My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place on November 11, 2018 in a town just outside Louisville, KY. There were six people in attendance: my mother Jenny, my father Jim, my brother Alex, our neighbors Ed and Kristina, and me (Aja). I specifically asked these people to attend my KKT because they were diverse in political and religious identities, geographical identity, and age.
Jenny is a white, middle-class female who identifies as a libertarian. She is a Christian and believes that this influences many of her political opinions. She is a social worker and is currently employed as a social worker by a mental health facility.
Jim is a white, middle-class male who identifies as a republican. He is a Christian and believes that this influences many of his political opinions and day-to-day life. He works as a financial advisor.
Alex is a white middle-class male who has a moderate position on political issues. He is a senior at Western Kentucky University and is studying Human Resource Management. He believes that being a college student influences many of his political opinions.
Ed is a white, middle-class male who is also a veteran. He identifies as a democrat, but considers himself fairly moderate. He does not consider himself religious in any way. Ed is also a professor in the speed school engineering program at the University of Louisville.
Kristina (who is married to Ed) is a white, middle-class female who is a democrat. She is involved in local political issues and avidly campaigns for liberal candidates. She considers herself conservative on military issues. She does not consider herself religious in any way. Ed and Kristina recently moved from southern California to Louisville. Kristina was a local shop owner in California.
I am a female college student who does not identify with a political party. I am studying nursing and hope to work as a Certified Nurse Midwife in a developing nation after graduation. I am a non-denominational Christian and believe that this influences many of my political opinions.
After getting to know each other a little better, we gathered around my dining room table to share a meal and deliberate current issues. We had a vegetable salad, grilled chicken and steak, green beans from our garden, mashed potatoes, and red wine for those who were over 21 😉
I started our conversation with the question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” The conversation organically flowed from there.
Kristina brought up the idea that we have a greater responsibility as citizens of the U.S. than just voting (“which many people still do not do”), paying taxes, and following laws. She said that she holds herself to the standard of donating to charities, caring about education, and recognizing firemen/police officers. When she was an owner of a small boutique in California, she only bought American-made clothing to sell in her shop. I especially loved one thing that she said: “Being an American is being part of a team; finding unity in tragedy. Being neighbors—and not being partisan.”
Too often Americans try to identify themselves with one political party. But being a citizen is so much more than adhering to a certain political party. Ed added, “Republicans and Democrats can usually agree that an issue is an issue. Where they disagree is how to get to a solution.” Jenny and Jim agreed with Ed and Kristina on this. Jim claimed, “We are Americans first. And Republicans and Democrats second.”
Ed said that duty and honor are important to him. He works in education because he can positively influence the younger generation. He could make a lot more money with his experience in engineering, but chooses to work at UofL because he is passionate about being intentional with students.
Alex spoke of geographical norms in regards to citizenship. He said, “In the South, knowing your neighbors and being kind to your neighbors is important. Being an active member in society, in your local government, and on a community level is important to be a citizen of America.” Kristina claimed that more people need to travel and experience life outside of America to become active citizens. Traveling to other countries gives you a greater global perspective.
I followed up with this question: “Do you think that Americans have an obligation to less privileged people?” I asked this question because it closely relates to our class question, “How do we live better together?” Do we have a responsibility to others, human-to-human?
Jim and Jenny said that their Christian faith reflects their responsibility to less fortunate people. They give and sacrifice and love because Jesus first gave to them. Ed said that he had a friend in the mormon church who suddenly became very poor and did not have enough money to pay his mandatory church tithes, so he was suspended from the church. Ed didn’t see how religion dictates how people live their lives generously. It seems more like rules and regulations to him. It’s strange because I’m finding that many people who claim they are “nonreligious” are not agnostic, but atheist. Religion and faith often plays a role in one’s life whether they know it or not.
We then discussed the issue of voting in the United States. Ed brought up the idea that the younger generation (ages 18-26) marches and protests—but doesn’t show up on election day. I also have experience with this; many of my friends march and post on social media for gun control after mass shootings, yet they lack a in-depth understanding of the complexity of the issue. I summarized the article “Green Fire, the Still Point, and an Oak Grove,” where people protested an issue without being informed about it. The adults claimed that millennials just want to be emotional and dramatic about a cause they know nothing about. I claimed that adults know about the severity of issues and yet don’t do anything about them. Which is worse?
This led to a discussion about generational differences. The adults claimed that millennials and gen y/z have lousy work ethics. I told them stories of my friend that works two jobs and is a full-time student and is a member of a service sorority and is pursuing a pre-med degree.
I told them about how I finished all my high school coursework in 3 years so that I could graduate early. I told them about how I moved to South Asia for 4 months at 18 years old to work with orphanages and human trafficking ministries. I told them my dreams for my life: to spend 4+ intensive years obtaining a medical degree just to voluntarily live in poverty for the rest of my life. I want to do this because I believe that the power of Jesus and simple medicine can transform every tribe and tongue.
Alex told them that he spent nine weeks of his life biking from coast to coast—all the way from California to Virginia—to raise $50,000 for Alzheimer’s research. He did this because he believes in medical research and because he cares deeply for those affected by Alzheimers.
Do these sound like young, aimless people who have lousy work ethics? To me, these stories reflect people who think philosophically—people who are pressing into a deeper meaning of life.
I told them that our generation perhaps doesn’t understand the value of manual labor. Perhaps we spend too much money on simple things and don’t know how to manage a saving’s account. Maybe we depend too much on the tiny screen in our pocket. Sometimes we are emotional and impulsive and think more with our hearts than with our heads. I see the flaws in our generation, I do.
But I am also sick of older people telling us that we are a lost cause. The truth is that our generation is brave and innovative and compassionate and daring. We risk and push the boundaries of knowledge. Some of the greatest discoveries have been made by our generation, and some of the greatest people alive were born in our generation. So we don’t need adults telling us that we can’t do anything. What we need is a generation of parents instilling courage and confidence into their kids.
After I said all this, they backtracked and acknowledged that not all millennials are lazy or entitled, but that is just what our generation is know for. I told them that we are known for being lazy and entitled because that is what has been spoken over our lives since the time we were born. The adults I admire the most don’t chastise me; they inspire me. They don’t point out all the things I am doing wrong; they encourage and believe in me.
To wrap up the conversation, I asked them, “What kind of person do you want to be?”
Jim said that he wants to be a man of integrity, a leader, and compassionate.
Jenny said she wants to be kind, hospitable, and reliable.
Alex wants to be a person who thinks philosophically and deeply.
Ed wants to be a person of influence.
Kristina wants to be strong and confident in what she believes in.
As for me, I want to be a girl who embodies warmth and conviction and sacrifice.
Over the course of this discussion, I learned that it’s okay to disagree with someone. I learned that how and where you grew up, your race/ethnicity/nationality, your background and experience, your gender, your religious views, and your political stance all affect the type of life you live. I learned that religion is can be someone’s whole world and also the root of another person’s bitterness. More than anything, though, I learned that people who are aware of issues can be sold out for a cause. There was no “right” or “wrong” comments made at this dinner. There were just six people trying to live better together.
It is my hope that a group of people walked away from a dinner more informed and more passionate than when they came.
*Quotes were closely paraphrased*
(Alex is not pictured because he came late to dinner!)