My Kentucky Kitchen Table experience took place on Sunday, November 11th, 2018 in my hometown of Russellville, Kentucky. I gathered some of my friends and family at my home to have a meal around our kitchen table. Most of my immediate family was present, including my mom, dad, and two sisters. My mom, Melanie, works at the local board of education and plays the piano at my church. My dad, Chris, renovates and rents out homes to people in the community and is the choir director at my church. My two sisters, Ellie and Madelyn, are both still in school. Madelyn is in high school, while Ellie is in college studying to become an elementary teacher. Outside of my family, the friends I invited included Joe and Kaye and Ethan. Joe and Kaye (who are married) have been my parents’ friends for a long time, but have only recently moved back to Kentucky from Georgia. Joe and Kaye both attend our church, and teach the college age Sunday School class. Joe is a local attorney who ran for district attorney the previous year, and Kaye is a teacher at one of the local elementary schools. Ethan is one of my friends that I have recently met at WKU. Including myself, there were eight people present, three of which I did not know extremely well. When everyone arrived, the supper my mom had prepared was not quite ready yet, so I introduced Ethan to everyone and we sat and talked for a while. Once the tacos, refried beans, rice, and all the taco toppings were ready to eat, we moved to the table. My dad then blessed the food and we began to eat.
We all ate for a while and talked amongst ourselves, not wanting to move into the real assignment at hand. After a few minutes, Ellie prompted me to go ahead and ask the first question to begin discussion. So, I asked the table what citizenship meant to them. Almost immediately, the response was to follow the “golden rule.” Everyone at the table agreed that citizenship was to do your part to make our society better, and the way to do that was to treat others how you yourself want to be treated. Joe particularly added that when he does his job, and he does it right, he fills his role in society, as well as employs other people, allowing them to contribute to society. After this, Kaye and my mom began talking about their experiences as teachers. They believed their jobs to be particularly important parts of citizenship. Their jobs were to take children and to teach them and mold them into good citizens, people who try to better society in whatever position they find themselves in. One of Kaye’s statements that I found to be fitting was, “I build little citizens.” Following this, the table shifted to what the meaning of “good citizenship” was. The discussion of this centered around behavior, patriotism, and responsibility. Once again the golden rule came up, as the table as a whole believed this was a central part of the behavior of a good citizen. The idea was that if people see people in need of help, they should go help, as they would want someone to do the same for them. My dad also brought up the idea of responsibility. He and Joe discussed the importance of people knowing how to care for themselves and their families, and hopefully not having to rely on government or other assistance.
At this point, opioid addiction was brought up in the discussion, as we were talking about reasons people find themselves unable to be responsible citizens. Ethan and I discussed how we had been talking about this in class, and we told some of the stories we had read about. We also commented on the existence of wicked problems and how they relate to the functioning of society. Joe then touched upon another wicked problem in society, mental health. A debate then began about institutionalization, and when people should be institutionalized. This led to talk of what society should do with people who are mentally ill and carry out criminal acts. We began talking about school shooters and when they should be considered “safe.” Since we were already talking about social issues, I asked another guided question, “what social issue is closest to your heart”? The table agreed on one social issue, which was the breakdown of families, and the misunderstanding of marriage. Multiple people at the table had experienced divorce of had a parent leave during childhood, while some people, such as myself, had never experienced this. We all came to a consensus that many social issues all begin with this social issue. Joe then referred to his experiences as an attorney. He had seen a lot of divorce cases, as well as child custody battles, and he explained that, particularly in poor areas, the children almost never make it to a better life when their families are torn apart. He had seen many children who had never lived with their parents, but lived with an uncle, grandparent, or family friend. These children rarely received a sense of stability, and their makeshift guardians often struggled financially with feeding extra mouths.
Since Joe and Kaye had moved back to Logan County only within the last few years, I wondered why they would want to move back, so I asked another guided question, “what is the thing you love most about living where you do”? Everyone, other than Ethan who is from Owensboro, had an answer ready very quickly. We all decided that we liked the small-town feel of our home. We could always count on seeing someone we knew when we went into town, and we saw there was an almost innate generosity in the people of our hometown. Joe and Kaye also loved all the local history that exists around Russellville and Logan County. For example, the Red River Meeting House, the site of the first camp meeting of the Second Great Awakening, is in Adairville (a small Logan County town). Since it was very nearly related to this question, I asked another one of the conversation starters, “what kind of community do you want to live in”? My sister’s response was that she wanted to live somewhere perfect. No one really knew what she meant by this, so I asked her to elaborate. This led to a table wide discussion of our ideal commune. We all focused much more on the people in the society than any physical aspects of a community. We wanted a community full of good citizens that would take care of themselves, as well as helping out others who were struggling. This discussion led right back around to the beginning of the KKT assignment, as we began talking about what it means to be a good citizen, and the “obligations” we should all feel. Joe stated that part of the problem in society today is that people do not seem to have their own moral obligations, and they look to the government to establish moral boundaries for them. This reminded me of one of the articles we read in class by David Brooks. Brooks talked about how the generation I am a part of does not have a real set of morals and does not know what a moral dilemma is, nor have they ever encountered one.
With the discussion coming full circle, I decided it was a good time to wrap it up. Ethan and I thanked everyone for participating, and we thanked my mom and sisters for cooking food. In reflection, the activity was not nearly as unbearable as I imagined it would be. I had envisioned everyone quietly eating while I asked questions and tried to force conversion out. However, the discussion tended to flow very well, and everyone at the table seemed genuinely interested in the topics. I also thought it would be very awkward to have someone there that I barely knew, but Ethan seemed to have a good time. In addition, I enjoyed the activity myself. I had not eaten around a table with my family since the holidays, so it was nice to eat with them and to actually talk about things that are happening in the world and things that matter.
Not only did I enjoy this activity, but I learned a lot from it. I discovered some of my family members views on current issues, as well as a peek into their political views as a whole. It was interesting to see where I personally agree with my family on things and where my views differ slightly. I also gained quite a bit of knowledge from Joe and Kaye on current issues, local history, government institutions, and family life. To add to this, the experience as a whole gave me a new insight into the importance of deliberation. If families were to sit down together every night, or at least once a week, and talk about things that actually matter, as well as talk about their individual views on the issues, I believe it would lead to a much stronger family bond, as well as many more well-informed citizens. Even if friends just got used to talking, and talking respectfully and knowledgeably, about current issues, it could cause a real shift in the political atmosphere. I feel like it would cause people on all parts of the political spectrum to be more understanding of others, as well as more competent in discussing their own views. As with everything, deliberation takes practice, and if people were to practice, I think it would create a much more well-informed, much more participatory, much less polarized citizen. All in all, I get it. I see that practicing deliberation and learning about current issues and wicked problems is important. I see that the things we have practiced in class can help me become a better citizen, and can help all citizens as a whole “take back their job.” As we discussed in class, through the “Professionalized Services” article, citizens do not currently have much of a role in society. Though this is not how it should be, it is how it is and deliberation is one of those steps we must take to get to how we know it should be