Kentucky after hearing of a job opening at a local news station. This is where her career in the media took off, and where she met my grandmother. She did not mention her religious affiliation.
The first question I asked at dinner was, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” The responses I got were very intriguing. Vince and Elizabeth both agreed that citizenship was ultimately the individual’s responsibility of cultivating a better community. They believe a good citizen is active in the community and helps their neighbors when need be. Manda furthered this idea by pointing out how citizenry is an active effort that looks to better society, and effective citizenship that betters our nation, and eventually the world, cannot be achieved until it is practiced in our homes. She emphasized how the home is a microcosm for the world and the birthplace of proper citizenry. The interesting thing I noticed from this discussion was the consensus that moral obligation is a necessary component of being a citizen. Everyone participating in the conversation believed that it is their responsibility to look after their neighbors. It is the “right” thing to do. “Why is this the right thing to do?” I asked. Vince, Elizabeth, and Janice mentioned their faith. Manda noted how she would want others to look out for her, so she looks out for them. This is citizenship to them.
I then asked the question, “How do you think your job relates to your role as a citizen?” The responses I received were similar to the first question. Vince mentioned how he enjoys the constant interaction he has with people in construction sales. He looks forward to seeing clients and hearing about their lives. He mainly just wants to use his job as an outlet to reach others and help them with whatever he can. Janice said her years as a middle school teacher where propelled by a desire to shape young minds and hopefully prepare them for being an active member of their community. She was on the ground level of citizen training. Elizabeth said her job in human resources gives her a firsthand account of the issues fellow citizens are facing and how they are responding to them. She views her position as an opportunity to guide those struggling and steer them towards greater production in the workplace and community. Again, the theme of moral obligation was prevalent. They all think it is their responsibility, as contributing members of society, to help those in need so that they can contribute, perpetuating the cycle of neighbor helping neighbor and societal improvement.
The conversation then got a little lighter as I asked, “Did you ever have meals around the table with your family growing up? Did you enjoy it?” Manda noted she was a raised in a traditional household that emphasized family unity through dinner. It was an expectation to eat dinner together because this was the time for true cohesion. Janice and Elizabeth reiterated this, stating they were both raised in traditional families and enjoyed the time they spent with the family at dinner. Vince, however, said family dinners were not a priority of his childhood due to both his parents constantly working. He said that the lack of family dinners, and the effect this had on his development, cemented the importance of the ceremonial event for family building, urging him to implement it into his children’s lives. This demonstrated to me how important our home life is in shaping us into the individuals and citizens we are.
My next question was, “What kind of person do you want to be?” It took few minutes for them to think of their responses. Elizabeth was first to chime in. She said she wanted to be a better mother and Christian. She admitted to not adamantly practicing her faith and that she needs to. Vince and Janice both desired to be more informed in our information-abundant society. They both stressed how critical it is to discern what is correct information from the incorrect and that they would like to be more skilled at this. Manda, interestingly, mentioned a desire to be more empathetic. She stated empathy was key to promoting social change, and, through empathizing, we can become more informed, and morally well-rounded, citizens. Everyone hit on the desire to become either better moral executioners or more informed with the goal of it furthering moral execution. It is interesting how this theme of morality seems to be the foundation for citizenship and improving as individuals within society.
I then asked, “What advice would you give people running for office in our country?” Vince responded first, noting that someone running for office needs to take into consideration the views of all his/her constituents, and a noticeable effort towards creating a unified nation is key. Manda pointed out how most politicians tend to campaign in the areas containing those funding their campaign. According to Manda, politicians will never take into consideration the views of all their constituents as long as a select few campaign donors are influencing policy platforms and campaigning. This snowballed into the topic of structural flaws in our government, and how these flaws could potentially be fixed. However, everyone at dinner spoke of this governmental reformation as a hopeless and nearly-impossible cause. This forced me to consider how any kind of societal change can occur when the people charged with inciting said change believe its hopeless.
Another question I asked that sparked interesting dialogue was, “Is there anything you can think to do that might make things better for you or your neighbors where you live?” Janice said a significant, but small, change she has made that has created an increasingly-positive neighborhood environment is simply making herself available to her neighbors. She has started a dialogue with other members of the neighborhood and informed them that if they ever need anything, or just want to hang out, she is here for them. She said it has created a friendlier, dependent neighborhood that willingly interacts. Elizabeth mentioned that she also believes an open, honest dialogue with the neighbors will create a safer and smarter community. Similar iterations of community conversation came from Vince and Manda. It is interesting and sensical that simply talking is what can lead to more efficiently operating communities.
My final question was, “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” This question got somewhat heated as some had differing opinions on prominent social issues. Vince immediately gave his social issue: NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. He believes that the national anthem precedes all social statements and change, affirming everyone should stand for the flag first and then discuss social injustices. In short, the national anthem comes first, and then discussion is had. Manda, being the individual I do not know very well, responded to this with respectful, yet defensive, disagreement. She firmly stated the national anthem means different things to different cultures, and kneeling for the flag is the epitome of being American. It is an individual’s right. If these demonstrations are not done, according to her, no social change can occur. This then led to the conversation of whether kneeling NFL players are kneeling for a cause, or just kneeling with the intent of following their teammates stance. The debate ultimately ended with the recognition we can never truly know someone else’s motives. Elizabeth and Janice did not have much to say as this was discussed. I found it interesting how two people can look at the same situation and have radically varying perspectives. It made sense considering Manda’s liberal and Vince’s conservative background. The main takeaway was that this “debate” over when it is appropriate to protest remained a civilized discussion. It did not escalate into an argument due to both parties’ recognition of the importance of empathy.
One of the main things I learned was how important morals are considered to be in citizenship. Everyone at the table defined citizenship as a moral obligation to care for our neighbors and, thus, further society. Another takeaway was that healthy discussion was key to actually achieving a greater, more representative society. They recognized the need for empathy in order to have healthy discussions, and a community without dialogue is divisive. Finally, there is a sense of hopelessness clouding people’s desire to change their societies. Unfortunately, some believe we are trapped in our current society and view change as dauntingly impossible.
Honestly, I was surprised by how similar everything discussed was to our class. We talked about the role of empathy, how morality factors into our lives, and the presence of wicked problems. The central idea that was most prevalent was definitely the importance of deliberation. The chapter we read, “How We Talk Matters” discusses how the discrepancy between what is happening and what should be happening (like the bridge metaphor we discussed in class) can truly be overcome when a healthy dialogue is created. By listening to and understanding each other’s ideas, we can venture towards compromise and social change. Everyone around my table viewed deliberation as the first step towards understanding, and even practiced this when debating when it is appropriate to protest.

