My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place on March 31th, 2019 at my house in Louisville, Kentucky. Our discussion was held while enjoying our freshly made dinner of grilled chicken, broccoli casserole, diced potatoes, salad, and best of all, brownies with ice cream. Although it definitely did not go as planned, we were still able to enjoy our time discussing topics that never come up at our standard family dinners. The participants in my discussion included myself along with my mom, dad, brother, grandma, and my grandma’s husband.
Our discussion was well-rounded because it included perspectives from three different generations. Because of this, we discovered some differing core values from our upbringings that brought an aspect of variance into the conversation. My mother, Laura, graduated from WKU with a degree in Healthcare Administration and now works at Jewish Hospital Shelbyville as the Manager of Patient Access. My father, Rick, enjoys fixing and building basically anything and holds very old school ideas. He recently switched jobs from an industrial engineer to a countertop installer because he wanted to start doing a job that allowed him to do hands on work. My brother, Donnie, is a Junior at WKU and is majoring in Sports Management and Marketing. He is also on the Cross Country and Track team and spends most of his time watching whatever sports he can find on TV. My grandma, Ella, used to work as a comapany secretary, but now she and her husband, Joe, spend most of their time running the church they attend. Joe immigrated to the U.S. from Munich, Germany when he was four and later fought in the Vietnam War. Everyone at the table was raised Lutheran and had very conservative views, so I had an idea of what their take on many of the topics would be.
To begin the conversation, I decided to ask everyone at the table to define the term “citizen” in their own words to see if their immediate response jumped to paying taxes and abiding by the law. This question initially resulted in some perplexed looks, but after they understood that I wasn’t looking for a perfect answer, my dad was the first one to budge in and say, “it means you are responsible for following laws and paying taxes.” I gave them a few more seconds of silence to see if anyone would add to this definition, but the only other response I got was from my grandma who said, “it means you’re native to a particular country just like I am a citizen of the United States.” I of course knew that this was not the response that I was looking for and decided I needed to go ahead and ask the question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” After several introspective thoughts and a few bites of food later, my dad decided to delve deeper into his previous response and say that citizenship is also about providing for your community. He went on to say that we are not only responsible for our actions toward one another but also toward our country and our planet. We all began to collectively come up with some ways as to how we should use our position as citizens to be active in our community. To us citizenship means asking others if they need help, listening to one another’s opinions, volunteering in the community, and overall using our rights as citizens in a meaningful manner. We were all able to agree that citizenship is about acknowledgement by the individual that the community is bigger than themselves. Therefore, we have a responsibility to our community to be educated on social problems and make sensible actions.
This conversation then led me into asking the next question, “Do you think we have any obligations to other people in our country or community?” This question resulted in a few differing ideas which I believe made our conversation much richer in sincerity. My grandma was the first to shockingly voice her opinion through almost perfectly quoting the bible verse Romans 13:8: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” However, she and Joe also believe that we have no obligation to help those that do not show any desire to help themselves. My mom had a small disagreement with this and instead said it should automatically be our moral response to help others even if they do or do not truly deserve our empathy. To bring their differing opinions to surface, I gave everyone the scenario that they are walking to a mandatory event and notice a man lying on the side of the street, visibly dying, surrounded by alcohol and indications of drug use. I then asked them whether or not it was their obligation to help the man. This is when things got more interesting. While my mom and dad said yes, “it is not only your obligation but also your responsibility,” my grandma and Joe said that this man’s problems were brought upon by himself. They believe that there are other people who are paid to help individuals in these types of situations. Although this resulted in a few moments of awkward silence, we were all eventually able to vaguely agree that there should not need to be any sort of greater responsibility like a religious belief because helping others is simply the morally correct thing to do.
After this relatively controversial topic, I decided to go into a less opinionated question and ask, “What kind of community do you want to live in?” and “What do you love most about where you live?” Although we live just 25 minutes away from downtown Louisville, our house is situated deep in the woods on a road shared by only 6 other log homes. My brother and I discussed how we have spent our whole lives knowing our neighbors and treating them like family because that’s how we thought all neighbors treated one another. We’ve never felt unwelcome by anyone on our street because it’s our own little community. My parents added how they prefer where we live now over the typical urban lifestyle because we are able to live at a slower pace. Both of my parents grew up in rural communities in which everyone helped each other out, but they were not as close to their neighbors as we are now. My grandma and Joe spent their childhood living on farms, but they have now moved into a customary neighborhood in which they both agree is not nearly as hospitable as they had hoped it would be. My grandma began to reflect upon the time that she was able to go to her neighbors to borrow eggs, but now after living in this new community for 2 years, she still doesn’t even know her neighbor’s names. This goes to show how much times have changed. Everyone’s answers reminded me of the reading “Love Thy Neighbor” because it held similar themes of how we should engage ourselves with those around us. It’s easy to say, “Well it’s not my family, so why should I concern myself with them?”, but this kind of thinking is what extends social problems for years and years to come. We need to come together as a community and take action now rather than push responsibility on to someone else. My brother and I were lucky to have been raised in a place that allows us to connect with our neighbors through delivering Christmas cookies to their doorstep or helping cut up some fallen trees after a storm. The only thing that we would change about where we live now is the powerline location. To no surprise, while we were wrapping up this question, the storm outside caused a tree to fall and knock out our neighborhoods power once again.
Since we are so used to this happening now, my dad ran to grab a battery powered lantern, and we decided to quickly wrap up our discussion by talking about what social issue we all hold closest to our hearts. In my family we never talk about current social issues and our core beliefs because they just don’t come up in our casual conversations about how our day has been. This was my first time hearing my family’s voices on topics like Medicaid, gun control, and immigration so I quickly became caught up in the conversation and forgot that we were actually sitting in almost complete darkness. I believe that discussions like that of my Kentucky Kitchen Table need to become more common. I have learned that they allow you to connect to people with different backgrounds on a deeper level. Through our conversation, we came to a final agreement that as citizens, whether young or old, we need to be accountable for our actions and understand that we are a part of something greater than ourselves. It all boils down to wanting to be better. A better citizen, a better community, a better country.