Kentucky Kitchen Table in Muhlenberg County, KY

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By Hope

After hearing about the Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment all semester, I was excited to try this with my own family and friends, and to see what conversations and ideas would surface. I held my Kentucky Kitchen Table last Sunday (March 25th) at my home in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. In attendance were my mom (Beth), my mom’s friend from work (George), my great-uncle (Richard), my great-aunt (Becky), a member of my church (Hilda), my grandmother (Connie), and myself (Hope). Although the meal was held at my home, everyone contributed to the meal. Beth fixed BBQ, Connie fixed most of the side items, and everyone brought a small plate or dessert to make a nice potluck meal.

I was a little bit nervous about how this meal would progress because I knew coming into it that I would have opposing views around the table. For instance, Beth has been involved in elementary education for 30 years and is more liberal-minded, while also being very religious. Connie is a retired elementary school librarian, and is more conservative-thinking and very religious. Becky and Richard both work in art, are very liberal-minded, and are not religious. I did not know George and Hilda very well before this dinner, but through conversation, I learned that Hilda is a world-traveler, sees herself as “middle-of-the-road” politically, and is religious. In addition, George worked in legislation and higher education, sees himself as a progressive liberal, and believes in a higher power while not attending a formal church. Lastly, I am a college student pursuing an arts degree, and I consider myself to be more liberal-minded and religious. Before the meal began, Connie led us in prayer. Although we all held hands and remained quiet during Connie’s words, I observed that Becky and Richard did not bow their heads and kept their eyes open during the prayer.

I began the conversation by encouraging everyone to be open and honest with their discussion and beliefs, and saying that it was okay if we didn’t agree on a certain topic. I started with the question about what citizenship meant to everyone beyond voting, paying taxes, etc. Beth began the talkback by answering that she felt citizenship was about “leaving the world a better place than the way she found it”. Everyone seemed to think this was a good way of putting it. Connie said that she agreed, and she felt that being a good citizen meant helping others and just being a good person. I noticed a lot of nodding. As we went around the table, everyone had pretty similar answers to this question.

Seeing how the concept of treating others well kept coming up, I decided to ask how one’s religious or spiritual identity relates to how we should treat others and how that ties back to citizenship. Hilda answered that she felt a majority of her actions were influenced by God. She said she felt like God is the one who “taps on her conscience” and tells her how to treat others. Becky said that she disagreed, and she felt that you don’t have to necessarily believe in God to know when to do the right and wrong thing. She explained that just because she isn’t religious, does not mean that she treats people badly. Richard followed up by explaining that he agreed with Becky, and he does things just because he thinks they are right or wrong. As tensions were rising around the table, George said that he could see truth in both sides, and while he thinks one can know the right or wrong thing without believing in God, God can work in a person’s life and influence them to do things that they wouldn’t normally do.

As George said this, I couldn’t help but think about the Jonathan Haidt reading. As George answered the question, he acknowledged that he could see truth in both sides and then gave his opinion. I thought this was a good way of “talking to the elephant,” even though he may not have been consciously aware of it. By saying this, he used the other’s intuition to keep the peace and avoid an argument.

After this question, I tried to lighten the mood and ask about what they loved most about living in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. George began the conversation by saying that he grew up in Detroit where he noted that segregation and discrimination against African Americans was very noticeable. However, he now lives beside an African American family and feels that his neighborhood is quite diverse and accepting. Beth chimed in by saying she loved the fact that this area is rural and everyone knew her name, or at least her family. In addition, if she were to have a flat tire on the side of the road, she knew someone would stop and help her.

Furthering this topic, I asked what they liked most about the world today. Richard said that he felt new generations were very accepting and he loves seeing the progress we’re making in terms of equality and tolerance. I explained that I loved the advancements we’re making with technology, and I feel that much of this tolerance is coming from the world being connected and people gaining familiarity with people different than themselves. Connie said that she was very happy about the advancements of medicine and science. She said that she wished she had the opportunities growing up that I do now to make a difference in the world through technology and more general open-mindedness.

After this, I decided I wanted to see how different the people around my table really were and ask them about what social issues were closest to their heart. Some answers included equality, gun reform, the feminist movement, job creation, the LGBTQ movement, etc. We elaborated on each of these issues and somehow the topic of gun-control kept coming up over and over again. The March for Our Lives was the day prior, and I think it was just on everyone’s minds. Beth and I had attended a protest the day before, so I decided to ask everyone what they thought about the issue and the protests. Similar to our class deliberation, there were some opposing viewpoints. Becky, Richard, George, and Beth were very anti-guns and were very much in support for heavy restrictions of almost every kind. On the other hand, Connie and Hilda grew up with guns in their households and were supportive of light to moderate restrictions. However, much like our class deliberation, everyone around the table could agree that our country needs more background checks, mental-health screenings, and a ban on assault weapons.

While I was observing this conversation, I noticed that no one could come up with a “right” answer that would solve everyone’s problems or concerns with the issue; however, we could all at least agree on a few things. This reminded me of our class discussions on various wicked problems and how deliberating these issues is less about finding “right” or “wrong” answers, and more about weighing values and costs.

As the dinner neared its end, I talked a little bit about the bridge metaphor we talk about in class so often. I explained that for many of the social issues we discussed, people often see themselves at one end of the bridge and they have to take steps or actions to get to the other side of where they want to end up with the issue. In discussing this, Connie told Beth and me that she commended us for protesting the day before because it was taking an active step to the other side of the bridge. After learning that she was more hesitant to the idea of gun-control, this meant a lot to me. I appreciated that she could separate herself from her personal beliefs to respect my own.

After the dinner was over, I reflected on what I had observed. Although there were several different viewpoints present at the table, we were able to reach some agreement and compromise through peaceful discussion. I learned that it is okay not to have a “right” answer to every solution because often times, there isn’t one. However, simply talking to others and sharing opinions can help immensely. I feel that this dinner should be a metaphor for how we discuss and deal with problems in day-to-day life. Although no one is expected to prepare a homemade meal and talk around a table every time a problem arises, it is good to know that openly talking about an issue can help people think about things in new ways that they never have before. In addition, if one continuously surrounds themselves with people who are likeminded, he or she will never be able to have informative conversations like these to see how and why people think a certain way, and how a consensus can be reached. As I leave this meal and discussion behind me and continue on with my life, I will be reminded of the benefits of talking, discussing, and deliberating.

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