I conducted my Kentucky Kitchen Table on April 14th in Bowling Green kentucky with five other people. Carter is a junior at South Warren High School and is involved in the school’s FFA chapter, the bowling team, and the music/ marching band program. Pauline and William are from Tompkinsville Kentucky where William is running for major. They spend a lot of their time interacting with the community and are well known in the town. Keely, my little sister, is currently a middle school student that has played three years of recreational soccer and has an interest in being a psychologist when she is older. Chris, my father, has been a high school drafting teacher at the new vocational in Logan Kentucky for nineteen years. The largest diversity among the group lies in the difference of age; each person at the table represents a different generation which is extremely valuable for discussion because it includes the opinions and experiences of each generation. Interestingly, the three oldest members also differ in their political party affiliation; William is registered as a democrat while Chris is a libertarian and Pauline is a republican. This is also a great opportunity for the discussion as it is interesting how the three main political parties’ values are represented in each person’s comments and how they might differ from the other two parties.
After the introduction of each person I opened the discussion by asking the question “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”. The majority of the responses were not surprising as most everyone responded with answers such as being there for their fellow citizens when they struggle and having the mentality of reaching your full potential for the sake of the society. Carter mentioned something insightful about knowing where you fit into the community; the main idea being that the most you can do as a citizen is to find where you are most needed and do everything in your power to do the best in that position knowing you owe that to your community. The most surprising response to that question was from William who stated that much of being a citizen is the ability to move forward despite the hardship that the government will put on you. This was a shocking comment mainly because William is running for major in Tompkinsville, therefore, led me to believe that this was precisely the reason to run in the first place; he wants to try to reduce the strain that authority puts on his fellow citizens by being that authority himself. In his situation and response to the question, William represents what many of us strive to be as citizens and I am very proud to know him.
After we discussed the required question we moved on to more specific issues such as gun control, the opioid epidemic, and the death penalty. While we were discussing these issues I noticed the main theme in regards as to why these problems are so difficult to solve was believed to be that the majority of the people are not directly connected to the problem and that when they are it is extremely polar to one side which can get in the way of solving the problem from both sides. Chris mentioned for example that the reason that the opioid epidemic is such a powerful problem comes from the fact that not enough people are invested through genuine knowledge and experience to the problem and therefore do not work to solve it. The table seemed to agree that the big obstacle in trying to solve these problems comes from the ignorance of the people about the entirety of the problem.
I mentioned the issue of trying to solve problems when information is incomplete and people are misinformed due to lack of exposure to the problem and asked them to balance the benefit of immediate action and drawback of haste with the benefit of deeper investigation and drawback of delayed action to these problems such as gun control and the opioid epidemic. The consensus of the table seemed to be conditional based on the social issue at hand which reflected the main ideas of wicked problems; there are characteristics that define a wicked problem and many social issues are categorized as wicked problems but ultimately wicked problems are unique to each other. This is the most formidable characteristic of wicked problems making the answer to one of the three main questions of the class, how do we solve problems, indefinite. The answer to that question is frustrating because it is conditional and as humans seeking answers to similar yet unique problems we hate it when we cannot generalize.
Due to the diversity of the table regarding age, I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss our thoughts about how our generations have become connected. I was curious about what we thought about each other and wanted to see the degree at which society in general has changed through the point of view of Pauline and William. I started off by asking about the amount major issues in this generation’s society and how they might compare to the amount of social issues seen in the older generations. I was not surprised to see that Pauline and William thought that, with time, the amount of major social issues within the nation has increased substantially. When we discussed why more problems arise in this generation it was interesting what Chris noted. He claimed that it might not be that this generation has more problems but instead it might actually be that with the advancements in technology, transportation, and various communication methods that we are simply more aware of the many social issues facing our nation. So with this I thought that maybe our country is much more united and informed than the older generation. We discussed this a little further and I found that the degree of unity probably has not changed in amount but rather in form. The older generations seemed to be more unified in the sense of local community while the younger generations gradually became more detached from their local society and more unified with the bigger more general aspects of society. When I asked why, William responded by crediting this to the advancement in technology and medicine. He claimed that with all these advancements, the individual can do more for themself and will not have to rely on the diversity of their local community for as much help.
With everything that was discussed, the project was a fun opportunity to get connected with people in the community and discuss the way in which we see our community’s characteristics and issues. It was a great chance to become a bigger part in each other’s lives thus unifying the community even more. I was able to take away many themes from the conversations, not the least of which was how we tend to believe that we have too many differences to overcome a shared problem and how this cannot be further from the truth. I noticed this because before the dinner I was under the notion that much of the discussion would be saturated with debate and differences due to three distinctly different political parties being present along with such a polar generation gradient. My initial judgement was quickly extinguished when we found each other agreeing on many actions that could be taken to solve social issues such as gun control and the opioid epidemic. I was thoroughly surprised with the conversation and came up with the idea that, in the face of extreme social issues, in order to come up with any plan of action, we must overcome our differences in opinion to come up with a solution. While the dinner table is not the way large scale society functions, it did give a small scale example about how we must interact with one another to advance in the right direction.
The focus I had in this Kentucky Kitchen Table was based upon wicked problems; I was curious to see how other people viewed wicked problems and attempted to dissect them. Much of the conversation reflected exactly what we learned in class about wicked problems; we could not attempt to solve them without drawbacks, there was a struggle to find a solution for every side of the problem, and actions could not be expected to work without trying to change the opinions of others which also reflected what we learned about communicating with each other. Throughout the discussion the three main questions of the course were starting to be answered when I looked at the effects the project had on the table. The answer, while it may be incomplete, was very clear once the project had concluded and was surprisingly simple. The answer is rooted in what the project was; the answer is communication, deliberation, discussion, and participation. When we apply these things to something larger than the dinner table we will start to see progress. The progress that is made once we do this on large scale is progress that involves everyone. The experience, ideas, beliefs, and knowledge of everyone afflicted by a social issue is able to be presented and utilized once we participate together. With this in mind, the answer to the three main questions of this course results in the most complicated wicked problem I have encountered. How do we get everyone involved in society through communication, deliberation, discussion, and participation? Once we answer this wicked problem, progress will result beyond the kitchen table.