It’s All About Talking and Listening

By Caroline

When initially looking at the Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment, I knew that I would love to bring this fascinating project to my hometown because it would not only allow me to further my knowledge of this class but would expand my idea of people in my own community as well. With that being said, on fall break, Lebanon, KY was in for a delightful treat in my hometown household. Contemplating who I would invite, I wanted to bring a tasteful diversity to the table and immediately came up with a total of 5 people: my former AP Human Geography & Psychology teacher, Jamie, her husband, Chris, a woman in my community who is of Hispanic ethnicity, Kenya, and my mother and father, Jim and Sharon. To begin with, Jamie is someone I do know very well being that she is one of my past teachers, but she brings very diverse experiences to the group in the fact that she has traveled to many cultures around the world and has a large amount of knowledge regarding the potential topics for the kitchen table. Her husband, Chris, is someone I do not know very well, but I quickly realized that he has served in the army and brings a plethora of personal stories that added flavor to our discussions. I also invited Kenya who is a woman that lives in my community that I am not as familiar with, but she brought a very different perspective since she is of Hispanic ethnicity and has lived in both the United States and Mexico. Lastly, my mother and father attended and were both delighted to host this project in the welcoming hospitality of our home. My mother works in the emergency room in our local hospital, and my father is the loan officer and Vice President of a bank in my town. My mother, being the host, decided that she would make a meal which consisted of a scrumptious meat loaf, mashed potatoes, rolls, and green beans, but she said that if anyone wanted to bring a dish they could. Kenya made authentic Mexican chicken tacos with a side of guacamole, Jamie made a coconut bar dessert (which was a hit), and Chris made potato soup.  I quickly realized that it was very neat with the people that I invited because everyone who attended either didn’t know each other very well or were complete strangers, so it made the discussions that much more interesting.

To begin the conversation, I explained to the group what the Kentucky Kitchen Table was and what all it encompasses. My father then said the grace, and we began eating and talking right away. I commenced the discussion by introducing the first question regarding what citizenship means to us, beyond simply voting, paying taxes, and following laws. Jamie jumped right to the question in saying that citizenship comes down to being loyal to one’s country and truly holding everything that your country values close to your heart. However, Kenya introduced the idea that she has witnessed citizenship from an outsider’s perspective and a US citizen’s point of view as well because in Mexico, unlike the United States, people do not “hang the flag in every corner you turn” and are less likely to praise and show citizenship to their country. She noticed that as Americans, we show citizenship much more outwardly than other places. However, my father mentioned that “giving back to our country and community” is a definite way to show citizenship whether that is simply serving your community or even country. With that said, we realized that Chris has served in the army, and he shared many of his stories of his time serving the United States. One being, he was in Germany when the Berlin Wall was being taken down which was a very eye-opening experience for him. Through his experience, citizenship to him means wholeheartedly serving his country. With Chris talking about his time fighting for our nation, it quickly led to a discussion about gun violence with the recent horrific mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas. Although we all tried to come up with solutions to this “wicked problem”, we each realized that there was no one solution. I explained to them that in class, we learned that there really is no solution to a wicked problem like mass shootings, only a better or worse, in that we can pull things from many different solutions to make things more suitable.

We also talked about our obligations to people in our community and people in other countries. The theme of this aspect of the discussion was along the lines of what we have said in class in the fact that we feel more obligated to those people in the closest proximity to us. However, Kenya explained from her perspective that we really do need to feel obligated to people of distant countries because she has witnessed the true condition that people in other countries are in and was once in similar conditions in Mexico. She explained that from truly living in those shoes, she sees that people coming to help other countries is something that is prayed for and the obligation should be there. She gave very vivid descriptions about the drug violence, the brokenness, and the poor conditions that overwhelmed her past country. This really opened my eyes because although in class we read the speech by Ivan Illich, “To Hell with Good Intentions” that ultimately explained that by entering another culture with the intent to do good, we are only doing more harm because we truly don’t understand the gravity of the situation. However, by hearing her personal, genuine story, I was able to see the opposing perspective realizing that maybe we do need to continue our “good intentions” in the pursuit to help others. My mother, with her huge heart, began to tear up after Kenya’s anecdote because she herself felt that as people we really do have an obligation to others but must understand to what extent we can truly help those around us. Jamie talked about her traveling experiences, mainly to China and how we simply don’t understand other countries until we step foot on their grounds. She explained that she honestly only knew about other places from what she had read from textbooks and heard by word of mouth, but quickly realized that by traveling to other cultures, she was able to understand the rest of the world better. I think that that really tied up our discussion because although we have so many wicked problems and are expected to show citizenship to our country, to truly be able to “live well or less badly together” we must understand the rest of the world around us which will overall add to our understanding of our obligations, our country, and even ourselves.

Overall, I really enjoyed this assignment more than I thought was possible. Coming home for fall break, this project added such a new, captivating experience to my time off, and the people who attended made the remark that they learned a lot and would love to do this more often. To sit down and have a real discussion with people was honestly remarkable because those types of things unfortunately don’t happen anymore because of the fast-paced world that we have become accustomed to. We were able to sit down free of technology and just speak honestly sharing our personal experiences and opinions with one another; it was beautiful. Through this assignment, I learned initially that if we would simply slow down each day and have patience to just talk about things, as discussed in the article, “The Power of Patience,” we could discover so much more and learn a vast amount of information about our world and those around us. By simply sitting around a table with somewhat strangers and those who I am closer to as well, I dug deeper into the world we live in and was able to deliberatively understand other people’s opinions and why they are who they are . I also learned that my perspective of the world around me isn’t all there is to be offered and that there is so much more to know than just what I have learned in the nineteen years I have been here. By having experience like Kenya in Mexico or like Chris in the military, we are able to understand even more about our world and through that, live a much more fulfilled life. I have learned through this project that one of the central ideas of our class “how do we live well or less badly together” is ultimately a mixture of many ideas. For instance, it takes understanding of many perspectives, actively speaking about issues, seeking a better understanding of the world around us, and simply being empathetic to listen to others’ opinions and experiences. We can’t simply go through the motions every day, we must do more and seek more out of our daily life and encounters, and through this assignment of casually talking around a kitchen table, I realized that time spent in conversation and listening to others is one of the most valuable aspects in our world today.FullSizeRender

A Meal Back Home

By Ellie

 

When I first read the syllabus for Honors 251, I saw the description for Kentucky Kitchen Table and immediately started to stress out. I didn’t know when I would be able to come home to do the project, or if anybody I knew would even be willing to help me by agreeing to be interviewed. After the explanation given in class, though, I figured it would be better to get it over with. Since I was going home this past weekend, I asked my parents if it would be okay to host a Kentucky Kitchen Table when I came home. We were already hosting a potluck that Sunday, so they suggested that I sit down all the people I wanted to interview at one table and ask them my questions about citizenship. Before the event, I asked the ladies I wanted to interview if they would be okay doing it while they were at my house and they all agreed. My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place at my home in Mayfield, Kentucky on October 15, 2017. I hosted the event on a Sunday morning after church services in my family’s 4 car garage. We ate a potluck style meal, with lots of home-cooking that I hadn’t had in weeks. I was overjoyed to be able to eat food that wasn’t a greasy pizza or burger. This was the first chance I had since school has started to see anybody from church and say more than “Hello. Yes, school is going well.” I was excited to have the opportunity to have a real discussion with women who helped make me into the person I am today.

