Kentucky Kitchen Table

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By Cole Constant

Late in the evening on the 12th of November, my mother, sister and I all gathered around the kitchen table of our home in Elizabethtown for a meal of sloppy Joes and steak fries (I had warned mom beforehand that there might be a lot of gesticulating over the course of the night). After some questions, I gave them a general overview of what they might expect or look to achieve over the course of the meal. I explained the central ideas behind the class and some things we discussed in there, as well as how that might relate to what we’d talk about.

My younger (16) sister, Lily, felt that citizenship was primarily about being guaranteed certain rights, while my mother (45) felt that American citizenship was unique in the amount of freedoms afforded to everyone, relative to many other less privileged/developed countries. She also noted a sense of comradery or “family” that comes with being what she believes is a “truly active” citizen. My sister cites a similar feeling, but having more to do with social media and increasing interconnectedness with her peers. She lists this as one of the best things about our world today; feeling that social media has caused much advancement in the areas of knowledge accessibility and general public awareness. My mother agreed that the advances in technology over the last twenty years have been amazing.

When asked about future living preferences, my mother and sister both demonstrated that, despite their aforementioned ideals about community, they would prefer to keep mostly to themselves.  My mom felt that, within your community, the best way to contribute is to have everyone work their hardest on improving their own situation; which would collectively mean a more “put-together” neighborhood. My sister felt that it was no-ones’ responsibility to help anyone else, and that everyone should just try their hardest to help themselves. My mother said that the older she got, the less hope she had in humanity and the more she would like simply to be “left the f*ck alone”. They immediately demonstrated their hypocrisy in this by revealing that their favorite thing about where they currently live is the sense of security they have, due to diligent and kind neighbors.

As an educator, my mother felt very strongly that her job did relate to her role as a citizen. She finds much pride in preparing the minds of the youth, and is very content with her ability to “push the envelope” as far as content, especially within a rural/conservative community. She also wanted me to note specifically that she feels cheated, as a government worker and citizen, by a new piece of legislation which completely changes how retirement works for educators. Apparently, government borrowing has totally expended the money from a system she has been paying into her entire life. And what can she do? My mother feels her voice is not heard. I remember voicing similar concerns about my own future to the class.

Neither my mom nor my sister considered themselves spiritual or religious, instead looking to their own set of values when making decisions or interacting with other people. My mom wouldn’t feel more obligated to help someone from her community over anyone else, but reasons that, due to the proximity, she would be more able/likely to. This is in line with her previous feelings of non-obligation to any particular group of people.

When asked about the kind of person she would like to be, Lily indicated that this question was the source of much stress in her life. She knows she would like to be a “good” person, but is unsure what exactly that entails beyond not being a “bad” person. She is comforted, however slightly, when mom tells her that she has changed who she is in life, before. To politicians seeking office, my mother advises they keep an open mind. I tell her that this is more or less the mantra of the class, explaining how refreshing it is to be surrounded by people who all do have an open mind. My sister lists transparency and honesty as very important qualities.

I admittedly was not expecting the response my sister provided concerning conversations she had with people of vastly different backgrounds. She recalled dinners she’d had at the home of her ex-boyfriend, who was part of a very conservative family. My sister was appalled at the normalcy with which they regularly talked down on people of other races and religions. She even went as far as describing them as brainwashed to a “scary” degree. She likewise feels that inclusivity and acknowledgement for underrepresented or oppressed groups is the most pressing social issue. My mother listed the tumultuous state of the government as the social issue closest to her heart, and between the two I’m sure you can see the similarities between my family and myself. I rarely missed an opportunity in class to blame a wicked problem or social issue on the intolerant, broken government.

By the end of the meal, my sister felt emotionally drained, but Mom was very relieved to learn the demographic of WKU (and this class specifically) was liberal-leaning. She has a lot of hope that our generation can rectify the mess that has been left for us to inherit. I must hope she is correct, and that Honors 251 class hasn’t artificially inflated my confidence in my generation’s ability to be kind, intelligent people.

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