This is the report of my Kentucky Kitchen Table project. My meal took place in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The total amount of participants in this dinner discussion is five, including myself. Their names are Tobi, Brandi, Avery, and Amelia. Tobi is a young adult who can be described as free-spirited, humorous, creative, and places a big emphasis on wanting people to be more understanding. Brandi is an accomplished single mom with three kids who can be described as hard-working, determined, and places an emphasis on sharing and teaching your talents with others to work together. Avery is a kid anyone would describe as lively, silly, and just plain excited about life. She puts an emphasis on being the best person you can be. Amelia is a kid you would describe as full of curiosity, playfulness, and joy. She puts an emphasis on being kind to others. Avery and Amelia are close sisters who work as a unit, so many ways to describe could be interchanged with the other. However, they have their differences, which should during our discussion during our meal together.
The first aspect of the conversation was everyone’s answer to the question, what does citizenship mean to you. This is where differences became apparent in personalities. Each member of the group had a different personal interpretation of what citizenship meant to them. This is an obvious example that citizenship is a fluid concept that can vary in meaning and is subjective. Some basic themes that were mentioned consisted of understanding, uniting, kindness, focusing on strengths, and providing a welcoming atmosphere no matter where you are. Obviously, everyone agreed that being a citizen is an inherently positive position that everyone is granted. These themes really represent what citizenship should mean to everyone, in my personal opinion. These are ideals that are ideal for any good, healthy community and are what every community should strive towards. This part of the conversation really opened my eyes to other descriptions of citizenship beyond just picking up litter and voting. It showed me how just having a good attitude to those around you, no matter who, and wherever you go can make citizenship be a much broader concept in my eyes. Moving on from individual citizens, I wanted to ask everyone what their opinion was of what citizens make up as a whole.
The next question that went around the room was what kind of community do you want to live in? These responses were pretty similar in nature, in that, they were all worded a bit differently, but all contributed to the same idealistic version of a good community and what it could look like. My general idea of what a good community would look like consists of people working together, not being afraid to ask for help, seeing the best in one another, and embracing everyone’s differences. The answers from everyone else around the table agreed with my ideas and added a few of their own. General themes that were passed around the table included friendliness, deliberation, acceptance to change, safety, prosperity, and togetherness. We all then discussed why these values allow a community to prosper compared to a community that might be somewhat lacking in them. We came together to agree that these qualities allow people to accept one another for who they are and provide help where they can, while communities who do not accept other’s differences and do not want to lend a helping hand are setting themselves up for failure due to an inherent lack of cooperation. I asked them if Bowling Green is a community that meets their standards for what is considered good. They all agreed that it is not perfect by any means due to not every citizen having good ideals, but that the people they interact with are good citizens in their eyes and it always potential to get better. I then wondered what type of citizen they all think themselves to be, either now or in the future.
The next question that I asked everyone was what kind of person do you want to be? This question also elicited varying responses from my participants. I noticed that when every person paused, thinking before they answered my question, it seemed to be like they were weighing all the different attributes they considered positive influences to have to see which ones they wanted to describe their future self. I mentioned humility and the other adjectives they used consisted of friendly, courtesy, kind, helpful, welcoming, disciplined, organized, likeable, and loved. We all agreed that these were great attributes for anyone to have or wish for. I specifically was interested in any differences between Brandi, Avery, and Amelia’s answers due to the age difference between them all. Brandi wanted her future self to be more understanding, helpful, and works well with other people. Avery and Amelia focused more on the career of their future self and wanted that to be an avenue for them to help other people, using words like kind, loving, and role model to describe the hope of their future selves. The transition I wanted next is to other citizens.
I then asked them all what advice they would give to our neighbors? They asked me to explain what I meant by that question and I summarized it as what tips you would give someone moving to your community to be as easily integrated as possible. The consensus that everyone reached was advice such as being friendly, talk to other people, and try to help out where you can. From there, we discussed how we socialized with the neighbors we have in our communities. Brandi mentioned that here friends were trying to show and teach each other different skills that they each have such as cooking or gardening. Avery, Amelia, and Tobi mentioned that they are social with other people their age whether it be at school or meeting up to get coffee. I mentioned that I am involved in a club on campus that I use to meet and talk with people.
What I learned from this experience was different takes on community and self from varying ages and life perspectives. Brandi could give a view as an adult with life experience, Tobi and I as young adults figuring out where our paths in life will take us and which to choose, and Avery and Amelia as young kids who are still taking in life and learning new things every day. I also learned a more concrete view of citizens and how they make, form, and build a community. As well as how people can improve themselves and their community together. What I really think that ill take away from this dinner discussion is that, regardless of age, every person wants to see things in a positive light and help things improve. Everyone wants to be involved in their community, help one another succeed, and find what it is that they can contribute because that is how we grow as people but also as a collective unit. This dinner was an awakening that this should happen more often. Instead of everyone glancing at their phones or just discussing their day, people should make an effort to really discuss how they view their surroundings including the problems that they face. By actively communicating on a daily basis with your family unit, you open yourselves up to helping one another find solutions. Multiple heads are always better than one.
This project and its experience relates to what I’ve learned in class in multiple ways. For one, it reminds me of “How We Talk Matters” by Keith Melville. As stated above, I believe in the power of deliberation. Who would disagree that discussing things in a sit-down, casual or formal wouldn’t help solve problems? When was talking out things ever not helped? This is not a foreign concept to me and it is not lost with the younger generation. I, for one, will make sure that people my age will discuss problems, solutions, and varying opinions not only now but as we get older as well. How we talk does matter and matters a hell of a lot more than people think but I have hope that that can change. This project also relates to one of our central ideas of our class. The central question of “how can we live better together?” is directly effected by how we as citizens improve ourselves, our community, and the frequency in which we discuss with one another. We can live better together, and it starts with open dialogue about problems that we face. It starts with listening to different opinions than your own and finding out why you have your opinion and why someone else has theirs. It starts with deliberation and not just every now and then but every month, week, and day. I want to live better together with other people and if we all actually put in the effort, I know we can. Here’s hoping we can.