This week, I had the privilege of sitting down and enjoying a meal with familiar faces and some not so familiar ones in Bowling Green, Kentucky. My name is Kinsley, and quite possibly one of the times I learned the most during my freshman year of college is during a Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment for my advanced Citizen and Self class. The assignment’s premise was simple: grab a few people who are from culturally different backgrounds, people who grew up in different areas of the world, and ask them to a dinner where they contribute food and quality conversation. I think it’s fitting to introduce the faces of the fresh ideas and possible solutions to solve the world’s wicked problems. To put it simply, a wicked problem is one that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that often are difficult to recognize.
Katelyn is a soft-spoken, aspiring journalist with a passion for the Middle East; she is in the process of learning Arabic with intentions to better serve the people of countries in need. She spends her free time researching new ways to help the refugee influx from recent years into the Bowling Green area, and she is excited to serve in a Middle Eastern country this summer. She will begin volunteering at the International Center of Kentucky soon. She is passionate about her faith, her family, and loving her neighbors, despite the stereotypes associated with their physical attributes. Katelyn brings a heart for the nations to our table.
Taylor is a southern gentleman at his finest, as he loves the outdoors and believes strongly in the rights and privileges that the Second Amendment provides. He is a computer science major, following closely in the footsteps of his father. He loves the classics, Ocean’s Eleven and Talladega Nights topping his list, and he would classify himself as “one of the funny ones.” His ancestry is a large part of who he is; as twenty-five percent Taiwanese, he loves the history that his grandmother brought from Taiwan to the United States in the twentieth century. Taylor adds cultural diversity to our table.
Nichole is passionate about Dallas Cowboys football and feels most comfortable when gaming with her guy friends. From a young age, she has had the divine opportunity to travel the world; some of the most beautiful, enticing destinations she has visited include Munich, Germany and Brussels, Belgium. For as long as she can remember, she has had the chance to be immersed in a variety of diverse cultures. Nichole is keen to moving around the United States and sees each new move as a new way to grow. Perhaps one of the most influential points in Nichole’s life occurred a mere three weeks ago when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Nichole brings a fresh sense of emotionally raw diversity to our table.
Rylee is a fellow classmate and spends her time studying; as a part of the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University, and a writer for The Talisman magazine published on campus, she is passionate about what she does. As the only one at our table to have lived in the Bowling Green area for her entire life, she is knowledgeable about the happenings in the city we all now call home. She is passionate about her faith and the people she meets in her day to day interactions at the Beverly Hills Bargain Boutique, for her she draws much more than a paycheck. Rylee thrives on customer service. She is more liberal-minded than many in this small group, enabling her to bring forth diversity. Rylee brings a heart for people and a smile that can light up a room to our table.
Holly teaches eighth grade English at Butler County, a local middle school in Bowling Green, while she raises two children of her own. She is passionate about her line of work, but is also concerned about the crisis of cut funding in Kentucky schools. Her childhood, marked by certain events, allowed her to have differing opinions from the rest of the group. Holly loves pouring her knowledge into the children she encounters every day, and she brings strong, yet caring, opinions and ideas to our table.
Polio, a chronic disease that has seemingly plagued her since her youth, does not prevent Bonita from living her life radically. Bonita is an actively involved member of a local church and spends much of her time witnessing her grandchildren grow. As the oldest participant at our table, she brings knowledge of the early 1900s, and she is able to compare the ways in which the world was and how it is now. Bonita brings a new perspective and seasoned years to our table.
Michael is the principal of Bluegrass Middle School in Bowling Green, Kentucky. As he and his spouse, Holly, are both employed by schools systems, thus employed by the government, he has many opinions about the corruption and inequality of budget-cutting among public schools in the state. With a background in psychological science, he deals heavily with the emotional aspects of children. He has much to say about the refugee crisis in America, and especially the impact that it has had in the Warren County area. Michael brings the inner workings of the mind and emotional states of being to our table.
