Tackling Problems One Meal at a Time

By Nate

My Kentucky Kitchen Table project took place in the suburbs of Bowling Green. Though Bowling Green is not my original home, I have come to call it so. My girlfriend’s family hails from here, and I seem to make new friends here each day. There were four people gathered around my table: Kaitlynn, my girlfriend, Meredith, a girl that I know in passing from my dorm building, and Janet, Kaitlynn’s grandmother that hosted the Kentucky Kitchen Table project at her house. Kaitlynn is my girlfriend of seven months and is from Lexington. She is bright and a very cheerful person. Although we have differing ideologies, we have much more in common than separates us. Meredith is reserved and very intellectual. She has the vibe of an old soul and has similar beliefs as me. Janet is sixty-nine years old and although I have only met her a couple of times, I can tell that she is a very kind person who cares deeply about people. I prepared green beans as a side, which I cooked in a deep brownie tray because I didn’t have a pot at the dorm, so I made due and they turned out great. Kaitlynn made mac n’ cheese and Janet bought chicken. Meredith baked brownies for dessert.

 

After diving into our meal, the first question was “what does citizenship mean to you?” This spurred answers from Meredith about being involved in local events such as the fair and shopping local. Janet, being the eldest there, had a slightly different perspective. She said that citizenship for her was mostly about being a good neighbor and helping those in need, she added that the world would be a much better place if people would get to know their neighbors more and lend a hand when someone is in need. A question that spurred more conversation was “what kind of community do you want to live in?” Theses answers were mostly stereotypical, a nice crime-free suburban neighborhood, until I said I want to live in a very small town, where you know everybody and every car you pass waves at you. This prompted some discussion about the positive and negative aspects of living in a rural versus an urban area.

Soon after the question “What social issue is closest to your heart?” was discussed, we delved into politics. Then it became apparent that we were a very diverse group. Not a traditional ethnically diverse group, but a group with diversity of thought. Around the kitchen table we had people that represented both the political right and left, as well as moderate and more hardcore versions of each. In today’s political climate it is made to look as if people with differing political opinions cannot engage each other in civil conversation. However, around this Kentucky kitchen table I found this stereotype to not be true whatsoever. Our diverse group discussed matters, and, in many cases, we had a lot more in common than one would be believe. When we did not share the same viewpoint, we would treat the other people respectfully.

Another theme of the discussion was that most of the things we were discussed about community was family based. It seemed the underlying motive behind the ideal community that good citizenship is meant to propagate is that this community would be a good one to raise kids. Janet, being the only one there to have raised a family was very enlightening. She pointed that knowing your neighbors and helping them out is a good thing to do when you are planning on raising kids as they can help keep your kids out of trouble. Also, she talked about supporting children who are less fortunate in the community by supporting local youth organizations and maybe even volunteering. The younger people around the table, myself included, idealized a perfect little house in a nice community, but hadn’t thought as having a role in making this happen. Janet illuminated this concept of building a community by actively working to make it better. In my life I have seen this to be true but had not realized it. My father, being a landlord, had always talked about how if you fix up your yard in a run-down neighborhood, some of your neighbors are bound to do the same. This shows the ripple effect that being a good citizen and member of society can have. Also, in my town I have seen that you cannot simply buy your way in to a good community. The most upscale neighborhood in my town isn’t the place I would call the best community. It is filled with rich people who hardly know each other, and the neighborhood has an out of control burglary problem. After Janet’s comments I reflected on this and also noticed that perhaps the best community where I am from is far from the wealthiest, however it is filled with lovely people who love life and know all of their neighbors. Every spring this neighborhood has a community yard sale and they have neighborhood cleanup days. This all shows that the only way to achieve everyone’s wish of living in a good community was to work at it through being a good neighbor and therefor a good citizen.

Through this Kentucky Kitchen Table project, I learned that everyone has dreams, and a major path to these dreams is through good citizenship. In order to live in a society that everyone wants to live in, we must work at it. In a society that is so divisive and makes everyone and everything seem as if it has its own agenda, one thing that can bring us together is our shared citizenship. If we all worked on being better citizens, then this country would be a much better place.

Another thing that I learned during the course of this project was the importance of communication. When I first met my girlfriend, it was clear that we had far different political views, however for our sake we decided that we would both discuss it with each other with civility and respect, and we have done so very well. Over our conversations I have come a little bit her way, and her mine. I had thought that this kind of civil discussion and working too see other people’s points could only be maintained for two people at most, but this project persuaded me to believe otherwise. In our discussions I saw people of vastly different beliefs communicating respectively and effectively with each other, in a fashion I thought extinct from our nation’s discourse. In 1850, the United States had acquired a vast new amount of land from winning the Mexican-American War and the slave states and anti-slave states came to the compromise of 1850, admitting California as a free state and passing a tougher fugitive slave law, while the other new territories’ laws would be decided under popular sovereignty. This kind of “meet-in-the-middle” compromising needs to see a revival in our nation. I believe that this revival would best be started around kitchen tables across the country, as people with varying beliefs can come together and discuss matters with civility as we did around our kitchen table.

This project relates to the central class question, “How do we solve problems?” because around our table, our diverse in thought group were able to come together on varying issues much easier than one would have thought it to be. When trying to solve problems, it is important that we try to engage each other with civility and mutual respect that allows us to reach agreeable solutions to the many wicked problems our community and world face. Around the familiar kitchen table environment, it was much easier to discuss matters that are typically controversial and avoided—perhaps, maybe they should serve fried chicken at the floor of the Senate!

This assignment made me realize that we have more in common with our neighbors than we think. Seeing these mutual held beliefs is an important step in appreciating the values of deliberative engagement of a community. I believe this project relates to the reading, “Tackling Wicked Problems Through Deliberative Engagement” by Martin Carcasson. Around the table, it was almost like a miniature town hall meeting. We had divergent thinking going on; everyone was coming from a different place and had their individual beliefs which they expressed freely. We worked through the groan zone next, though I did not find it to be so bad. Then, all there was to do was convergent thinking, which was fairly natural to do at this point. We were quick to come to common ground, realizing our “end goals” were basically the same. Through this miniaturized set of deliberative engagement, I saw how we should all work to solve our wicked problems. By letting everyone’s voice be heard, treating that voice with respect, and putting forth the effort to see where that voice is coming from, leads us all to realize that there is no problem too big when we all work together.

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