I invited several women who go to church with me back home to participate in this project. There were 7 women and 1 little boy present during the conversation. Mrs. Peggy is an independent woman who lives alone and is famous in Mayfield for her hostess skills. Ms. Marti is a widow who spends her days knitting blankets for expectant mothers in our congregation. Mrs. Pat is an Avon saleswoman who met her husband of 52 years while attending Western Kentucky University (her three children later went on to attend there). Mrs. Kay is a Chicago native who has three children, one of whom joined the military. She spends her days now watching her 2 youngest grandchildren for her other son. Mrs. Janice works at the local senior center in Mayfield and has a grandson that I babysit regularly during the summers. My mother also attended, and she is a high school Family and Consumer Sciences teacher at McCracken County High School. Also at the table was Brayden, the 5-year-old grandson of Mrs. Janice, but he was more concerned with eating the sugar cookies my mom had made instead of contributing to the conversation about citizenship. None of these women seem to have any particular qualities in common, beyond their belief in God, but all of these women are very close to each other. These are the type of women who care for others needs before their own and have taught me to try and do the same. I was curious to see what some of their answers would be to the questions I was supposed to ask.

I knew that I really had no reason to be, but I was a little nervous to discuss some of the questions with these women. Most of them are very conservative minded, so I had a general idea of what answers to expect, but I also didn’t know how they would react to being interviewed. Also, a few of these women were elder’s wives, which means they can hold sway over my dad’s job as a preacher, so if I said something that came off wrong, it could potentially negatively impact my dad’s position. They already knew that this project was for school, and were very willing to help. Some of the answers that came out during the meal actually didn’t seem 100% conservative, and that honestly shocked me.  I was happy to have diversity, that I wasn’t yet aware of, present at our kitchen table.

I began our conversation by asking the basic question of what citizenship meant to each of the strong women at that kitchen table. Mrs. Peggy and Mrs. Marti responded that citizenship to them meant freedom, and I asked for an elaboration from the group on what that meant. Mrs. Kay responded that to her, citizenship meant putting your hand over your heart when you hear the national anthem, and that you stand when you hear the pledge of allegiance. To Mrs. Pat, citizenship means being able to worship freely, and to everyone else at the table, they all responded that citizenship meant having the right to freedom of speech. One of the most interesting answers I got was when I asked these women what kind of community they wanted to live in. Mrs. Kay answered that she wanted to live in a world where she didn’t have to lock her doors at night, which seemed a bit odd to me since I know she is from Chicago. After thinking about her response, I later figured that she has learned a lot from small-town life and craves that experience for the rest of the country, even in places that are more densely populated. Everyone at the table responded that a community with unlocked doors was something they crave as well. When thinking back to the video we watched in class of the little Japanese girl who was run over by a moving truck, I asked all the ladies if they felt that we had a moral responsibility to help people in our community and the world, and they all unanimously responded that we all have a responsibility to help our fellow neighbor. I can’t remember who said it, but one of the women responded that that is part of what being a Christian is all about. When asked what advice they would give to their neighbors, the advice that really stuck out to me was to always put others first. Mrs. Kay agreed with that statement and went a step farther to say that God comes first, then others, and then you. One of the last questions I asked was whether or not they had meals at a kitchen table with their neighbors and family growing up. They all smiled and started to reminisce about their childhood. One commented that she enjoyed these meals because it gave her family a chance to catch up after a long day of work. Another commented that she enjoyed these types of meals because it was time for families to nurture their relationships with each other.

As our conversation progressed throughout the meal, I found myself thinking back to the readings we did on empathy by Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams) . These women I interviewed have all had vastly different life experiences, and I know that I will never experience what it’s like to go through some of the hardships they have gone through, so the best I can do is imagine what they have been through and try to empathize once they start discussing their childhood experiences.  When I did ask that question about social issues, all of those present chose issues that they had experience with, which also relates back to the idea that empathy can influence your decisions when you are close to a situation. Because of life experiences, women’s rights were an answer that came up almost immediately when asked about what social issues resonated closely with them. A few of these women were widowed fairly young, so this issue is important to them because they were left to provide for themselves, and even their children, in a world that only a few years ago, wouldn’t have given them the option to work. I have never been in a situation where I wasn’t allowed to work or do something because I’m a woman, so listening to their answers elicited empathy from me.

What really stood out to me during the meal was that even after I had finished asking questions pertaining to the assignment, the conversation still went back to topics about citizenship. At one point, towards the end of the meal, Mrs. Kay even looked at me and said, “Put this in your assignment.” as they were discussing citizenship later when they thought my interview was over. This helped me realize how important the topic of citizenship was to everyone, including people you normally don’t think about being extremely patriotic. It also taught me how drastically America has changed, even in the past few years. If you had asked any of these women to interview someone while they were in college about if they ate at a kitchen table growing up, they would have laughed because virtually everyone did that.

Overall, this experience was very rewarding to me. I was not sure how the project would work out at home, but it was really enlightening to see how these women’s life experiences have shaped their view of our society and country. I enjoyed getting to learn more about the way my role models think, and it helped me learn how many different interpretations of citizenship there really are. Overall, the women at my Kentucky Kitchen Table were proud to be citizens of the United States of America, and I am proud that I had the chance to interview all of them.

Kentucky Kitchen Table- Emily

By Emily

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My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in my hometown Shelbyville, Kentucky at my house. I had 7 people at my house to participate in this dinner. The first four people were my family members. My father, Mike, is 50 years old and is a sales manager for Valvoline oil. He travels quite a bit for his job and experiences many different areas but is very involved in our family. My mother, Stephanie, is also 50 years old and is a goal clarity coach in Jefferson County Public Schools. She is a Christian and is dedicated to her church and community. My twin sister, Lauren, is 18 years old and attends Northern Kentucky University. She is majoring in elementary school education and came home for the weekend. My younger brother, Evan, is 13 years old and is in middle school in Shelby County. He is into fishing and playing baseball which takes up most of his time. The other 3 people I invited for this dinner assignment was a family that recently moved to our neighborhood over the summer before I went to college. One of the family members was Bill, a 47-year-old father who is a real estate appraiser. He grew up catholic and is a strong republican. His wife, Jennifer, also attended the dinner and is a 45 years old. She is an accountant and described her position as a controller. She is also catholic because of her husband and Is opinionated about the government. Their daughter, Anna, is 16 years old and attends high school in Shelby County. She is a cheerleader and also takes classes at the local community college in the area. My family fried fish and made pasta salad while the other family brought brownies and some kind of ranch dip. I have only met them a few times over the summer when my family introduced them to the neighborhood. It was interesting getting to know them and their views on life. They contribute diversity to the group because they have different religious views than my family; they are catholic. They also have strong beliefs about republican viewpoints and government laws which I thought would contribute to interesting conversation.

The conversation at dinner focused a lot about citizenship and personal viewpoints. I was nervous at first that there was not going to be much to talk about or the conversation would get dull but I was surprised by the opposite. The first question I asked was the required question: Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? Stephanie started the conversation and was discussing how citizenship means getting involved in your community, state, and country. Everyone else basically agreed but then Bill brought up another point. He said that citizenship was being a good neighbor and then started talking about how he believed that paying taxes was one of the last things he thought about when he considered citizenship. I thought that was very interesting because that is one of the national requirements for having a job. Mike also brought up freedom and the idea of everyone considers the United States the place of freedom and each citizen gets that freedom. There was kind of mutual agreement on this question.

