Jake’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

I hosted my Kentucky Kitchen Table at the CSF house on Western Kentucky’s campus on November 12, 2018. Since my family is always busy, and most days I’m on campus all day anyway, I decided to send out a quick text to some friends about eating dinner and talking about citizenship. Fortunately, they texted back, a couple of them really excited that they would be able to share what they felt it meant to be a good citizen. Because most of us college students are broke, and simply because we were all busy with school and had a small time window where we could all be there, we decided just to each go to place at Downing Student Union and get food at a couple different places and then share various things with one another. Our group consisted of Don, David, Victoria, Carleigh, Zac, Whitney, and myself.  Although I consider each of them friends, I didn’t and still don’t know a whole lot about them. I knew that Don, Victoria, Zac, and Carleigh were all from Louisville, but that was where the similarities stopped. David was from a place outside of Louisville, and Whitney was from Louisiana. I, myself, am from Scottsville, which is about twenty minutes outside of Bowling Green. We were all completely different. We came from different environments and while most of them were white, Don was African American, and I have a darker complexion, although I still identify as white sometimes, just to mess with people. While they might see each other at CSF worship Tuesday nights, their interaction with each other was nonexistent. That was partly why I asked these specific individuals; They hardly knew each other. Their only connection to one another was me.By bringing them together over dinner, I was able to give them a common ground to which they could communicate, while also giving me the chance to learn more about all of them. I already had my predictions about how each person would respond to the topic and I was wrong.  When we finally did start our conversation, I found it was very interesting and kind of surprising to see how young adults that were my age thought about citizenship. Now, I did choose people my age intentionally, after realizing that I could not do this event within my home because I wanted to see for myself how others near my maturity level viewed themselves and the role of citizenship in our nation. What I learned was actually disheartening. They obviously had a sense of citizenship, but it was based on what they had grown up learning from people who were older and more knowledgeable about the topic and has little to do with instinct. In fact, the only things outside of the cliché meanings of citizenship were helping others and aiding the community when the chance arises. Don and Whitney both said that obeying laws was a big way to show good citizenship. Voting was also pointed out as being expected from a good citizen. Beyond that, I found that they contained little knowledge about what it means to have good citizenship. This was incredibly shocking since each of them are exceptional students and are probably much smarter than I am. After realizing that their views on citizenship were very limited, I followed up with a question that required them to think about their own actions and decide for themselves if they were good citizens. I asked if they thought they were good citizens. The outcome was pretty much how I expected. Most of them told me yes, they were good citizens with the exception of two, who said they needed to work on their citizenship. When I asked why, however, there was a long pause before anyone said anything. When they did speak, their reasons for believing they were good citizens were centered around the fact that they had never broken any laws and tried to vote as much as possible. Yet, there was nothing unique about why they felt like good citizens. The two who said they thought they should work on things told the group that they don’t help others nearly as much as they should. Upon saying that, others from the group suddenly agreed that they should work much harder to contribute to their communities and to society. Next, I asked them where people might learn to be good citizens. They all came to the conclusion that it’s taught within the walls of their home, and that grade school partially contributes, but that it mostly just depends on the individual. They made mention of how criminals are no less intelligent than law-abiding citizens, they simply just don’t understand the concept of good citizenship, and furthermore, don’t see it as relevant to their lives. For them it’s not about education, it’s about importance. During this part of the conversation, one of the group mentions casually mentioned that lawbreakers are only that because they were caught. We all looked at Whitney and asked how many laws she had broken, to which she quickly verified that she didn’t break the laws but the damage had been done and we laughed at her for few moments.I used this opportunity to stray away from the law and asked the group what it meant to be a bad citizen outside of the context of the law. Carleigh finally spoke about this and basically said that it was doing anything counterproductive to your community and in turn, your nation. I asked if she thought that applied to passiveness and not voting, not helping when your community needs you, and not taking a part in your society in a way that is helpful. She laughed and told me that I was pretty much spot on. As we talked, I saw the social barriers break down between each person and observed how they began to connect. As our conversation progressed, each individual becomes more comfortable with sharing their views. They no longer seemed as bothered to state their opinions, and I got the chance to see how, when people have real conversations, they connect in a much more legitimate way. There weren’t hardly any times that there was a disagreement, and their underlying belief is that good citizenship comes from education sanctioned by schools and part of the teaching that parents give their children, but also from the decision of the individual. It’s choice, that results in what kind of citizen a person becomes. This activity reminded me a lot of the reading and discussions we had over morality in the honors class. We have no problem saying what is what, but when the reasoning comes in, we have no real evidence to support us. In the readings it was about what is morally acceptable, in this Kentucky Kitchen Table, it was about what good citizenship is. Just like we “know” what is morally right or wrong, we “know” that we are good citizens. That is of course until we realize we have no reason behind our decision besides what people expect us to say. That was the case with my friends, most of them agreed they were good citizens, but when I took away the go-to reasons for why, I stripped them of their support. This is also relatable to the reading about the oak trees on the college campus, and how one should know why they do the things they do before presenting their ideas. If you can’t come up with more than three reasons for why a good citizen is a way he/she is, how can you talk to people about citizenship. Most of the time, people have heard the same thing their whole lives about what it takes to be a good citizen. If you try to converse with them about the same things they’ve always heard, it really only defeats the purpose. That being said, the people I ate dinner with, are not completely clueless. They have a relatively clear understanding of what it takes to be considered a good citizen, and some of the things they brought up made me stop and think as well. I was able to learn from them as well as about them. It also allowed us to each connect in a way that was deeper than our struggle with college classes and overabundant homework.Not only in that way but as new friends might. We now know of people whom we can talk to about political and social matter, not having to worry about some sort of fight breaking out, whether physical or verbal. It was real, and we were all able to express how we felt about the matter in an environment that was relaxed and judgment-free. Personally, I feel that more people should invest time in sitting down with family or friends and having good, deep conversations about the things transpiring around them. They should practice expressing their opinions so that they will have a voice in their community and nation, and therefore, take part in being active members of society who demonstrates good citizenship skills.

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