Emma’s Kentucky Kitchen Table Experience

By: Emma

I hosted a Kentucky Kitchen Table in Louisville, Kentucky on November 9, 2018. I felt like I had a pretty diverse group of people, because I covered a variety of different generations and financial backgrounds. My grandma, Michele, is one of the people who attended my KKT. She is 76 years old, has 5 kids, has been married for more than 50 years, and has a strong faith in Catholicism. Her friend, Ann, also attended the brunch. This was someone I did not know well, so having her at the table was going to bring in some abstract thinking I hadn’t heard from my own family. She is 75 years old and also defines herself as a Catholic. She has an active role in her family and treasures her grandchildren. Michele and Ann cover one generation’s perspective of the world. The next generation consisted of my mom, Rhonda, and her friend, Jennifer. Rhonda is about to be 54 years old and I am her only child. She has been married for 22 years and loves her career of being a flight attendant. Her friend, Jennifer, is someone I do not know very well. I learned that she is 47 years old, has had a nasty divorce in the past, has 2 children, and has been in an 8 year relationship with her boyfriend. She used to be a social worker, then a teacher, and is now working in an office for a construction company her boyfriend owns. The last person to attend my KKT was myself. I am 18 years old and am considering a career as an orthodontist. My views on the world tend to differ slightly from those in my immediate family, so I was very excited to learn about the views of the people I did not know very well. The brunch (which was going to be a dinner until I had to return to Bowling Green early because of the mold in Minton) started with small talk about Panera and the bagels my mom and I had brought from there. Everyone contributed something to the brunch so we also had yogurt, fruit, coffee, and milk. We slowly died down on the subject so I decided to ask the one required question. I asked, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” At first everyone was a little quiet, but once conversation started rolling it carried on for a long time. My grandma, Michele started by saying that citizenship to her meant building a community with the people who shared the same common goals and values as yourself and then working together to improve the status of the United States. Everyone else at the table nodded and agreed with her response. On top of this, another common theme in the talking was that citizenship was showing love for the United States and not taking for granted where we live. We are given so many freedoms and blessings by being citizens of the U.S. which is an important thing to remember in your daily life. Since the theme of community was brought up, I decided to ask, “Do you know your neighbor? Why or why not?” Immediately, Michele shared that she had a very close relationship with all of the people on her street. They would have dinners and festivities on their street where they could all spend time together. Michele said that if she ever needed anything she knows her neighbors would be there to take care of her always. Ann shared a very similar statement by saying she also was very close with her neighbors. She said that even though they may not all have the chance to get together very much, she knows they’re always there for her. Jennifer, however, had a very different response. She chose who she did and did not have a relationship with in her neighborhood. Going through a divorce in a small town and small neighborhood made for a lot of gossip with her neighbors which gave her reason for not trusting all the relationships she could’ve formed with them. She usually sticks to herself and will smile or wave to neighbors when seeing them, but no true conversations are ever really had. Rhonda shared a very similar response as Jennifer in that she is cordially with her neighbors but doesn’t truly know them all that well. It was easy to see that there was a difference in how generations live now a days through this conversation. Slowly, interactions with the people living around you are dwindling and many people in my generation couldn’t tell you the names of their neighbors. This topic led into the question of if they had meals with their families or neighbors growing up. All of the people at the table had an overwhelming answer of “yes” to this question. All of them reminisced about sitting down at dinner every night with family and inviting neighbors, and there wasn’t a day they skipped this or ever really went out to eat instead. They always set time aside to spend face-to-face quality time with the people they cared about, and they think that nowadays there is a huge lack of focus on family time and building a community. This is something all of them tended to be disappointed in and the blame tended to go on kids’ year-round sports, jobs becoming more accessible for women, longer work hours, the need for a larger income, and technology. All of these things in society have taken precedent over knowing your neighbors and spending time with family, and this changed has caused a lot of people to misunderstand each other. After all of these questions addressing community, I decided to bring up a tougher question. Since they said citizenship was having a sense of community and using common values to make a change in the U.S., I wanted to address the bad things happening with in the United States. I asked, “What social issue is closest to your heart?” My grandma always gets the conversation started, and she said her social issue was abortion. She is pro-life except in the cases where the mothers’ life is in danger. Her religious background plays a huge part in this. Michele believes in taking care and loving all living things, and that even surprises can bring some of the greatest joys. The next social issue brought up was from my mother, Rhonda, and she talked about immigration. She believes that our immigration laws need to be followed by all people who want to become U.S. citizens, because she found it unfair that some people skip through the whole process while others do it correctly and wait a long time to come to the United States. Rhonda feels that if immigrants want to become U.S. citizens than they need to begin following our laws from the beginning. This led to talk about refugees and into Ann’s social issue of pure hatred. Close to Ann’s hard was the lack of compassion and understanding for people in the world. She can’t understand how you can look at someone and choose to be hateful towards them. This was something everyone at the table could agree with. And lastly, Jennifer’s social issue was within the welfare system. She thinks it needs to be revised, because she has seen first-hand through her job in social work that the system is failing the people that need it the most. She witnessed too many people cheat the system and have an abundance of kids in order to obtain more money from the system. I saw a common theme throughout all of these social issues. While we might not all have related to each other’s social issues or had the same view of them, we all had a deep need for the protection, safety, and love of those around us. This common ground was an important thing to keep in mind, because it shows that no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, you can relate to someone completely different from yourself. All humans tend to have an innate compassion for those within their circle, and this is what could save our world from many evils today. I learned a lot from realizing this commonality between us at the table and also that it is possible to have a calm discussion about topics that are too easy to get heated about. At the end of our brunch, we all talked for a while how more people should do things like this rather than screaming at each other, because no true understanding of others can be formed. I also learned that it is okay to have differing views from my parents, even when it might be hard at first. This Kentucky Kitchen Table provided me a safe and controlled space to talk about my views without feeling the slightest bit threatened. My KKT also reminded me of the article “The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail” by Jonathan Haidt. Talking through our beliefs about community, complex social issues, and citizenship during this brunch made me see how accurate Haidt was in saying that we must appeal to people’s elephants or emotions. This is how we made progress in our conversations during the KKT, because hearing stories and personal experiences helped us relate to their views so much more rather than spitting facts that support a side. Our class runs, usually, by speaking to each other’s elephants as well so it was nice being able to carry this outside of the classroom for better, civil conversations. What was supposed to be a brunch with unfamiliar people turned into such easy conversations and newly formed relationships that lasted around 3 hours. Once we started talking about topics that are usually not brought up, people realized they had many feelings about it and were glad to open up even to strangers about it. I at first dreaded doing my KKT, but at the end it was one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had around such complex topics. I hope I have the opportunity to do this again next time I go home.

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