While looking through the options of questions for discussion, I highlighted a few that stood out and I thought could bring up different viewpoints. One question I asked was how do you think your job relates to your role as a citizen? Stephanie said that since she works for the public-school system, she works for the community and gets the opportunity to teach kids to be productive and be good citizens. That stood out to me because she related her role as citizen to be passed down to the children that she teaches so they can be influenced in their role as a citizen. Jennifer brought up how her job as an accountant requires her to follow ethical policies and deal with money which is a significant part of being a citizen. Mike brought up a valid point that I never really considered. He talked about how he pays taxes and helps with the welfare system which overall benefits our community. I never thought about it that way but it allowed for discussion about the importance of taxes and the welfare system.

Another key theme that was discussed at dinner was the question: do you think we have any obligations to other people in our country or our community? Jennifer brought up how controversial this topic is. She believed that we do have obligations but limited it to the people who actually need help and who want to better their lives. She thinks that we have obligations to people that have good intentions to improve their lives. A good point she brought up was that we need to help people so they can teach their children how to become better citizens. I thought this was a good question to ask because I could relate it to “To Hell With Good Intentions” by Ivan Illich that we discussed in class. This reading really intrigued me because I felt the complete opposite than the author. I brought up the reading to the people at the table and how the author believed that United States volunteers are not helping and can make things worse when providing aid to a poor country. That brought up a very opinionated conversation since everyone at the table is religious and believe attending mission trips and helping the less fortunate is part of what we are called to do. Lauren said she did not agree with what Illich was saying because anything that helps the poorer countries are done with the best intentions in mind. A good point that was brought up was anybody needs help, even our own country. Bill brought up other good points that realized that yes we are fortunate but we work for what we have and other countries perceive us as having bad intentions. This conversation related to what we learned in class about how we solve problems. We discussed how someone was supposed to get help if there is just going to be criticism and judgement every time some tries to help. Everyone at the table agreed that to solve the problem of helping the less fortunate was to go on mission trips and donate money. There is only so much one can do to improve the lives of others without overstepping boundaries. It also related to wicked problems (which I informed the table about what a wicked problem was). The discussion about the solution to this problem was very interesting and there were a variety of options. It just proves how this idea is controversial and our deliberation could work through the ideas.

The last question I asked was what kind of advice would you give to people running for office in our country? I thought this would be a good question to ask since there were different political views at the table. Stephanie took the lead in this conversation because she related it back to her job and role as a citizen. She believes that the people who run for office need to take their role professionally and keep their personal opinions limited. She also discussed how Matt Bevin does not listen to the teachers in the country and is affecting their jobs and retirement. This topic related to deliberation quite a bit because whoever is running our country has to take into consideration the voice of the people. To solve problems and live well together, our country has to have a strong relationship between the leaders and the people to get things done. Jennifer said how whoever is running for office needs to listen to the people and understand what the people want. This is a key idea in deliberation because you need to able to listen to others in order to have appropriate discussions which is what we have been learning in class.

What I have learned throughout this dinner is that citizenship is way more than just voting, paying taxes, and following laws. Citizenship takes into account deliberation, helping others, and getting involved, basically what we have been learning in class all semester. Citizenship plays a huge role in our country and in our lives. What we learn in class is a part of our everyday lives and after this discussion I have realized how important being an involved citizen is. Citizenship is solving problems, living well together, and having more say over our own lives, which are our three central ideas of the class. How we live our lives and how we work through problems as a country will shape and affect future generations. A constant theme that kept resurfacing throughout the conversations was that we need to be good citizens for ourselves and for our children. We need to be good citizens and if we want our children to be like that then we need to set a good example. Citizenship and what it consists of is something that has a variety of meanings. This dinner discussion helped open my eyes to what it means to be a productive citizen in society and what it means from the eyes of different people, which is just like our class and the discussions we have every week.

 

A Dinner with New Friends

By Taylor-Grace

When we were introduced to the idea of Kentucky Kitchen Table, I was more than ecstatic because food and people are two of my favorite things. I knew that I wanted to do my Kentucky Kitchen Table in Bowling Green rather than my hometown from the very beginning; mainly because I thought the idea of getting to know citizens of Bowling Green would be much more interesting. I am so glad that I got to experience this…Now let’s dive into the dinner!

I was assigned to be hosted by Caitlin, who is a coordinator for constituent relations in the Mahurin Honors College. Caitlin lives here in Bowling Green, not very far from campus. Her home was gorgeous! It looked just like one that you would see on Fixer Upper on HGTV. Caleb, a student in another Citizen and Self seminar, also joined us for dinner. Caleb and I decided to carpool from Western Kentucky University’s campus to Caitlin’s house for convenience. We both took desserts for us to have after our dinner that night.

When we arrived, Caitlin led us through her living room into her kitchen, which connected to the dining room. We sat our desserts on the island in the kitchen and then took our seats at the table. Caitlin had prepared a jambalaya for dinner with roasted zucchini and squash from her parents’ garden. Caitlin then offered us a choice of tea, water, or ginger beer for our beverage. Caleb was brave enough to go out of his comfort zone and he tried the [non-alcoholic] ginger beer. Our meal was absolutely delicious. I loved every bite of it!

We discussed many different subjects during our dinner, but we first started off with talking about Western Kentucky University, our majors, our favorite class, and how Caitlin attended Western Kentucky University as well. Caitlin, who was originally from Breckinridge County, Kentucky, was a public relations major during her time here at Western Kentucky University and went on to work in Public Relations for Country Music Television after college, but then decided that she missed Western Kentucky University and thus decided to begin working at the university. Caleb, who is from Barren County, Kentucky, major’s in biology and he is on a pre-med track. I find this impressive because I know that I would never be able to have the time and dedication to do this. I, Taylor-Grace, told Caitlin and Caleb that my major was marketing and explained that I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with it yet. Caleb and I both agreed that Honors 251 was our favorite class. My reasoning being because it reminded me so much of the Governor’s Scholars Program and the seminars that I had during my time there. Caleb also attended Governor’s Scholars Program and said that it reminded him of seminar as well. We both discussed our love for the Governor’s Scholars Program and the friendships that we had made there. When you go to the Governor’s Scholars Program you can always make a connection with typically anyone around you, we discussed how we had mutual friends from the Governor’s Scholars Program. Caitlin explained to us that this class did not exist when she was a student in the honors college. She went on to tell us that her and her husband met while they were both students at Western Kentucky University, but what was interesting, was that they had not met before, though they both grew up only 15 minutes apart and knew some of the same people, but didn’t know each other until they met at a tailgate. She said that she was eating a BBQ sandwich that she had gotten from the Honors College and he asked where she had gotten it. She said that they began dating soon after that and that they’ve been together ever since.

I then asked Caitlin the required question, “beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws what does citizenship mean to you?” She responded with, “It means being a good neighbor, giving back to your community through volunteerism, and getting involved.” She talked about how it’s going the extra mile instead of just doing what is required of you. We all agreed with this statement and felt like we’re pretty good citizens, but there is always more that we can do to be better. When we discussed this topic, I thought a lot about the three central questions. Specifically, “how do we live better (or less badly) together?” If we all take part in our citizenship, we will all be living better together. When people choose to not act accordingly as citizens, they are not working towards living better together.

