By: Emily Lancaster
- Kelsey: Psychology Major at Western Kentucky University
- Originally from Bowling Green, Kentucky.
- Shayla: Biology and Dance Double Major at Western Kentucky University
- Originally from Lafollette, Tennessee.
- Eliza: Psychological Sciences Major at Western Kentucky University
- Originally from Duncombe, Iowa
- Emily: English Literature and Spanish Double Major at Western Kentucky University
- Originally from Evansville, Indiana.
- Brian: Kelsey’s father who is an accountant at Western Kentucky University
- Laura: Kelsey’s mother: a school psychologist in Bowling Green, KY.
- Kelsey’s parents’ house in Bowling Green, KY.
Date of Event:
- November 5, 2018 at 6 p.m.
- Chicken and Dumplings, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, Dinner Rolls, Apple Pie, and Tea Cookies.
Kelsey and her parents were kind enough to open their home to us three students—Eliza, Shayla, and myself—for a home cooked meal that involved both wonderful food and a friendly conversation about citizenship and the society that we are currently living in. It is quite difficult to jump into such a large and complex topic such as citizenship with new people so we spent the first few minutes just chatting about current events on campus and each person’s occupation or major. This was really helpful especially for breaking the ice with Kelsey’s parents because talking about simple things such as our roommates, favorite hobbies, and our classes really allowed everyone to warm up and understand that this was a fun and safe space with a diverse and interesting group of people.
Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? This question began our discussion about citizenship and society. Laura was the first person to speak up about how things such as religion, politics, status, and other beliefs have effected how humans as a whole treat each other as she believes that citizenship means being kind and loving both to those close to you, but also others. This proved to be the post popular opinion around the table and it spurred others on to speak as well. I loved what Laura was talking about so I jumped in following her comment as I have seen first hand how religion and politics can divide friendships and families. Collectively we all discussed how each human being has different opinions on practically every topic and while something so trivial such as a favorite color would most likely never break up a family, the fight between Democrats and Republicans or Catholicism and being agnostic wins out over the love that people have for each other. Eliza accompanied these comments with a story about how the community that she lived in was so small that these topics would still affect families and friendships, but ultimately she saw that more often that not, people wanted to simply be there for each other during times of need and during those times these prejudices and controversial opinions were put aside. We all shared the thought that that is the kind of care and love that news agencies and social medias portrayed as it shows that there is still a sliver of humanity left in a world swirling with hatred and separation.
Empathy. While we were discussing kindness and how people talk and interact with each other, the topic of empathy came up. We started discussing how kindness was almost directly proportional to empathy and how we can not only treat others well, but do our best to put ourselves in the shoe’s of another person. It was here that I reference one of my favorite readings from the semester: The Empathy Exams and Devil’s Bait by Leslie Jamison. Each excerpt of this reading was really interesting for me as each part discussed different ways that she experienced empathy. The Empathy Exams was how she viewed empathy on one end of the spectrum as a person who wanted empathy and was struggling to receive it both in as a medical trauma actor and in her real live with her boyfriend. Discussing this reading at the dinner table was well received as it added to an already important conversation about kindness and its relationship with being a citizen, but also opened up a safe space for experiences to be shared. Eliza told us a really inspiring story about how her family was willing and ready to open their home to one of Eliza’s best friends when her house had no heat due to unpaid bills. Eliza detailed how this was a turning point both for her and her family, but also some of her community. People began aware of her friend’s situation and after learning more about her and her story, so many families were willing to provide anything from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to a bed to sleep in for a few nights; Eliza said seeing how everyone came together helped her see some light in a often dark world. This one story led to Laura, Shayla, and myself all sharing stories about how we have seen empathy within our own lives in a hard situation or within the lives of others. As a table we discussed how much the love and help of others really impacted how we felt about the world and how seeing life through someone else’s eyes can be really inspiring.
At some point during this discussion, Eliza began talking about how her and her roommate Amy had run out of pretzels to eat with their large bowl of hummus. As we had been on the topic of citizenship and kindness, Laura got up from the table, went to the pantry, grabbed an unopened back of pretzels, and gave it to Eliza as a gift. She said she simply wanted to help Eliza and save her some money as a student and, though this was a simple action, it displayed kindness.
Following a few funny, interesting stories and each of us grabbing a dessert of choice, we got back to a deeper level of conversation. We ended up continuing our discussion about empathy as the question “how do we think our jobs/majors relate to our role as a citizen?” was proposed. Kelsey and Eliza, who are both on similar tracks here at WKU had different answers from each other as well as Laura’s whose job as a school psychologist, still corresponded with both Kelsey and Eliza’s majors. Laura, in as much detail as she could, discussed how her job as a school psychologist as helped many children and families, but also helped open her eyes as well. She talked to us about how she sees children from all ways of life and with all kinds of struggles and hardships and what her and her coworkers have to do in order to help them the best way that they can. They work closely with teachers and parents to help the child get the best education under the circumstances possible. Laura was very clearly in love with her job and wanted to see other people succeed even if it meant a few challenges here and there. Kelsey and Eliza both elaborated on what they want to do with their majors and how they want to use their education to help those suffering as well in the future. They each believe that mental health needs to be addressed more than it is and wants to use their experiences and talents to help. Shayla is a dance and biology major and wants to pursue her passions and have a job that she loves, but also having a backup plan that allows her to help people as well. As for me, I have always known I wanted to inspire people while also having a job that I adore so I have decided to become an English literature teacher. I chose this as my English teachers have done so much for me and inspired me both with their teaching and passion, but also with their kindness and compassion. As all of us at this dinner were really passionate about our chosen careers paths and choices, this conversation went super well and it was both entertaining, heartfelt, and fun. Following this conversation, Shayla brought up how this conversation matched with the previous one were very aligned with the three central questions of the class. She related each of these conversations to how we are helping ourselves live the life that we want and making decisions that are great for us while also using our knowledge and abilities to help others live well and to the best of their abilities. It was also noted that by each person being different in their own ways, it helps us as a society live and love better together and work on multiple problems. This was justified by discussing how we all would be similar and nothing would be unique if we all had the same passions and gifts as these are what make us special and make the world hold some beauty even during the darkest of times.