Looking back on my dinner for the Kentucky Kitchen Table, I would categorize it as a young adult view and perspective on citizenship and community. Nine people in total attended, including me, ranging from the age of 17-28. It was split pretty 50/50 on people I knew and didn’t know, which made conversation and discussion surprisingly easy.
Brayden, (17) is a student here at WKU in the Gatton Academy. He grew up in Glasgow, Kentucky and was very excited to move to Bowling Green this past August. In the discussion, he highlighted the culture difference from just 30 mins away. He was accompanied by two other Glasgow natives who got to school at WKU also. Chandlor and Jacob (18) are roommates in a freshman all boys’ dorm on campus and both work off campus.
Olivia and Hayley (18) are both seniors at Bowling Green High School, and Olivia has grown up in Bowling Green. She is involved in choral and musical activities at her school. Hayley recently moved to Bowling Green, a little less than a year ago from California. Her father was recently asked to work as the Children’s Pastor at Crossland Community Church and she has lived in different areas of California and Texas throughout her life.
Katie (21) is a senior at WKU. She is majoring in marketing and works at a local branding company in Bowling Green. She is originally from Evansville, Indiana and lives close to campus with two roommates. Cameron (21) is a local musical artist and works for Royal Music and volunteers his strengths and talents at Crossland Community Church. He did not attend college to pursue his career in music and also volunteers at one of the campus ministries, CRU, with Katie.
Melissa (28) is the volunteer director for the Center for Courageous Kids, in Scottsville, Kentucky. She grew up in Louisville and moved here to attend WKU. She is married to her husband, Nick, and they have a one-year-old child, Cullen.
This group gave a very neat perspective for me, because all were involved in a volunteer position of some sort. I invited 4 participants, who then invited the other 4 participants to join. We ate a meal together and then I started the discussion by asking the first question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following the law, what does citizenship mean to you?” Answers of similar degree were spouted off such as doing more, going the extra mile, and realize the rights and responsibilities you have as a citizen locally and nationally. There seemed to be a good degree of agreement among the group so I decided to switch the conversation to what kind of community was ideal to live in. Responses were brought back to the types of citizens in the community, and Cameron mentioned a community of everyone doing their part for the community, with a sense of unity within of a common ground or goal. Melissa decided to add onto that by highlighting community involvement with a mix of individualism. And Katie thought a main value of a community should be a concern for others inside and outside the community, and others piggy backed with being accepting of everyone, while others counter placed that with making sure boundaries were made from acceptance and being aware of your morals and not letting those fall.
Other answers were similar and we concluded that in an essence we were describing a form of socialism, which is, on paper, the perfect community, but it is not an achievable goal in real life due to human error. Other qualities such as selflessness were brought up, and how the more you give the more you will receive. A concern on this topic was how in today’s society communities and neighborhoods were not as connected as they once were.
I then asked if people truly knew their neighbors. Most were sad to agree that they didn’t, even those who lived in a dorm on campus, and those with roommates said there were many times they didn’t converse regularly with their roommates. We then discussed spiritual aspects of how the two greatest commandments calls us to love The Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself and how we must keep those in mind when interacting within our communities. Hayley made a point to also say we are called to love our neighbors and our enemies, which Chandlor piggybacked by highlighting those enemies might be your neighbors. This did lead to somewhat of a gossip conversation about neighbors (good and bad), which, at first, I was nervous about, but surprisingly led to the highlight of the conversation of the night, which surrounded this blog post.
In the gossip of neighbors, a specific Derek* a neighbor in the community was brought up, and stories were shared of how he was rude and hard to get along with. After the gossip and jokes of Derek, Chandlor brought up a good point about how communities work. He asked how many “Dereks” you would want in your community, and immediately everyone shared they wouldn’t want “a Derek,” they wouldn’t want that person of conflict. We quickly realized that everything we said about hoping for the perfect community and acceptance of all went to waste. Chandlor then shared some studies he had read of how every community “needs a Derek” and how gossip and controversy almost brings people together and builds people up. There were some agreeable statements, but Cameron was not ok with that fact being accepted. He said instead of accepting that as fact, we should strive to make it the best and “perfect” it could become, but in fact it is unavoidable. The conversation then shifted to a more grey area instead of black and white, as we concluded that there is not necessarily always the “good guy” and “bad guy” in a group of people. In movies and TV shows we see the “villain” and most all other characters’ root against them, but in real life, not one person gets ostracized as the “villain”, but in an essence, we are all “a Derek.” We all fail, we all exclude, we all fall short of sin and acceptance. At one point, whether we want to or not, the evil will come out, and we must be the ones in the community to love the “Derek” through it and accept that person’s flaws. We pointed out how we become “Dereks” or make people “Dereks” in our everyday conversations, and the only thing we can do is be better from our past “Derek” mistakes. The final question I asked was: “What kind of person do you want to be?” After some thought, characteristics were thrown out of being yourself, and making a difference, we concluded that while we might not have life figured out, we can still make an impact, which will be different for all of our lives, and we can strive towards better and away from being the “Derek”.