We also talked a lot about how volunteerism is important in all of our communities and we asked each other the question of what our favorite philanthropy was. Caitlin stated that her passion was animals and she wants to do what she can to reduce animal abuse in the community of Bowling Green. Caleb talked about suicide and depression are important to him and he wants to do what he can with that specific cause. I personally could not pick one for certain because there are numerous events that I have worked to give back to the community, but one that I hold special to my heart is Winterfest Toys for Kids. I explained the Caitlin and Caleb that I grew up in a very rural community where many children go without meals during their summer and Christmas break and how many of those children don’t have a toy to find under their Christmas tree on Christmas morning Winterfest Toys for Kids was designed so that underprivileged children in my hometown and their families can have a Christmas dinner together. At the dinner, each child in attendance receives a Christmas gift. Many of the children wait to open the gift until Christmas morning. Events like this give me a better appreciation for the opportunities that I have and the things I have been blessed with. This topic relates greatly to our reading about “To Hell with Good Intentions,” by Ivan Illich but in a positive way. All of the issues that were on our hearts were things that could be helped and fixed right here in the United States. This helped me to see that there are so many problems here that we can work towards solving and we don’t have to go overseas to help out.

After discussing the issue that was closest to each of our hearts, we talked about what type of people we wanted to be. We all agreed that we wanted to be better people and that we wanted people to be able to look at us and say, “oh, they’re doing something good!” Caitlin said that she wanted to be respected. She explained that it was not in a way that demanded respect, but rather by doing good and people seeing the good that she is doing and them being able to say they want to do good like her, as if she was being a role model. I thought this response to the question was awesome! And it honestly made me look up to her in saying this because I hope to one day say the same thing for myself. Caleb explained that he wants to be the person who is always learning and always growing. I thought that that was something great to be too. I explained to Caleb and Caitlin that I wanted people to see me as a loyal friend. Someone that they could depend on in any time of need. I feel like that all of these attributes and types of people that we want to be are people needed in the world.

We then concluded our dinner by eating donuts from Great American Donuts and having small talk about Western Kentucky University, college, and just life in general. I am so beyond thankful for this experience because it allowed me to step out of my comfort zone in discussing some huge topics with people that I had never known before the night began. Kentucky Kitchen Table is an experience that I probably will never have something else that is similar to it. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to meet Caitlin and Caleb because they are people who I will be able to connect with even beyond this point during my next four years at Western Kentucky University. Kentucky Kitchen Table has had an even greater impact on my life than I had imagined it would and I am thankful for that. I believe that this was such a great learning experience and it is a project that should continue to take place in Honors 251 with Elizabeth. Having this experience of talking to two people that I did not know, has also helped me to have better comments and discussion points in Honors 251. Overall, I am just genuinely happy about my experience with Kentucky Kitchen Table. If the opportunity arises, I would SO do it all over again.

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Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Courtneyfam squadpumpkins

I conducted my Kentucky Kitchen Table project in Annville, Kentucky. We had dinner around the dining room table in my parents’ home. My mother and father spent most of the day and the day before preparing the meal, but guests also brought items to contribute to a traditional southeastern Kentucky family meal. The menu consisted of fried chicken, soup beans, dumplings, cornbread, and potatoes in various forms. For dessert, there were fried apple hand-pies and spice cake. In addition to dinner, we also prepared some special decorations for the table and had a pumpkin carving session for the children afterwards.

By the time all the guests arrived, we had nine hungry people at our table. Those who arrived to eat and take part in the conversation were of varying ages, genders, geographical identities, and political identities. Shirley, a 71-year-old retired social worker, and her husband Wayne, a 79-year-old retired coal miner, are both staunch Republicans from Hyden, Kentucky. James is a 69-year-old retired high school math and special education teacher from Booneville, Kentucky. Betsy, 60 years old, is a retired preschool teacher from Beattyville, Kentucky; she and James both share political ideals aligning with the Democratic party. Shawn currently works as a water plant and sewage technician for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, he’s 35 years old and is from Lexington, Kentucky. His wife Becky, also present at the table, is a 30-year-old stay-at-home mom from Lexington, Kentucky. Both Becky and Shaun identify as Republicans. Owen, a 19-year-old Computer Science major at Eastern Kentucky University, is from Richmond, Kentucky and is a registered Democrat. Lauren is a high school student at North Laurel High School, she’s 15 years old and a sophomore there. She’s from Annville, Kentucky, and though she can’t vote yet has predominantly Democratic ideals. Karley is a 12-year-old attending North Laurel Middle School as a 7th grader, she is also from Annville, Kentucky. This mix represents both urban and rural perspectives, as well as both sides of the current political spectrum. The people at this table represent multiple generations of Kentuckians.

We began the dinner by having everyone go around the table and introduce themselves, talking a little about their previous life experiences, what they’re doing now, and who they were. When asked the primary question of “What does citizenship mean to you?” many of the older people at the table thought citizenship was about being a good neighbor, having a job, and finding your role in the community. Shirley and Wayne spoke about their participation in the local volunteer fire department. The younger members of the table primarily discussed community service to demonstrate their role as future citizens. Lauren spoke about projects she’d formally been involved in, as well as kind acts done by her neighbors in times of need. When discussing the “best” things about our world today, the item most commonly discussed was our ability to communicate instantaneously with others. This was brought up by Karley, the youngest person at the table, and seconded by Betsy who provided personal anecdotes about how hard it was to communicate when she was Karley’s age. James and Wayne mentioned how much they loved the freedoms they experience in the United States; they discussed taking road trips and being able to exercise their freedom of speech. They thought the autonomy they experience every day is what truly makes life worth living, being able to do what you want when you want. For the most part, everyone mentioned being pleased with their current community, but Becky and Shaun were in the process of picking somewhere new to move to. They mentioned wanting to live somewhere more private, with good neighbors; everyone at the table also seconded this notion. Wayne mentioned wanting to live in Flagstaff, Arizona, which seemed off-the-wall when he first stated it, but then as we continued to discuss it, it became clear that this also aligned with their current living scenario now and their ideals, just in a different state. Most everyone at their table responded that they did know their neighbors quite well, except Lauren and Karley who reported that they only saw their neighbors when there were issues going on either in the neighborhood or between homes. With two veterans, a civil servant, and a few public educators at the table it was very easy for them to make connections between their jobs and serving the country. They also easily saw their jobs as serving a greater purpose to help people, educate children, protect the country, and provide amenities like electricity and clean water. While a few of them did believe their religion served as a moral compass in that following their God made them want to help others, Shaun thought that religious people got “a little out of hand” with that notion. His experiences led him to believe that they did more to try and get him to join them than they did serving and helping other people. Most of them felt that there was no legal obligation to help people in the community and country, but there definitely was a large moral obligation. Owen expressed that the moral obligation also extended past the limits of community and country. He, Lauren, and Karley showed a more global view in that we should all watch out for each other as citizens of the world and as human beings rather than belonging to an area or group. All the people at the table responded positively to having meals with their family around a table, Becky even mentioned that her family insisted upon eating around the kitchen table even when there were just two or three people in the house to sit down and eat with. A lot of the older people at the table felt that they were the person that they wanted to be and were content with their current state of being. Younger participants noted that they’d like to be a nicer or more forgiving person as they got older. When the topic drifted to a more politically focused conversation, the older members of the table got a little riled up, especially since Kentucky teachers’ and state employees’ pension system is currently the political hot button issue in Kentucky. In addition, quite a few of them were teachers and state employees. When asked for advice for politicians, they responded immediately and with fervor. They wanted their politicians to not make promises they couldn’t keep as well as to run for office not to benefit themselves, but to work for the country. Shaun suggested politicians take extreme wage decreases, and Owen even joked about politicians’ salaries coming from a GoFundMe page that citizens can donate to if they do an adequate job.

