By Brandon Wilson
Recently I hosted my Kentucky Kitchen Table project at my home in Bowling Green, KY. My mother (Marianne), father (Billy), and we hosted one of dad’s coworkers, Eddy, and his wife, Suzanne. Suzanne and Eddy brought beans and rice to go along with my mother’s chicken enchiladas that we were having for dinner. Marianne is my mother who is a physical therapist at the Medical Center. She is the youngest of nine of a Catholic raised family. Billy is my father who works as an engineer at Lord Corporation. He paid for his education through raising tobacco, and he is a strong conservative. Eddy works with Billy and he is a strong advocate of volunteering as he goes to disaster relief zones to volunteer. Much of Eddy’s philosophies are affected by the death of his older brother in the Vietnam War, when Eddy was just a child. Suzanne is Eddy’s wife who is an elementary school teacher who has strong Baptist beliefs. Even though they are all white and in their fifties, they are still different due to their beliefs and backgrounds. Because Marianne and Suzanne have differing religious beliefs in Catholicism and Baptist, they brought different philosophical ideas on how they live their life to the dinner table. Everyone at the table is from differing communities. For example, Billy lived on a rural tobacco farm where you knew your neighbors well because that is who you depended on. On the other hand, Marianne grew up in downtown Owensboro where lived a childhood being apart of a large urban family, without any dealings with rural farm work. Coming from rural or urban communities changes what on becomes because of the different hardships and opportunities that each individual and unique community provides.
When asked the question, “beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”, my dinner guests all came to in agreement. That being a citizen of a community is not just an administrative thing. It is part of being a common group and being part of one unit that shows unity. A unit that cares for one another just as if what is happening to others is happening to you. Marianne actually disagreed with the question because she believed that being a citizen is taking care of each other and has nothing to do with the government taking care of you through taxes and laws. Eddy had an interesting view that the others have not experienced because of his natural disaster volunteer work. What citizenship meant to him is simply sacrifice. That is to be willing to give of yourself to help your neighbor. This neighbor could be your next door neighbor or your neighbor who lives 800 miles away. With his volunteer work he gets asked questions like: why did you go to New York to help with hurricane Sandy Relief efforts? Or why did you go to Texas? He strongly believes that citizenship is giving of yourself to make somebody else’s life a little better. To Eddy a good citizen can answer the question- since you have gotten up this morning what have you done to better somebody else’s life? This is because if you better somebody else’s life, your life will be more enriched.
The best advice that that the table unanimously agreed with is that to better this world we have to show kindness. By doing they were suggesting that the world should show kindness by thinking before speaking. This was brought up because a lot of instances in today’s world, altercations or hostility have stemmed from one’s lack of kindness. Altercations have also happened due to a member of society saying something without truly thinking of the consequences of their statement.
I wanted to know what each one of them thought was the best part of the world today. When I asked Suzanne this she thought the best part is seeing the volunteers help the people who have suffered these great tragedies such as natural disasters and shootings. The ability for one to care more about somebody else’s life then their own is a much undervalued trait in our world today. It became a dark conversation when we started to reflect on how much evil has happened this year, such as: Hurricane Harvey and Irma, the flooding that was caused in Texas, and the mass shootings that have happened at multiple churches and the Las Vegas music festival. The catastrophes that this country have faced in the past year really make it apparent for people in society to try to find a solution to end the suffering. To ask society how do we live well together? Something that required for this is to get society to care about the problem to begin with. Most people watch the news and feel awful about the tragedies that are occurring, but they still do not take action because it is not affecting them and their daily lives. On the bright side, if there even is one, is the hero stories that come out of them. That one person or group of people who were willing to risk their lives in order to protect their loved ones or even complete strangers that they had never met. Our society could use more of these people whose unselfishness goes to the point of caring for somebody else’s well being more than their own.
Marianne explained how being a physical therapist for years has given her a variety of experiences that the normal person would not have. Through her work she treats people from all ways of life and all races and ethnicities. She treats extreme poverty patients and upper class. None of this matters because she treats every patient equal. She treats them as any empathetic human being would at all times especially because they are going through a hard time, such as, physical therapy. She loves her job because she gets to help these people through physical recovery and at the same time gets a mental challenge from it because no two injuries are the same.
The table agreed that the best part about living in Kentucky is the citizen’s attitudes toward each other. The term Southern hospitality came up because most people in our community are nice enough to help a fellow neighbor or casually make conversation on the street. But Billy brought up many of occasions when he has been in other places with traveling with business and if he waved or said good morning to somebody on the street they would react and almost be offended by it. They all know and believe that our community is one that cares. Eddy had a person experience with this when his older brother died in the Vietnam War. Two days before Christmas the city of Scottsville shut down for the funeral. Every business shut down and the entire town showed up to show their condolences and to show that they cared. Our community is one that genuinely cares for one another and it is a blessing for us to live in a community that cares because we live in a world that seems to have tragic events due to people not caring everyday.
After discussing what was best about our community we transitioned to social issues that were the most important to everyone. Billy brought up the lack of ability for those who need it to get help for mental health. Before, there were an abundance of mental help institutions for those people who needed it could get help, but now they are far and few in between. Billy has traveled to many big cities and even in our community today there is large amount of mental health cases that are homeless on the streets. Billy’s daughter use to live in Portland, Oregon where there is a high homeless population. He explained how in this population there are a high percentage of mental health cases that could and probably should be in an institution getting help, but instead are out on the streets. Eddy’s problem with society now is that we have become a nation of entitlement. We have moved to a society that expects the government to take care of them instead of not taking care of themselves. If society is not will to take action for themselves then we will soon be a culture that will lack the ability to solve our own problems.
I didn’t really know a lot about Eddy and his wife Suzanne before this dinner but it really opened my eyes on how much Eddy has done for others through his disaster relief volunteering. As Eddy was talking about his volunteer work I thought back to the speech “To Hell With Good Intentions.” I asked myself was the volunteer work he was doing in these disaster areas resulting in the same emotions that were explained by Illich to have happened in Mexico. Then I realized that there should not as much emphasis on how the people there perceived the help. But it is just important that Eddy was trying to make someone else’s life better before without selfishly thinking of his own, and society could really learn a thing from that. The ability to care about someone else’s life and really take action on it answers one of the central questions of the class: How do we live well together?
To be honest I was not looking forward to this assignment considering I am more quiet during these kinds of conversations, but once I finished, I have come to the conclusion that it was actually pretty nice. To be able to sit around the table with a couple of people that I did not know very well and to be able to get to know them a little bit better was an enjoyable experience. For us as a community to able to talk about our problems is important. As Melville outlined in “How We Talk Matters,” what we say and how we say it matters in the way that if one person shares his ideas of doing the right thing other people will be more willing to take action or deliberate on bettering idea and move forward with it. An important component to Melville’s ideal talk is not only being able to converse attentively, but also learn how to listen to each other. It was important for me to be able to sit down at the kitchen table to talk about our world’s social problems with my guests because moving forward that is how I should be able to talk openly with anybody. Rather it be in a Honors 251 classroom setting or out in the real world it is important for everyone in every community to become part of the conversation. The conversation that goes beyond the kitchen table and extends into solving our society’s major social issues.