Fort Thomas, KY – March 31, 2018
My family isn’t one that often finds itself eating around the dinner table. As a child, we would eat every dinner in the dining room, but as us kids grew up, we found ourselves less and less able to congregate each night around the dinner table. We had play practice, band rehearsal, baseball games– we were getting involved and being busy, but missing out on human connection each night.
That is why I was so excited to host Kentucky’s Kitchen Table in my hometown with not only my siblings and father, but my aunt, uncle and their children from McMinnville, TN, in town for the Easter holiday. I invited everyone over with the primary intent to conduct this project of healthy deliberation, but secondarily to catch up. Being away at college, I had lost touch with my aunt and uncle’s family in particular, but also didn’t get to see my family as much so this was needed.
My two sisters are pictured next to my dad, from left to right Maria and Claudia. Maria is a senior in college at Northern Kentucky University majoring in Education– my mom is a teacher and she is following in her footsteps. She is a relatively liberal person regarding politics, but a devout Christian and loves to travel and be involved. Claudia is a sophomore in college also at Northern Kentucky University, also majoring in Education– that’s why we say Maria and Claudia are two peas in a pod. She is also liberal and Christian, but has a louder opinion on things and isn’t afraid to put it how it is. She brought steamed carrots and vegetables.
Claudia brought her friend Annalee, whom I had never met. She is also a sophomore in college at, guess where? Northern Kentucky University (seems like I’m the only one who got out of the NKY Bubble). But she, unlike Maria and Claudia, is majoring in physical therapy. She, while also devoutly Christian, is a strong conservative and a wide supporter of Trump. They collaborated on a nice pan of brownies– a college student staple, just need a box mix, eggs, oil, and water.
Then we have my father, a staunch rejecter of partisan politics who is an avid believer in person over politics, i.e. voting based on who they are, not what they stand for. He is currently a history teacher at my high school, which made for some fun AP U.S. History, but at least I passed. He made the ham and let me say, the man can cook.
My aunts and uncle, Theresa and Tom, coming from Tennessee really embody the stereotype of the American South. They are devout Baptists, staunch conservatives, and believers in a free America where the government has no intervention on their lives. Their kids, Keegan and Ellie, are 15 and 22 respectively, with Keegan being just a freshman in high school, and Ellie graduating from Vanderbilt University in May. They brought deviled eggs, a bold choice considering the 6 hour drive from Tennessee to Northern Kentucky.
To begin, after we had gotten our plates, I started with a basic question: How does everyone feel about America right now, in any capacity? This included politics, social rights, economy, and even the weather.
My sisters both agreed that the political climate wasn’t conducive to anything productive; my dad agreed that the geographical climate was not conducive to being able to go outside– how’s that for parallelism? My dad said that he tried to look at things in a positive way because of his near-death experience as a child when he got into a car crash that put him in a coma for days.
My sister’s friend Annalee spoke highly of Trump’s economic stimulation and job creation, and my aunt and uncle openly agreed. Their daughter Ellie agreed with my sisters. Keegan tried to steer clear of the conversation regarding politics altogether, the ham took up enough of his time. This conversation heightened in intensity due to both sides refusing to listen to the other.
This first question brought up an important part of this project by revealing a notion in American politics– side taking. People were quick to polarize into liberal or conservative and were not willing to meet in the middle. The only other facet of beliefs was those who didn’t want to get involved. I believe that in American politics today, this is the case with the general populace. People are either very strongly one side, or do not want to talk about it at all. This is reasoning behind why American politics is at a lag at this point in time, and reason enough for me to change the subject.
I decided to next ask a question that would foster positive deliberation. “What do you think are the best things about our world today?”This was a turning point in the night’s conversation. For once, answers generated laughs and smiles. I started by saying I loved the dedication in the world to finding solutions, whether it be a cure to cancer or ocean cleanup.
A few responses that stood out included Annalee’s, who said the best thing is people fighting for what they were passionate about, echoing movements such as #MeToo and March for Our Lives, largely ideologically liberal movements. It was surprising that she said that, especially after discussing politics passionately had just erupted a few minutes prior. But it was a step in the right direction to see someone stuck up in their own beliefs finding a bipartisan way to support positive movements.
My aunt Theresa’s answer surprised me in a way that disrupted positive conversation. She said that the best thing in the world was Trump’s administration because it was giving her community jobs after having a high unemployment rate. I was perfectly fine with her supporting him, but we were baffled that that was really the best thing to her. This taught me that some people are polarizing not just because they are passionate, but because they believe everyone else is wrong. That mindset killed this question, but brought up a good point about how different people see politics.
My penultimate question was “Have you ever had a conversation with someone from a really different background than yourself?” I was interested to see responses, considering that my aunt and uncle stem from relatively homogeneous areas of the nation.
My sister Maria started by saying she had never met an international student until she came to college when she joined an International Student Coalition and broadened her mind to people who were different than her, both refugees, immigrants, and people working here on visas.
My cousin Keegan finally chimed in, saying he has a friend whose mom died. This was another facet in that backgrounds can be different in many ways. Like Keegan’s friend, you could have a traumatic event that not many have to experience that shapes you as a person, but you could also simply be from a foreign nation. I was really proud of Keegan for sharing this emotional information, even if it was just his friend. Both change you as a person and open up the minds of others to either how good they have it or how their life differs from others.
Lastly, I decided to close on a unique note, that could have no political repercussions: “What kind of person do you want to be?” This was purely personal and required introspection, so I was intrigued to see how this group handled it.
My dad joked that it was too late for him to aspire to be someone, he was who he was. I liked that he was open about it, but I spoke up that we can always improve ourselves as our lives shape us in new ways, and he seemed to agree. Ellie’s response was something that summed up the night well. She said not just a good person, but a person who loves deeply and puts her relationships as a priority. This was truly what we all wanted– to put aside our differences and love each other as a sister, brother, mother, father, or cousin.
Overall, I learned that everyone’s lives are colored differently, based on experience. Theresa loved Trump because it had a direct impact on her in a positive way, my dad handled situations in a funny manner because he has a true zest for life after almost losing it. All opinions were valid because they weren’t just stances, they were personal. I learned to see everyone as human and their beliefs as legitimate (even when I disagreed).
As it relates to Honors 251: Citizen and Self, this project showed the value in healthy deliberation, and getting deliberation back on track when it derails. As Kevin Melville noted, when we engage in aggressive, unhealthy discussion, we undermine democracy and do not stimulate new ideas. This project was a prime example of both good and bad deliberation, the bad being political feigning and the good being digging into our morals and recovering. Deliberation is the key to opening minds and when we introspect, we find that our beliefs are personal to us, but can be changed with empathetic conversation that encourages disagreement. We all broadened our minds and became closer as not only people with political beliefs, but family (yes, even Annalee who was a stranger before).