The Kentucky Kitchen Table project was held in Bowling Green, Kentucky at a Participants apartment on Thursday, November 8th. The guests consisted of Austin, T, Taylor, Sarah, Abigail and I (pictured left to right.)
Austin is a 22 year old senior from Louisville, Kentucky who attends Western Kentucky University. Sarah is a 19 year old sophomore from Clementsville, Kentucky. Clementsville is a very small agricultural based town in south-central Kentucky. She is studying speech pathology at Western Kentucky University. She was also hosted the dinner at her apartment. T is an 18 year old freshman also from Clementsville and is the brother of Sarah. He is a double major in architecture and business at Western Kentucky University. Taylor is a 19 year old sophomore attending Western Kentucky University. Abigale is an 18 year old freshman from Elizabethtown, Kentucky majoring in Marketing with a minor in psychology at Western Kentucky University. This group is very diverse in their upbringing and their life experiences and each brought a unique perspective to the table for this dinner.
Just to start out preparing for this dinner was a very stressful process. Preparing ingredients and working with people to fit the dinner into their schedule was a very hectic process, and after all that I faced the task of cooking (something I am far from good at.) And after all that it ended much earlier than expected, but looking back now I wouldn’t have had it any other way because that has caused me to focus on answers given by participants and ponder my own answers to the questions that did get to get asked.
The dinner started like most Kentucky Kitchen Table dinners do, with the question “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” There was quite a pause in between the question and an answer which is expected for this very loaded question. Participants eventually took hold of the conversation stating being a good Samaritan and volunteer are very important aspects of being a citizen. These are common values most people hold so I wanted to hear more individual answers from participants so I asked how their upbringing and more importantly where they were raised effected their idea influenced their idea of citizenship. The conversation eventually led onto the idea that citizenship greatly depends on where you’re from. Participants Sarah and Austin couldn’t be from any more different hometown. Louisville and Clementsville are perfect antitheses of each other in almost every aspect. Louisville is the largest city in the commonwealth and Clementsville doesn’t even have a stoplight. Despite these massive differences the people from them drew some very similar parallels. This evolved further into is that your definition of citizenship is extremely reliant on where you live and on your socio-economic standing. Whether you’re in a very small county or a big city your experience of citizenship can change from street to street or neighborhood to neighborhood. Participants spoke on their personal experience of this phenomenon. Neighborhoods in very geographically similar areas divide themself into their own exclusive groups. One area gets the label as the wealthy “affluent” area and others as the poorer less desirable areas. This greatly affects your view of the community and in turn your sense of citizenship. Austin stated that he was looked down upon by the more affluent high schools because he went to a different school but still lived in the same neighborhood of the ones who looked down on him. This almost undoubtedly affected his sense of citizenship and his perceived place in the community.
The next question was “What do you love most about your community?” We made sure the definition of community was very broad including your hometown, Bowling Green and even WKU. Everyone quickly agreed that here in Bowling Green the best thing is that “you get the feel of a small town with the perks of a bigger city.” This answer was basically uniform from all participants despite where they they were raised. “Having a personal sense of community while retaining most perks of living in a larger city is one main reason I attended WKU” I said, and every participant said that is also a large reason of why they are attending Western also. People then went on to speaking about their hometown. Sarah talked about one thing she loved was at a local gas station you can still run a tab. The concept of a tab is largely unheard of for most people of college age since the practice is so rare in our times. “This sense of trust” ,she said “really made the town seem very welcoming and genuine; that there’s a sense of inter-reliance on each other .”
The next question was “What kind of person do you want to be?” Almost everyone wanted characteristics like charisma and reliability. Qualities of being a good friend echoed throughout these responses. After this I again wanted more personal answers so I broadened the question to “what kind of legacy do you want to leave after you’re gone? What do you want to be remembered as?” Everyone said they wanted to be remembered for making an impact on the world and individuals through service or through some other means. As the conversation advanced Sarah said “The greatest compliment you can receive is a genuine thank you.” this was the single most important quote that has stuck with me from this dinner. She elaborated with saying “A simple thank you from holding the door for someone doesn’t involve this type of thanks but actually making an impact on someone’s life in a positive way and being thanked is the best thing anyone can tell you.”
The next question was “What advice would you give to people running for office?” In today’s day and age this can be a very loaded and potentially dangerous question especially with people with different views and opinions are discussing. Despite this the answers people gave seemed to be very similar. All responses led me to believe that people feel a disconnect between their representatives and their constituents. Participants all agreed that the officials need to have a deep understanding of the area they are representing and most importantly the people they are representing. I stated the most important thing for me was integrity. Even above policy I think integrity is the most important quality and elected official can have and the participants seemed to agree. The main theme I took away is that despite our differing views of policies that we all want very similar qualities in the people who represent us.
This dinner has made me reflect on ideas of citizenship we have discussed in-class throughout our semester. The response about the greatest compliment being “thank you” has really resonated with me for the past days while writing this post. Many of the greatest servants such as Nelson Mandela and Jane Addams must have received immeasurable amounts of praise and thanks from countless people and this undoubtedly had to have been a great motivator for them. This has made me see the responsibility we have to not only to serve and be thanked but to make sure we thank those who have impacted our lives positively. Giving thanks can be a great motivator for someone to want to help others in the way they helped you. The other main idea I’ve taken away from this dinner is everyone’s sense of citizenship and community is a an extremely personal idea and is completely unique to all people. Numerous experiences impact our ideas of citizenship, and these experiences are not the same in any two people. Most of these experiences are out of our control or anyone’s control for that matter. The article “How We Speak Matters” was brought to mind. When discussing the question “What advice would you give to people running for office?” I was worried that this could lead down a slippery slope of an argument, but participants were very polite and despite their personal views. Most surprisingly about this is that every participant agreed on qualities that public servants should have. This is a very valuable thing to remember when discussing candidates for an election; that most people want a representative with the same qualities that you do despite your different views on policy. Remembering this could be vital to maintaining a productive tone for discussions.
This small dinner has been a very valuable experience for me and hopefully all participants that attended. It has helped redefine my personal definition of citizenship and appreciation for the community I am currently a part of. Hearing new comprehensive ideas on multiple topics has broadened my idea of citizenship and what I need to do to encourage and more importantly contribute to my community. Seeing discussions like these seem to be a very rare occurrence and fortunately I was able to partake in one in the form of this dinner. I hope that I can take what I learned in these discussions and apply it into my own personal life.