My Kentucky Kitchen Table Project took place in my hometown, Versailles, Kentucky, on September 20. We happily gathered around the kitchen table in my family home, even adding chairs to make room for more people and more opinions! Those present each contributed to the conversation, making for a good night.
There were eight people there, myself and all of my family, and four others. My mother, Keli, is a democrat that works for the state with finding housing for various homeless populations. My father, Jeremy, is a republican assistant principal for the public-school system in Woodford County and my sister, Morgan, is a high schooler in this same school system. The other non-family members there were Hunter, a republican in college in Indiana and Tasha, the local middle and high school cheer coach who knows absolutely everyone; she is also very, very conservative. Tasha’s ten-year-old daughter, Chloe, also came and with her came a surprise visitor, her friend, Reagan.
This may seem like an odd mix of people; however, I strove to diversify the people in the conversation because I wanted to know the difference of opinions that came with different upbringings and political ideologies. I also wanted to have a difference of ages. I have always thought that children tell things simply, like they see it, and that was the idea I had when I invited an elementary aged child. This particular child is very outspoken about the way that she feels and very smart when it comes to national happenings. Because of these things, I expected to have a very interesting conversation and my expectations were satisfied.
We opened with casual conversation to ease nerves, some were very nervous about being a part of this project but soon got over it. We then moved on to the first, required question; “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship meant to you?” Jeremy started the conversation off by introducing the idea that in order to be a good citizen one must pull their own weight to the best of their ability. Several others also seconded that opinion, at which point Chloe asserted that she did not understand what that meant but that she did not understand why people could not just get a job. This launched an in-depth discussion about what “pulling your own weight” means exactly. This was interesting because it really relates to political debates today, concerning healthcare, government assistance, and many other things; at what point should we, the government, stop helping others and expect them to help themselves. Keli, who works with people not in the position to help themselves, also added some interesting thoughts. She explained that some people are not able to get their own jobs, whether it be due to disability or never learning the work ethic required to have one.
This particular part of the conversation interested me because of the social issue project that I have been working on in this class. I have been researching and writing about the foster care system and how youth aging out are virtually unequipped to move into the world, get jobs, and live on their own. Many times, these people are not able to get jobs or support themselves which is the point Keli was trying to make. It is not necessarily their fault, but the fault of those around them, their biological parents and the system, for not teaching them the work ethic they must have to pull their own weight. Applying what I have learned throughout this class to the idea that good citizens must pull their own weight, helped me realize that it is not always possible, which is not something that I have always thought.
Along this same vein, we discussed what being a citizen means to us which started a conversation about the need to regulate the resources the country does have available to those in need. Some felt that these are often abused and need more regulations in order to gain assistance, such as drug tests. Keli said that she did agree that there needed to be more regulations due to the fact that people often stay on government assistance simply because it helps more than going out and getting a job that pays minimum wage.
We also discussed the best things in our world today. I was thankful that we can still live in a world where we can know our neighbors and have relationships with them. Keli was thankful that there are still people in this world that care for others and are charitable and giving. Most of the other responses ran along this same vein. This reminded me of the very first week’s reading, “Love Thy Neighbor.” This reading explored neighbors turning on each other and killing based on things that do not matter. Applying this reading made me thankful that we live in a country where this is not a problem. We live in a world where we love and help each other regardless of race or religion, and this helps keep us all sane and, for the most part, good.
Finally, we discussed how religion has shaped our worldview and view on citizenship. Morgan and most people felt that going to church and being a Christian has made them better citizens. She said that you see what is right and how to treat people and that helps you to do it. Reagan and Chloe felt that what they learned at church made them better at school and taught them to treat their classmates better because the Bible teaches to treat others how you would like to be treated which is a good practice to follow as a citizen. God says to feed the hungry and help the widows and this is what we should do as citizens, as much as possible. Adding religion to the equation really changed a lot of the opinions of the table to an extent; adding it helped people to see that we should help people and that caring for others is part of being a great citizen. It was a great finishing question because it summed up the whole activity and really helped all of us think in depth about why being a good citizen is important and what that means.
Overall, this conversation helped me gain a lot of insight into people’s minds and what they think about citizenship and America as a whole. Hearing republicans and democrats agree gave me a lot of hope for the country and the political gridlock that we see so often today. The overall thought seemed to be that being a good citizen means helping people that need it to a certain extent. This idea can easily be affected by upbringing, political ideologies, and spiritual identity.
The Kentucky Kitchen Table project made me think a lot about the pieces that we have read throughout the Citizen and Self course, but most specifically the piece, “How We Talk Matters.” This talks about how we can benefit from taking time to listen and talk with people, which is what we did during dinner. As we talked, we began to see what others see and at one-point Hunter even said, “Keli makes me feel bad about some of the things I say.” This really speaks to the importance of talking about opinions. Sometimes just listening is all it takes to see what other people see. Talking truly is the way to fixing many of the issues of America; however, we often do not take the time to talk, and when we do, we do not listen. Having the simple conversation, we had at the dinner table helped Hunter and Jeremy and some others at least see why it could be considered a citizen’s duty to help other Americans and helped Keli see why they believed every citizen should pull their own weight.
Through this assignment I personally decided that it is my duty as a citizen to keep having these conversations, and to instigate them whenever I can. I believe that doing this can help us to live better together. Talking about opinions and ideas can help people to agree better and compromise. It is the good citizen’s job to ensure that this keeps happening and we keep talking. The minute we stop talking to those we disagree with is the minute that our country can no longer get things accomplished and protect our citizens. One of the ways to solve wicked problems is to talk about them and find ways we can compromise for the better of the people. Talking is the best way to solving problems together and although it was just a small group, in a small setting, it was a step in the right direction. Sometimes all it takes is a small group of “little” people to make a large difference. Talking is always a step in the right direction which is why as a citizen it is my duty to make sure we are all talking.