My Kentucky Kitchen Table was held on November 22, 2018 at my parents home in Rineyville, Kentucky. Due to it being Thanksgiving, my entire immediate family was present with the addition of spouses. Although a family usually does not bring much diversity to the table, the presence of spouses who come from a different background and the separation of age between my siblings provided diversity that was very prevalent in the conversation. My Mother, Donna, who is 55 years old, works for Human Resources for the Army and grew up in St. Louis, MO in a Lower-Mid Middle Class family. My Father, Tim, who is 57, works as a Construction Manager for an Apartment complex in Elizabethtown. He also grew up in St. Louis with a large family that did not make a lot of money. Together they had four kids. My sister Amanda is the oldest and she is 30. She is a stay at home mom while her husband TJ, 28, is a Nurse at a hospital in St. Louis. My next sibling, Michael, 27, is a Middle School Math teacher in Kansas City, MO. His wife Maria, 25, also teaches math in Kansas City. My last brother Zach, 20, is a junior at WKU. His wife Taylor, 22, works for admissions at the University and they are the typical low income married college couple that struggles to get by. The spouses of my siblings are very different from one another and from my immediate family, though I would say that Maria comes from a family most similar to mine. TJ comes from a slightly broken family and he describes his upbringing as one where he had to work very hard to have the success he has had today. Taylor is from a very small town in Kentucky called Beaver Dam. Her small-town upbringing makes her view the world in a very different way than she sees of her husband. Overall, while all of the people at my Kentucky Kitchen Table were white, the experiences and class status of the people present was diverse and even the regional origin of everyone present brought different sides to the story.
The conversation started with me asking everyone at the table, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Tim started the conversation with a broad explanation that citizenship is in part about patriotism and pride for ones country, followed by an incorporation of morality and doing good that every person possesses. People seemed to agree with this statement but Michael, who has a degree in Social Studies, added that citizenship is about using your morality to seek out problems around you in order to better improve the world we live in. I found that this directly corresponded to the overall theme of the class in that we often talk about how to better improve the world we live in. In response to this statement by Michael, I asked about how we should go about improving the world around us. This stumped everyone for a little bit. Everyone agreed that citizenship is about improving society and the world, but no one could seem to give a good process. Zach asked for an example. I gave the example of income inequality because I knew it would garner differing opinions. I framed the example by saying that it is obvious that there is a problem of income inequality in the United States and the world, but how are we supposed to fix it, or is it even our duty as citizens to do so. Right off the bat everyone agreed it is our duty to address the problem. However, the ways that people proposed were very different. Michael proposed an approach at local government. He used his experience as a teacher to talk about how he sees income inequality and its affects on other aspects of society, specifically education, every single day. He said that if we get involved with local government, it will help the issue more directly. In retrosepct, it seems like Michael believes that part of solving problems is starting on a more direct level. Getting involved at the source of the issue while still getting involved with a sense of power seemed to be his solution to solving problems as citizens. Donna agreed with this but questioned what was to be done about the issue while things were being solved behind closed doors. Zach agreed and said that he trusts the government and thinks getting involved locally is a good idea but he doesn’t know how the people who are being directly affected by this issue are supposed to wait for aid while they struggle every day. This is when TJ jumped in with a very different opinion. He seemed to back out on his original opinion that this was an issue that was our responsibility to solve because he offered the antidote of his own experience growing up poor and making his way to a healthy living as a nurse. Michael respected this but brought in his own two cents about how he was better supported to get to his healthy living because of multiple reasons including his skin color, his gender, and his educational opportunities.
Unfortunately, this is where the conversation took a turn. TJ disagreed strongly that those factors helped him get to where he is. He attributes his success on hard work, not his race, gender, or educational opportunities. Michael attempted to explain to TJ that he does not mean that TJ did not work hard, only that factors, and he put an emphasis on education, helped him achieve his success easier. This debate went back and forth for a little with additions from Tim, Zach and Donna but overall the debate was going nowhere. In hindsight, I wish I would have been able to redirect this conversation and bring it back to the issue of citizenship but it was hard considering the personal stakes involved. However, the conversation proved to me just how hard these wicked problems are to solve, let alone talk about. Everyone has their own idea of the world based on their personal experiences. I for one tried to stay out of the debate because I knew that I viewed the discussion very differently from my family despite the fact that we are indeed a family.
To me this just shows how important it is to listen to one another with an open mind, which is something we touched on in class quite often. It is clear that we all have opinions that are shaped by experiences, but I also think it is safe to say that while we each have our own truths, we still need to work to find a common ground to solve problems. I somehow managed to formulate this idea to my group by the end of the conversation and while we all agreed, I still felt discouraged that it was so hard to find that common ground. Now as I type this, I understand that the entire point of wicked problems is that they do take time to solve. As I reflect on my KKT, I believe that even though in the end nobodies mind was changed on how to solve issues as citizens, the conversation itself was started. I think that the problem with citizenship is that we oftentimes start these conversations but never do anything to step inside the shoes of the other side. I think that in order to find a middle ground and begin solving issues, we need to, as a government and as citizens, have conversations and then place ourselves directly in the place of the other argument in order to simulate their life experiences and why they believe what they do so that we can begin looking at issues with fresh eyes. This is not easy by any means. It is natural to want to view the world through our eyes. However, if we are to progress and grow as a nation and as individuals, we need to begin to look at the world through the eyes of those around us every once in a while. I think it would do us all some good.