From this discussion I learned a lot about the problems we’re facing here in Kentucky as opposed to the broader issues we always hear about on Twitter, national news, etc. Shaun and Becky talked a lot about the mounting homelessness problem in Lexington. The city and county government there are apparently handling the panhandling in Lexington very poorly. To decrease the number of panhandlers on the streets, city officials are now taking the homeless people and having them pick up garbage. A local radio show staged themselves as a panhandler and told on air that they had raised more than $300 in one hour.

In class we’ve discussed specialization through the Michael Pollen, “Why Bother?” essay, after dinner during casual conversation many of the participants began discussing their gardens. They talked about who grew what where and how much the deer had eaten; I watched as they discussed giving each other all kinds of vegetables and fruits from their gardens and was immediately mentally sent back to this reading. I inquired about why they gardened, and they said it was about independence for them and the fact that they had always grown up doing it. In addition to that, once the topic of “global communication” was brought up, the “when I was your age” anecdotes also emerged. In the Jennifer Roberts “The Power of Patience: Teaching Students the Value of Deceleration and Immersive Attention” reading, she mentions honing patience as if it were a skill, but the members of my table spoke of it as a life necessity. They constantly had to wait to communicate with each other, and thus treasured the real-life conversations they had even more so. Many of the older people at the table stated they were happy with their lives; most young people want to rush through high school, speed through college, find a good job, and immediately find a significant other to settle down with, but the lesson we can take away from them is that it takes a lot of time, work, and patience to achieve all these things we want to happen instantaneously. As we are so used to seeing everything else in our lives coming together very quickly, it’s hard at times to think that what we’re doing in the moment is enough.

A Meal in Lexington

By Riley

As I approached this assignment, I dreaded the idea of sitting down and asking a list of required questions because my family tends to avoid talking about serious topics. Nevertheless, I reluctantly gathered my mother (Lisa), my father (Malachy), my younger brother (Willy, age twelve), and our neighbor (Sara, age eighty). By the end of the meal, however, I was surprised not only by my family’s willingness to contribute to the analyzation of these complex questions but also by the honesty of the answers they provided. I am thankful that I have been placed in a situation in which it was necessary for me to do this project because if I hadn’t, then I never would have had the motivation to lead an event like this.

My mother is fifty years old, and she teaches kindergarten. She was raised Lutheran but attends Catholic church with the rest of my immediate family. My father is forty-nine years old, and he is a professor at the University of Kentucky for rehabilitation. He was raised in an Irish Catholic family and raised my siblings and me as Catholic. My parents were born and raised on the west coast, in Oregon and Washington. Willy is twelve years old and attends SCAPA, a middle school for the arts. Sara has been our neighbor for years. She is eighty years old, and she lives by herself because her husband recently passed away. I was good friends with her husband, Ed, for much of my childhood, but I hardly ever talked to Sarah; I didn’t know much about her until she shared her background at this meal. She identifies as Methodist and has lived her whole life in Lexington. The conversation took place at my parents’ house in my hometown, Lexington, Kentucky.

At the beginning of the meal, I let everyone interact naturally as I sat quietly and observed. I had previously told them that I would be asking some questions regarding citizenship for a project that I would be writing about, so they were aware of the situation before the meal started. As soon as we all sat down, Sara immediately asked, “Well is someone going to say grace?” This was interesting to me because my family does not pray together before eating a meal except on holidays, even though we do identify as religious. In a polite response, my dad said “of course” and proceeded to recite the Catholic prayer, “Bless us oh lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our lord, Amen.” Sara then explained that she was familiar with this prayer because her husband recited it on a regular basis before she converted him to Methodist. She then asked Lisa what religion she believed in, and Lisa responded that she was raised Lutheran. Sara asked if she had converted to Catholic since the rest of our family was clearly raised Catholic as we had all recited the words of the Catholic prayer. My mother seemed to struggle in finding a response; I knew that she only attends church on special occasions, and when she does, it is to the Catholic church with the rest of our family. She replied hesitantly, “Oh yeah, I just go to the Newman Center with everyone else, but I guess I’m still a Lutheran.” An awkward silence followed this comment, so I figured that this was an opportune time to end this interesting period of simply observing and begin the formal questions.
Since the group had already started on the topic of religion, I initiated the question, “does your religious or spiritual identity relate to how you think we should treat other people?” Sara was quick to respond, “absolutely, it has everything to do with it.” She explained how she lived through her faith, and the decisions that she makes are based on her religious identity as a Methodist. My family, however, suggested that they do not make decisions entirely based on their faith, but they do believe that Catholicism encourages people to “love thy neighbor.” Willy, of course, was not invested in the conversation as much as he was invested towards his phone. I asked him, though, about how we should treat people, and he responded that “it’s important to be okay with people that are different.” It was clear that Sara feels that religion is the sole basis of how we treat people, whereas my family seemed to feel that religion and the way we treat people agree but are separate. However, everyone agreed that it is essential to be tolerant of people who are different, as Willy stated.
Next, I asked the required question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Lisa provided all the expected answers, such as contributing to society and helping your neighbors. Sara explained that she thought the underlying responsibility as a citizen is to care for the people who need your help. She explained how she appreciated everything that I have done for her and her husband over the years, such as mowing their yard every week and shoveling the snow from their driveway and sidewalk without needing a request to do so or asking for money. I realized that it always felt like my responsibility to care for them by doing these tasks for them that they are no longer able to do. To Sara, this innate responsibility of caring for those in need is the backbone of being a good citizen because if everyone did this, most of our problems would be solved.

The next question I asked was “What do you think are the best things in our world today?” I asked Willy first. He replied that he thought the best thing in the world today is the people who are working towards developing solar energy so we can stop using fossil fuels. I admired this answer because he clearly had never thought about this subject before and was forced to share the first answer that he thought of, but his answer was about a very real issue today. Malachy said that the best thing in the world is children, and after that, Lisa and Sara agreed whole-heartedly because they both have experienced the joy of having children and could not think of anything better than that.

Curious about what Sara did for a living before retirement, I asked her what her occupation was and how she thought it contributed to her role as a citizen. Sara worked for a credit union. Her main job was to ensure that people could afford their houses. She said it contributed to her role as a citizen because it allowed her to help and advise people who were making big decisions in their life. Lisa, on the other hand, is a kindergarten teacher. She strongly believes that teaching fulfills the role of a good citizen because it provides an education to the children who will eventually run the world. It is important that the future generations are educated so they can think for themselves and solve problems effectively.

