by Claire Smith
Pulling up this semi-circular, pebbled driveway was not a new experience. The group of people chittering within the average house, on an average street, in an average little city named Bowling Green, Kentucky were not people unfamiliar to me. In some aspects, I attend a Kentucky Kitchen Table once a week. I eat a meal with these people once a week, if not more, to discuss life, and what we believe, and how we can believe it better by living it out, hopefully making the world look a bit more like heaven in the process. In many ways, this is exactly the purpose of Kentucky Kitchen Table, and is strangely parallel to the central questions of Honors 251.
The individuals around my table are my church community group. We range from 18 (me, the youngest), to a couple with deeply graying hair, who chose not to disclose their age. Their names are Mike and Karen (Karen is only pictured in the annoyingly close selfie I took at the bottom of the article). They are kind and quiet; conservative, and always generous, with time, with their home, and with their resources. They sweetly offered to host for the project, just as they host us every week for dinner, coffee, and dessert. Sherry is our ray of sunshine; she is an accountant, and generally wants everyone to love everyone else, rarely stating strong opinions. She often tries to smooth things over when our resident feminist, Casey, gets riled up. Casey is delightfully passionate. She in her twenties, and is a certified doula, or midwife. Katie U. is a short, muscular person who works as a dietitian. You can tell from her appearance that she knows what she is talking about; she is her own proof and pathos. Joe and Katie S. are newly-ish-weds in their mid-twenties. Joe does something no one really understands called information security auditing reports, and Katie S. is a freelance photographer, though their desire is to one day work internationally within our church community. Sarah helps lead the WKU campus ministry CRU, and is the most personable human I have ever met, and one of the best storytellers. Paige, our final member, manages Vertical eXcape, the climbing gym off of Nashville Road. She is quiet, always planning out what she wants to convey before sharing.
Instead of attempting to coordinate the food or coming up with a theme, I just asked everyone to bring something. We ate homemade guac and beans, some cold pasta with peas in it, sweet tea, catalina taco salad, and rose-banana muffins, which was just as eclectic as I was hoping for. The food worked, in a weird way.
The Conversation (IE, Deliberation in Disguise)
I began with the required question, asking what citizenship meant to each individual, and mostly received blank stares. After some prompting, several were candid, saying they were not in the habit of pondering citizenship. Joe argued on the relativity of citizenship for awhile, and we eventually reached the conclusion of freedom, but the topic did not quite take off as I had hoped. People skittered off into tangents all around me, and I attempted to reign the conversation in. I asked what the best part of the world today was, and not a single answer was given in response. When that question also floundered, I went around the table and asked what each individual was most passionate about with regards to a social issue. Katie U. and Paige both discussed the environment, especially state parks. Paige wanted nature to be preserved for citizens to enjoy, and there has been some discussion on whether state parks should be maintained or downsized. It was important to maintain the parks because of quality of life, which can fall under the category of “living better together.”
Casey immediately began informing me about something we have discussed in Honors 251, but only briefly. She talked about how in Kentucky, doulas, or midwives, were often unable to find jobs, despite certification. It is preferable for expectant mothers to have a nurse who calls herself a midwife, certified or not. What Casey expressed frustration with was the American obsession with professionalism, a social issue I had not even known was a problem before 251. Despite being entirely competent, many like Casey in various fields cannot get a job without a degree, regardless of their experience.
Joe, Katie S., and Sarah all talked about fostering and adoption. Joe brought up the need for internal adoption. He gave the disclaimer that international adoption is still important, but also pointed out that there is a vast government ward, full of children who desperately need stability. His wife elaborated, and put forth options such as adopting through fostering. Fostering and adopting ties into 251 by giving others more of a say in their own lives, by providing stability and love in situations where neither would normally be provided.
When I came to Mike, Karen, and Sherry, I was not sure I was going to have much of a conversation, due to their political stance (conservative) and their age. They ended up sharing lots of insights, especially Mike. Mike’s social issue was, surprisingly, the accessibility of pornography. He rattled off statistics, and then struggled to come up options to protect children from viewing and becoming addicted. I noticed Mike wanted governmental action on this front, and when I brought up the freedom of speech, which implies freedom of media, he was frustrated, because he brought up “lazy parenting.” I liked that Mike brought this subject up, because it is an under-addressed problem, and in comparison to what legislature is coming up with now for children, such as cafeteria cup sizes, child addiction seems much more pressing, and helping children avoid or escape such a situation helps them have more of a say in their own lives.
I then asked if the state of freedom in America had changed since they were younger. We had a wonderful conversation; Karen and Sherry talked about how as time had gone on, the term tolerance had become prevalent, and how its principles had severely impacted their freedom. Their convictions were frowned upon, and often they felt that being a conservative was wrong somehow because of the backlash they received from individuals on the liberal end of the spectrum. We talked about how tolerance had evolved from unwilling acceptance to mandatory celebration of an issue one may not support. I think that this could potentially be argued as an encroachment on people’s say in their own lives, but it is a tangly topic.
One thing I learned from KKT was that I constantly am having informal deliberations, in the disguise of conversations. People have opinions, and they have fierce devotions and convictions.
Things got a little bit indignant and heated at one point in the conversation, and I did not attempt to moderate it. I think it was good for this individual to just have at it; sometimes, as citizens, we do not realize that we have a platform- (or we do… Facebook abuse). Those around us, friends, family, are our platform. Sometimes, we do not realize that we can go beyond being passionate or having opinions because we do not have any power, any special training for that kind of thing. But democracy is not about professionalism! Several of our first presidents did not even attend college, for crying out loud. It is a deception that citizens have to deal with if they want to have a say in how their country is run, one that is widespread and that has lead to a plague of complaining and online tirades. The person who exploded a little bit was like a real life Facebook tirade, unaware that they could DO something to change what they wanted to change.
Though much of the things I was able to discuss with these individuals was not new to me, I liked getting to talk to Casey about midwifery. It was fascinating to hear about her passion for natural birth and how it could help both the mother and children. I loved getting to hear Mike verbally fighting for kids whose parents may not always protect their “little eyes,” and challenging him on how he, not the government could help. That was certainly not something I would have done outside of the context of this project; I felt as the “administrator” or “proctor” that I was able to ask deep questions, questions that people wouldn’t normally answer. The veneer of the term project really opened people up to discussion. This makes me wonder; if deliberation, as discussed in “How We Talk Matters” became a part of this country, the way jury duty or voting was, as a civic responsibility, how many avenues of communication would open? How many solutions would meld from different minds? Especially when placed in a context grander than “project’- now the title is “democracy.”
Though the night took place in an average house, on an average street, in an average little city named Bowling Green, I have no doubt that this “average” has the power within itself to leverage beams and bricks and ideas and legislature and education and deliberation and voting into a bridge; perhaps we will reach the other side one day.