Erika’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

Just a side note, I forgot to take a picture. I’m really sorry about that.

On Thanksgiving Day—November 22,2018—a well-educated, goal-oriented, diverse group of people gathered around a table in with copious amounts of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and salad to kick off my Kentucky Kitchen Table in Prospect, Kentucky. There were eight people in attendance– my family and I, and my mom and dad’s family friends (I never knew them as well as my family did). More specifically, in attendance were:

  • My dad, who is your typical middle-aged white man. He immigrated to the United States from Finland in 1998. Currently, he works in IT as a web architect in the Humana Military Department
  • My mom, who immigrated to the United States from Romania in 1992. She used to work as a Project Manager in various automobile factories but is currently unemployed.
  • Markus, my little brother who is sixteen years old. He attends North Oldham High School.
  • Amir, my parents’ friend. He immigrated to the United States from Iran. His uncle was the Vice Prime Minister under Mohammed Reza Shah Pallavi. Currently, he is an engineering professor at the University of Louisville.
  • Mitra, who is also my parents’ friend and Amir’s wife. She is also from Iran but was educated in Austria from grade school through medical school. She is currently a full-time doctor.
  • Arya, my brother’s friend and Amir and Mitra’s son. He is also sixteen years old and attends a private high school in Louisville (Trinity High School).
  • Tonya is a particularly motivated 11-year-old I used to coach. She currently attends Saint Francis, a private middle school in Goshen, Kentucky.

It was interesting to see the various definitions of citizenship arise throughout the conversation.Primarily, I asked “What does citizenship mean to you apart from voting, paying taxes, and following laws?” The adults—my mom, dad, Mitra, and Amir—all seemed to agree that it meant helping others. Amir added that it meant donating to charity to help citizens less fortunate than us. My dad responded by saying“Well, if I were to say donating to charity, I’m afraid I would be a hypocrite.” But Arya, Markus, and Tonya seemed to agree that it meant “the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.” Perhaps the group consensus was that basic human decency and compassion towards each other. Nonetheless, this set a precedent for the schism of opinions between the adults and minors at the table.

The kind of community everyone wanted to live in tied closely to the two biggest social issues everyone cared about (table-wide): guns and drugs. Amir and my dad, then later my mom, Mitra, and Arya, all agreed that “[We] would like to live in a gun and drug free community.” Mitra chimed in, claiming “I actually wouldn’t even care if we made the laws so that responsible people had guns for self-protection, but why would anyone need a militarized weapon?” Inevitably, the discussion led into theNRA’s domination of the Republican party, and subsequently, the government. A recurrent theme for this question, and later in advice for those running for office, was the NRA and political financing. Mitra also added that the education system should be improved. Markus, Arya, and Tonya subsequently shared their school experiences and felt that they were not being challenged enough based on the level of classes they were in. Markus complained about too little homework, being bored in class, and not being motivated enough to work any harder. I added that the lack of motivation and discussion of civic engagement within the education system might be the cause of some societal issues today. Considering the audience at the table—a professor, a doctor, two engineers, and their children—it is no surprise everyone agreed. I did not feel this when I was in high school, and it came as a shock to me and the parents around the table to learn how students currently in the education system feel it is failing them—and they do not even get to vote for politicians who could potentially reform the educational system.

When giving advice to those running for office, Mitra, Amir, my dad, and my mom stressed the importance of being“for the people” instead of money—both democrats and republicans alike. They discussed how the Republican Party was bought out by the NRA and rich people and how the Democrat Party was bought out by Labor Unions and rich people. Even though I would say that I had a relatively informed audience, learning that citizens with political efficacy have such a negative view of politics was a little disheartening. But they do have a point– the fact that that representatives are more representative of the organizations that fund them than the people who elect them is a major threat to our role as citizens. And now I am aware that people are coming to believe that their votes matter less than money: Although he did not mention this at the table, my dad has previously told me that he has been discouraged from voting in the past for this reason. I asked the kids what advice they would give, and interestingly,Tonya goes “give everybody a turn!” While this did not quite answer the question, it did turn into a discussion about imposing a limit on the number of terms a congressman/woman should be able to serve.

Additionally, everybody agreed that knowing your neighbors is important. When I asked “why,” nobody could think of an answer right off the bat. Markus was the first to break the silence and said,“in case of an emergency?” But after even more thought to the question, my dad said,“I guess it’s just a good thing to socialize,” and everybody seemed to accept that as an answer. It still leaves me wondering why it is necessarily a good thing to know your neighbor (even if I do agree it is a good thing)?

I finally asked “what kind of person do you want to be?” To that Mitra, Amir, and my mom basically said successful and good at their jobs. Markus said “smart,” and Arya said “smart and hardworking.” Then Tonya said, “I want to be a good person” and the conversation fell silent. I am pretty sure this is where everybody, including myself, re-evaluated their priorities. My dad then said, “I would like to be kind and compassionate.” Even though it was the end of the discussion, this was when the difference of opinions between the adults and minors at the table became evident to me. We all know kids tend to be idealistic, but why is their idealism often swept under the rug? And where did this difference come from?This is what I have come to learn through my KKT: We all start by holding idealistic viewpoints—and those were applied to our perceptions of citizenship and community. For the most part, we grew up respecting the president and other authorities in our community, no matter the political party, and thought we would go out into society as adults with the same optimism. However, experience hardens us. Political apathy is developed over time, not only when we decide other obligations are more important, but also when we become discouraged by the corruption we come face to face with on a daily basis.

The responses to “what kind of person do you want to be?” actually made me think about the article If it Feels Right by David Brooks. Even though he discusses the drawbacks of young people’s morals being built individually, as opposed to communally, I cannot help but to think how wrong he was in this case. The older people at the table seemed to agree that they would like to be successful and good at their jobs—but they did not say anything about wanting to be kind until Tonya, the youngest member at the table, said she wanted to be kind. This is not quite a moral dilemma, but the adults’, and even teenagers’, priorities give insight to their communally- based morals, which could possibly mean putting costly success above basic compassion. There are dangers of extreme individualism in a deliberative environment, but what about a case in which it really is the morally-correct opinion to have?

This can also relate to the centralHonors 251 idea of giving others more say over their own lives. It was quite evident that the minors in the discussion cared about various societal issues—guns, drugs, education, community—but they do not have the power to vote and are often not considered in the policymaking process. In fact, their opinions are often disregarded by adults within their communities, sometimes even their own parents. This in itself is a societal issue that has been previously debated with solutions such as lowering the voting age. But, obviously, it is necessary to develop more options. When we contemplate groups of people who need to be given more of a say over their own lives, we must include minors. They are out future, and they play a fundamental role in our community.

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