The last question I asked was “What advice would you give to people running for office in our country?” Sara immediately classified herself as a registered Democrat who votes Republican. I found it interesting that even in a scenario where the distinction of political parties was irrelevant, the first thing that happened in response was the clarification of a personal identification with a political party. This, along with other hints that I picked up, further expresses the tendency that Sara had to provide everyone with labels. I noticed that in every story that she told, she would identify every person by their religious identity, political party, or skin color, even if this classification was irrelevant to the story. This seems like a generational trend; older people tend to label things first and make judgments after that, whereas this is not as common among younger people today. Anyway, Sara suggested that the leaders of the country should tell the truth, be professional, and not tweet. Lisa agreed and almost instinctively started listing every problem she had with Trump’s leadership today. This turned into a deliberation among Lisa and Sara in which they discussed what the leader of our country should be like and how one could eventually become that leader. Lisa and Malachy are both strongly liberal in their point of view, and Sara is strongly conservative. However, as they described and ideal leader of the country, their political party affiliation disappeared, and everything they said about what a leader should be was the same.

The main concept that I took away from this experience was that people may have completely different viewpoints or beliefs on a topic (such as religious identities, political preferences, etc.), but between each side there is common ground. My family is Catholic, Sara is Methodist, and religion play roles of various magnitudes in each of our lives. However, we all believe that these spiritual identities help us treat others equally and respectfully. My family has a very liberal stance on political issues, and Sara identifies as conservative, but we all believe that someone running to be the leader of our country should be honest, professional, and considerate of those in need.
People tend to categorize others as democrats or republicans and automatically assume that they are polar opposites. It is true that both sides have different views on problems, but they also share some values. In the class, we learn that deliberation is crucial to solving problems effectively, and in order to deliberate, all parts of the problem must be acknowledged and understood. Then, when all sides of the problem have been considered, common ground and shared values can be found to produce the best solution for everyone. This relates to the chapter, “How We Talk Matters,” because it applies the idea of analyzing all sides of the problem to find the best solution rather than each side repeatedly forcing its own point of view at the other side, which only magnifies the division between the two sides. This activity clearly illustrated that among diversity, people share some of the same underlying values. It is necessary to identify these common values to cross the bridge from how things are to how things should be.

Much of the conversation also relates to the question, “How do we live well together?” The participants discussed their realization that being a citizen is about taking care of each other, especially those in need. They explained that as citizens, it is our unwritten responsibility to help each other and make sacrifices for each other. Living well together is not achieved solely by individual success; it is done by working together with others to create a better world for everyone, not just yourself.

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Taylor

I had my Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner in my hometown of Russell Springs, Kentucky. It was hosted at my house, where my dad insisted on making dinner himself (he absolutely loves to cook). On the menu that evening was smoked salmon, steamed rice, broccoli casserole, and corn on the cob. There were seven people who were able to come my table for dinner that evening: Tim, Tami, Sara, Loren, Carol, myself, and Logan (my little brother who didn’t contribute but loves to eat fish). Tim, my dad, is 39 years old and the manager at a car dealership in town. He is a registered independent voter and has lived in or around Russell Springs his whole life. Tami, my mom, is 37 years old and a stay at home mom. She is a registered republican. Sara, my sister, is 14 years old and is a freshman in high school, where she is a member of her school’s chapter of YMCA. Loren, my boyfriend, is 18 and attending Western Kentucky University to pursue a double major in history and social studies. He is a registered democrat. I also invited my neighbor a few houses down, Carol. I’d never really talked to her much besides a greeting as I walked by her house, but she seemed liked such a nice lady and her political views and background are much different than my parents’. Carol is 62, a registered democrat, has lived in a variety of small and big towns in Kentucky, and worked at a job servicing agency for the state for 30 years before retiring. The people at my table were very diverse in experience, political identity, and age; thus, a wide array of opinions was brought to the table and a great conversation ensued.

After we all filled up our plates, we sat down around the table and made small talk. After that, the first question I presented to the table was “Besides the usual voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does it mean to you to be a citizen?” Not to my surprise, the table fell silent. After some more prodding on my part, Carol began to talk about what being a citizen means to her. She talked about how being a citizen means being an individual with freedoms – freedoms to speak and express our feelings. We all agreed, and Sara added something I thought was particularly interesting. She described that even though we have freedoms as citizens, we have duties, too, like helping others and being part of a community. Being a citizen means that we hold an obligation to our neighbors and our country to be active in the community. That led me to ask them the question of if they thought we have any obligations to other people in our country or community.  Almost everyone quickly agreed, with Carol telling a story about how she was brought up to believe in the golden rule of treating everyone like you want to be treated, and treating everyone like family. Tami added that she has always believed that she should help others whenever she can. A great discussion of obligation and how it was basic human decency to help others. It was at this point that Loren spoke up and said he disagreed completely. He talked about how he believed it was all up to each person to decide what they want to do. If they want to help, sure, but he doesn’t believe anyone should have to.  Everyone went back and forth for a bit, with neither side really budging. I sensed the conversation was at a standstill, so I sought to provoke a different discussion.

I asked the table what kind of community they would like to live in. Tim quickly jumped on this, near ranting about how he was tired of political banter and lying, and wished he could live somewhere without the political junk and with honesty. Carol added that she values safety, and wishes she could live somewhere that locking your doors was a myth and you never had to worry about trust. We talked about how that would be amazing, and Tami added that having a community where everyone was equals would be great, too. Sara added perhaps the most innocent and sweet comment of the evening when she said that she would like to live somewhere where everyone loves each other and everyone genuinely cared about each other. The older people got a little sad at that, and you could tell we all wished we could tell her that was real.

After that, I followed up by asking everyone what social issue was closest to their hearts. Tami said that for her, it was gender equality. She shared a touching story about how, when she was in high school, she dreamed to be a police officer and eventually a detective. She enrolled in college to study criminal justice, and was so excited for the future. But she faced so much persecution for it – being told it was a man’s profession and that she would never make it in the field – that she abandoned her dream. Everyone was visibly touched at the story, and we all agreed gender roles is an issue that needs attention. After this, Sara began to talk about racism and its impacts. Russell Springs is a small, predominantly white town. Sara’s best friend is African American, and she told us about how often her friend gets teased in school about being a different race. Carol brought up the recent issue of standing/kneeling for the American flag. We had conflicting views on the issue; some of us believed that you should stand for your country’s flag no matter what, while some of us believed that it is important to take a stand against the country’s injustices. This led us to discuss how far patriotism is required of citizens, and if there is a point to where it isn’t. We all came to the consensus that there is a point to which our country could not deserve patriotism, if injustice was high enough. Some believed we were at that point, others did not think we were yet.

We finished our meal, said our goodbyes to Loren and Carol, and enjoyed the rest of our evening. Reflecting on this dinner, I’m astonished at how much our conversation related to those we’ve had in class. The long discussion we had about obligations as citizens almost mirrored discussions we had in class centering the reading “If It Feels Right…”. This article discussed how much the idea of moral obligations has changed over time, especially in recent years. Nearly gone in the youth of today is the feeling that there is a simple right or wrong. People today have more of the mindset of – like the title of the article – if it feels right to someone, who are we to judge or tell them it’s wrong? Based on this, it is fitting that the millennially aged at our table felt this way. Older generations believed in an obligation to help our fellow citizens, and had been raised to think that way. The generation of young/rising adults has been raised in a time afraid of causing anyone offense, and thus feel it is up to the individual to choose what they believe.

