At first, when hearing about the Kentucky Kitchen Table project I thought it was dumb. I didn’t understand the point of it, and just saw it as another thing to do on my to-do list. I then googled “Kentucky Kitchen Table” and started reading other people’s experiences, and my interest was piqued. I read all of these stories about people’s family and friends engaging in meaningful conversation about topics that actually matter. I was then excited to host my own Kentucky Kitchen Table.
For my Kentucky Kitchen Table I decided to do it in my hometown, Louisville, Kentucky. I hosted the dinner at my house, with my parents and our neighbors whom I invited to make the table more diverse. My neighbors brought their 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son as well, making 7 people around the table. My mom, Jennifer, is a pharmacist who loves to read and go to yoga, and my dad Steve, is the CEO of an insurance company, who loves to go to the gym and play golf. Both of my parents are pretty strong republicans and tend to have very conservative view points. Jim and Nancy my neighbors, come to find out, have very different political views. Jim is a Physician’s Assistant who loves to play games with his kids in his free time, and Nancy is a social worker at a low-income school in Jefferson County who loves to paint. They told me that they tend to lean towards the more democratic side, but would consider themselves more of independents. Their two kids Sophie and Jack, go to Kammerer Middle School and love to play sports and hang out with their friends. Their kids quite frankly were a little young for some of the conversation, but they brought some valuable opinions nonetheless.
When I invited them over they seemed thrilled, and asked if they could bring anything. I told them that I would make the main course, chicken parmesan, if they could bring a vegetable, and they brought asparagus. We had mostly only had small talk with our neighbors at this point, so it was cool to actually sit down and talk to them. When they got there, we introduced ourselves more formally, and actually started to get to know one another. Jim and Nancy were both very sweet people, with very interesting life stories. They are both from Kentucky, born and raised, but other than that common denominator they were as different as they come. This became very interesting as we sat down at the dinner table and began discussing the more pressing topics.
I started the conversation by telling them about our class and the topics of how can we live better together, how can we solve problems, and how can we have more of a say over our lives. I described to them the process of deliberation and how this conversation should stay respectful, and how listening to other opinions could perhaps give each-other a new point of view.
When asked the question, “what does citizenship mean to you”, there was kind of a dead silence and then once everyone got to talking the phrase “being a productive member of society” kept being repeated. When I started to think about that, I thought what does that mean? Sophie surprisingly chimed in on this question and said that citizenship to her meant being kind to everyone and helping people, whereas Steve said that being a citizen means that you do your fair share in the economy, and community. I think that it was interesting especially on this question, how age really affected the answer. Sophie, Jack, and I seemed to think that citizenship is something that is so simple, and that we as citizens, overcomplicate it. Whereas the older people at the table, Steve, Jennifer, Jim, and Nancy thought that citizenship was more of a job that included more dutiful tasks and work. This question got the ball rolling but there was not much disagreement, or diversity in the conversation. One question that I thought was very interesting was, “do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” When asked this question Nancy started telling stories of her children that she works with in the schools. She feels like sometimes she is the only one who can make an impact on these children in low-income schools. She believes that her greater purpose is to be a light in these schools, and uses her faith to drive her in that. We then began talking about how it is so important to have mentors as a child, who push you to be a better person. The question then arose, is it these kid’s faults that they end up in drug circles, and gangs, when the only thing that they have ever grown up around is drug circles and gangs. It was interesting when Sophie and Jack began to talk about how they feel like they can make an impact on kids in their schools from what their parents are teaching them at home. How can we as citizens make sure that we are doing all we can to lessen the amount of poverty and crime in these low-income communities? This made me realize you don’t have to be in a position of power, status, or wealth to be able to positively impact someone. My mom, Jennifer then brought to the table how she didn’t think that you had to have a direct role, to make an impact. This brought some controversy, as myself and Nancy disagreed pretty heavily with her. We had the mindset that in order to do something, about anything, not just with at-risk children, you have to take initiative and play a direct role, which is something that as citizens who have the means to do so, should do.
When talking about what our responsibilities are, and who we want to be I think it was a general consensus that we all want to be “good people”. The disagreement came when discussing how we could achieve that. I think for different people being a good person, means different things. For Sophie and Jack, that could mean sitting with someone who is sitting alone in the cafeteria, but for Jennifer or Jim that could mean, helping a co-worker who is struggling, or donating to a charity. At the end of this discussion, I thought to myself maybe this is why it is so hard as a collective group of citizens, to decide on how to fix a problem, or even live well together, because we all have different ways of contributing to society. Maybe, instead of scrutinizing people because they don’t bring what we do to the table, or they bring something different to the table, if we commended them and opened our minds to what they have to bring we would live more harmoniously.
The last thing we talked about is how we had lived next to each other for almost 3 years and haven’t done this sort of thing sooner. This was really interesting to me because it really shows how selfish we are as human beings. We are “too busy” to really invest in our surroundings, which is a huge pitfall of our generation and current time. I think this is a huge reason of why we find it so difficult to live better together, and to solve problems collectively, is that we simply don’t make it a priority. This dinner gave my parents especially, who live there, a great opportunity to get to know the people who they live right next to. I think also it gave them a good opportunity to discuss how neighbors can be better neighbors. One definition of neighbor is a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward fellow humans, and I think that this dinner allowed Jim and Nancy and Steve and Jennifer to be able to assess how they can be better neighbors to each other. My parents have since then had dinner with Nancy and Jim several times, and they even all played a round of golf together.
To me this dinner really encompassed the main purpose of this class, I found myself throughout the dinner referring to some of the readings that we did in class, and drawing from that knowledge to form how I thought about the issue. “To Hell With Good Intentions” and “How We Talk Matters” encompass themes that were so prevalent in our conversation, such as how should we help, should we even help at all, and how can we best cater to others. It was through this night that I realized that we have a long way to go in society to become a well-oiled machine, and talking about controversial topics, and having open conversations about them is the first step. I also learned that branching out and learning more about the people that live in your community is so important. Jim and Nancy challenged me to think about things differently, and consider those who had a different childhood than I did, and who have different circumstances than me. Overall, this was a very rewarding experience, and one that I would do again given the chance.