When asked the most crucial question of the entire night, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you,” each person at the table emitted a variably different response. Everyone present was raised in atmospheres foreign to the others, and this created an exciting idea of citizenship. As for me, both of my parents are Air Force veterans, leading me to grow into an adult familiar to the concepts of honor and pride for my nation, which eventually led to many of my adult decisions resting upon my Republican, conservative-minded upbringing. Perhaps one of the most interesting testimonies is that of Bonita, who was born and raised in Kentucky. She was born into a farming community, and because she was overcome with Polio at such a young age, she has a unique outlook on the ways in which the world helps the disabled and needy. This question in particular caused me to be reminded of the key theme of “How can we live better, or at least less badly, together?” When people of ethnically diverse backgrounds are faced with the complex idea of citizenship, as it has possibly never crossed their minds before, they oftentimes struggle to find words enough to describe their associated thoughts and emotions.
Perhaps the most controversial conversation of the evening began with these simple words: “What kind of community do you want to live in?” Thus, a discussion about gun control and Second Amendment rights was launched. “As for me, I’d like to live in a community that is graciously armed,” says Taylor, “because that is what I am most comfortable with. I could practically shoot a gun before I could walk.” Though many at the table were in agreement with Taylor’s opinion, Holly had a strikingly different viewpoint. Even after growing up in a community where guns were present and in her own home, she feels the most comfortable when there are none in her close proximity. This topic spurred a conversation that lasted for upwards of twenty minutes, and intertwined within was the reality that citizens, those living in the same city, shopping at the same grocery stores, and enrolling their children in the same public school systems, can, and do, coexist. Political, social, and moral decisions, while crucial to one’s expressed identity, do not solely define a human being. To allow guns or not to allow guns is simply a matter of opinion in which, when handled properly, can allow for healthy stretches of the mind and the realm of normal conversation.
It was interesting to learn that the dynamic of “being neighborly” has changed drastically in recent years. In the twentieth century, it was expected that neighborhoods were familiar with the families that lived there; dinner parties and welcoming cookie platters were typical. However, when our table was faced with the question, “Do you know your neighbors? Why or why not?” the answers were more than scarily similar. I, personally, have lived in the same house for ten years, and I dare say that I have no recollection of a single person’s name on my street. This unknowing is more spurred by a busy life rather than the lack of desire to get to know those living close to me. I think community has changed with this century due to the very virtual reality that we now live in. Society as a whole is under this incorrect impression that knowing people on social media is the same as having a personal relationship with them. “No, I really don’t know my neighbors, and I’m not sure there’s a real reason behind that,” was the resounding response from many at the table. Katelyn had a different idea though; growing up in the house her parents have owned since before her birth, she came to know the girls who lived in the house next to hers. As life usually does, it drew the girls apart, reducing Katelyn’s known neighbors to an astounding zero.
Though I could write forever of the lessons I learned, I think it is essential to remember the key themes of Citizen and Self and how they truly relate to the intense realities of the world. Knowledge and intentionality of conversations was a prevailing piece of our Kentucky Kitchen Table experience. No doubt was this exposure of the inner workings of each person’s hearts one of the most eye-opening of my life; I think this is simply because the millennial generation in which I identify with has forgotten the importance of “loving thy neighbor” and of communicating, deliberating, thinking in an effective way to solve the wicked problems present in the world today. Relative to the class as a whole, I would say that Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War by Peter Maass is the most related to the ideas and topics discussed at our table. Faith, family, and personal history were the key themes in the ways that conversations were driven.
I truly believe that the first steps towards a more connected world are to obtain culturally different opinions and retain this knowledge in order to answer the questions that it seems all citizens desire to be answered:
How can we live better, or at least less badly, together?
How can we ensure that we have more of a say over our own lives, and how can we ensure that others have more of a say over their own lives?
How can we solve problems?
It is our job as citizens to strive towards the type of world these questions illustrate each and every day of our lives and to not give in to our desires to quit until we have found the answers we have always so desperately searched for.
With All Sincerity, Kinsley