Our class talks a lot about the importance of deliberation, referenced in the article “How We Talk Matters”. The article discusses the importance of changing how we talk to each other, referencing the importance of careful listening. It also talks about how while conflict is hard to overcome, it is actually very critical and necessary in deliberation. I reference this to be able to further express how impressed I was with our table talk. Without ever studying deliberation, everyone talked together extremely well and respectfully. When we talked about kneeling for the flag, everyone had differing and conflicting opinions; yet, everyone listened to the opposing side respectfully and everyone compromised at least some of their view.

Both of these points relate to central ideas of our class. A major question in our class is that of where in the middle of “anything goes” and “hard absolutism” does democracy fit? This relates to our talk on obligations, if they are a set in stone or each their own. Our class is all about discussing this fine balance. Another major topic in our class is deliberation and the importance of it when addressing “wicked problems” – a problem with no right or wrong solution, only better or worse. A few examples of wicked problems include poverty, environmental issues, and famine. The importance of deliberation in addressing these is to be able to converse deeply about these issues and better understand them; allowing for more informed, well-rounded decisions to be made and for all sides of the problems to be heard.

My Kentucky kitchen table allowed me to see things I’ve learned in class unfold in real life – not only the issues we discussed but the way they were discussed. In class, it is easy to agree that deliberation is great and that the things we talk about actually are true, but it is more important to discover it for yourself.

kkt pic

From left to right: Tami, Carol, Logan, Tim, Loren, and Sara (photo by Taylor)

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Chloe

IMG_2854The Kentucky Kitchen table project seemed like it would be just another thing to add my to-do list. However, once I actually allowed myself an open mind and started to speak with my lunch guests I slowly become fond of the project. I did not know a few of the members of our meal, but quickly came to realize they were great people. We were able to speak about things that wouldn’t usually be brought up in normal conversation which allowed me to learn things about everyone that I didn’t already know. Because everyone had different backgrounds and future plans, I was able to see new perspectives on issues I thought I already knew all about. I feel like even after one meal together I have started a friendship with those that I had never met. These types of conversations and meals are important to expose yourself and your families to regularly so that you are open to new perspectives on everyday topics.

The meal took place here in Bowling Green. We ate around the kitchen table in my close friend, Jessie’s, apartment. I brought along my roommate and Jessie invited her two roommates who I had never met to the meal. Jessie is a graphic design major from Kentucky. She is interested in any form of art and has a true passion for visuals. She is also a dedicated women’s soccer fan and dedicates her time toward sports. While from a conservative, southern family she tends to be on the more liberal sides of political views. My roommate, Madeline is a conservative, Southern Baptist young woman who works hard in pursuing her goals of working in the medical field. Ashley comes from a close-knit family Western Kentucky. She is a psychological sciences major who spends time working in a lab. She is a Kappa Delta alumnae and is working on her master’s degree. Brooke has just started the nursing program here at WKU and spends her free time invested in sports. She comes from a busy family in Mississippi. I, Chloe, am striving towards becoming a nurse practitioner while being involved at WKU as much as possible: including being a member of Alpha Delta Pi. I am from a small, close knit community in Western Kentucky and have equally conservative and liberal views on political issues.

We started our actual discussion with the required question: beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws what does citizenship mean to you? At first, none of us really knew how to answer this question. We are told all of our lives to be involved by voting, but that’s about it. Personally, I think that speaking up on and acting on issues you’re passionate about is a huge part of citizenship. We all agreed that, unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen as often as it should. It became obvious we all had the same main point: contribute to the air. Being someone and contributing meaningful things to your community and making changes for things you feel strongly about is something we all should do. Being the person who votes and follows laws but does nothing more than this isn’t truly a citizen at all, but really just a “filler”. The last thing we discussed about what it means to be a citizen is that it is important to leave something behind. Most of us agreed that as working people we strive to achieve great things and make change along the way. Without these marks and achievements left behind we would feel as though we hadn’t contributed our part to the world.

Eating dinner as a family was one of the biggest differences we had as a group. While myself, Brooke, and Madeline had never had the chance for uninterrupted nightly family dinners due to busy schedules, Ashley and Jessie always had dinner as a family. Ashley explained that this was often the one time that her whole family was together and able to catch up with the weekly events and how everything was going. She stressed that some of their best family moments came from these important, uninterrupted dinners and that she hopes to be able to do this with her family in the future. While the majority did not participate in family dinners, we engaged in family activities in other ways. Most of the family time we had was centered around sporting events or after school activities. These evets brought us closer as a family, but we lacked the undivided attention to each other that Jessie and Ashley got during their family meals.

One thing that most of us all had in common was our views on how to improve our lives with our neighbors. Jessie, Ashley, and Brooke often experience inconsiderate treatment form those that live near them and have taken these experiences to heart. Because of their constant frustration with their neighbors they constantly work to make sure they are the neighbors they want to be towards others. They have been unable to truly get to know their neighbors because of their differences but they felt like if they had a personal relationship with them things might be better. Madeline and I know the girls who live around us and have become friends rather quickly. We are all respectful of each other and consider their best interest because of this trusting friendship. The unanimous decision we made on how to live better alongside our neighbors is to treat others how we want to be treated. If their inconsiderate neighbors thought about this they would work harder to reduce disturbances and could then maybe spark a relationship with each other.

Through this discussion over a nice meal, I learned more than I realized. I learned that at the end of the day, regardless of where your come from or what your political views are, we all want the same thing. We all want to get along and get the most out of our lives in the best way possible. This is much easier said than done when dealing with busy family schedules and rude neighbors. I learned that when there is conflict between two groups of people, it cannot get any better without communication or the consideration of others situation. Jessie, Ashley, and Brookes neighbors will never change their behavior unless the other perspective. This could be fixed through a simple conversation explaining how this upsets them, but the conversation will never happen because of fear of confrontation. On another note, I learned what it is like to have a sit-down meal with friends. I was never able to have the experience of a discussion with family and friends over a meal and this experience has taught me how unique it is. It is more personal than a car ride with family or spending time with family at sporting events. I was able to see into each person’s life and what was important to them based on what they spoke about. Instantly we became closer because of sharing personal anecdotes and preferences and our hopes for the future. Not all of us agreed on everything, but that was okay. In a way, it made us more interesting and more real. We are all different but we work together so well to fit into the perfect puzzle.

The things I learned from this assignment fit perfectly into what I have learned in class. Many of the things I learned were about how to live well with others, one of our central class ideas. In class, we learn through discussion and readings that living with others isn’t all about you. We learn in “How We Talk Matters” that we often think that it’s “us versus them” but in reality, we are all us. This is often a forgotten concept; I myself forgot this concept. It came to us as such a clear solution to treat others how we wanted to be treated, so why can’t we do just that? It is hard to see both sides of a situation but it is one of the most important things we can do as citizens. Another central idea that this has related to is how we can have more say over our lives. To be a more involved citizen and make a change in our community is an active step in changing your own life for the better. To have more say over your life you must do more than simply vote and follow laws. Like we discussed during our meal, you have to actively work to achieve a goal or make a change. I learned plenty of things while eating dinner at a kitchen table and conversing with people who weren’t exactly like me. One of the most important things I learned was that I enjoyed myself and that keeping an open mind about people could open the door to new, great relationships down the road. Discussions and the exchanging of ideas and opinions in a respectful environment should be something that everyone has access to. This is something I have learned a lot form and that I hope I can continue throughout my life and introduce to others.