Sunday March 31, in Bowling Green Kentucky, I and six other people gathered around our friend’s tiny kitchen table in her apartment. Sitting closest to me was the girl I knew the least, Tatum, a pre-pharmacy major who will be heading to pharmacy school in Alabama next year. Tatum was one of the girls that lives in the apartment. On my other side, was my newest friend, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and I gotten to be friends in just the past month. Across from me was someone I know from my hometown, Lauren. Lauren is funny and lively. She also lived in the apartment. Beside Lauren was Kate. Kate is very intelligent and has many inciteful things to say during our conversation. Kate is a religion major. Beside Kate was one of my partners for this project, Jeanna. Jeanna is a broadcasting major and on the WKU dance team. Across from Jeanna is Anna. Anna was my other partner for our project. Anna is an exercise science major, and like Elizabeth, I’ve only come to know her in the past month. In fact, all of the people around the table I wanted to get to know better.
After we settled in, with our plates of salad, potatoes, and chicken for some, eggs for me and Elizabeth (we’re both vegetarian), Jeanna began our conversation, “what does citizenship mean to you?” I added, “besides paying taxes, voting, and following laws.” Everyone took a minute to chew and process. Kate began by saying she thinks of citizenship as being a member of a community. You have obligations to your community, like participating in local politics and watching out for one another. She also touches on being a member of a global community. I found her mention of being a global community member interesting, as she wants to be a missionary. We continued with the theme of being a member of a community. There was a general consensus among all of us that being in a community and being a citizen means caring about what happens in your community. Lauren mentioned that being a citizen also means knowing the history of the place you live and seeing how that history has affected the problems you community faces now. She brought up an interesting point. We discussed how the history of citizenship in our country has changed. Instead of assimilating into the American culture, citizenship in American is now more about embracing where you came from. Tatum added that encouraging people to embrace their heritage is important for working towards the betterment of our society. Elizabeth changed the trajectory of the conversation by saying the reason she felt the need to be a good citizen was because of the fact that she is a woman. We were all a little confused at first, until she elaborated. She said it’s important to understand the privilege we have as women in America. She talked about how many women in other countries don’t have the same freedoms as we do. Thus, because of the privilege she is afforded by her country, she felt an obligation to be a good citizen. This was a different way of looking at citizenship then we had considered, seeing being a good citizen as more of an obligation. From there, Kate discussed how global citizenship means fighting for the rights of people who are oppressed. From there, Jeanna asked the question, “what do you think are the best parts of our world today?” This question took a little longer for us to answer, as we all admitted that all we could think about are the negative parts of our world. We discussed advances in medicine and the furthering of human rights. We also discussed how people are becoming more aware of the problems facing our world, like climate change. Then we moved on to one social issue we really cared about. We talked about immigration and climate change and Kate mentioned the current political climate, specifically, how politicians use inflammatory language. We continued that thought, discussing how disrespectful we are to one another. We all agreed that are country could use more civility. We related this problem back to practicing citizenship and said that communities and members of communities should encourage listening to differing viewpoints. Everyone contributed to a really interesting conversation and I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the people I didn’t know very well.
One of the biggest things I learned from this assignment is that a lot of the issues with our current world we talked about, like climate change, are problems that we can address by being good citizens. Communities have the opportunity to fight a lot of these issues, and its up to us as members of that community to fight for change. Additionally, I learned that people with differing views can easily find common ground. We all agreed we needed more civility in our world. I also learned how easy it is to think about the bad things going on in our world but challenging to find good things. Perhaps this says more about the news we spread as opposed to an accurate depiction of the world as it is.
Our discussion reminded me of many of the discussions we have had in Honors 251. It was a lot of bouncing ideas off one another and seeing things from a different perspective. It reminded me of the empathy reading we just read, “The Baby in the Well”. We used our empathy for each other to appreciate each other’s backgrounds and values. We used empathy to discuss the largest issues we feel the world faces. Many of what we discussed a good citizen is includes practicing empathy. Most importantly, like the article encouraged, we used empathy as a jumping off point for change. This kind of conversation helped inspire us to strive for change in our communities and globally. By opening up a dialogue about controversial issues, we were able to delve deeper into the issues and practice empathy when listening to those with different views. In a way, by discussing these issues, we began building a bridge to the world we want to see.