Our Kentucky Kitchen Table took place on the eve of Thursday, April 11, 2019, at Professor Gish’s house in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We ate a sort of rice dish with apples and other atypical ingredients as well as a salad with avocados and angel food cake with strawberries for desert. That was the first time I actually managed to eat salad without my stomach punishing me for it, and I especially loved the avocado part. The attendees were another professor, Dr. Jen, two classmates, Riley and Shelby, a graduate student named Hilarie, the aforementioned Professor Gish, her daughter, Victoria, and of course myself, Autumn. There were also a dog and two cats, one of which stayed on my lap for a majority of the conversation.
The general consensus is that Dr. Jen Jen was one of the most interesting guests. Originally from Canada, she now teaches History, and as my classmates recall, spoke with a poetic tendency. Professor Gish likewise has that air of intelligence, but chose to try not to lead the conversation, as this was for her Honors 251 course. The others from our class, Riley and Shelby, were both from Kentucky. Regrettably, I have not spoken much with either outside this assignment, but they were both very kind. Riley has a calm voice and demeanour, while Shelby possesses a very friendly appearance. Hilarie, the graduate student, seemed to be the third most relaxed after the two professors. Victoria of course had the natural innocence portrayed only by a child, though her response to our key question showed that many adults should perhaps attempt emulating that innocence.
At the meal, the first topic I recall is what we have learned, or been surprised by, in our class. Riley said that for him it was the intensity of the drug epidemic we learned from two of our readings. Shelby agreed with this, and I as well, though I did not speak up about that because I felt I did not have something to say that was already said. Me being me, I brought up afterwards that this course has made me more cynical about society. I enjoyed hearing people take this more negative outlook and considering the banes of human nature. Even just to hear it reflected by someone like Dr. Jen makes me happy because to me it seems like no one ever thinks about these things. We also talked about the recent Snyder outrage, and the impressiveness of the students’ united reaction. Even I have to admit I was pleased by this, I just wish it happened so successfully on a larger scale more often.
We also discussed one stressed question of the assignment: what is the meaning of citizenship, other than voting, paying taxes, and following laws(all of which are apparently previously common themes). Hilarie and Riley shared similar themes of being knowledgeable in matters like history or problems, while Shelby placed an emphasis on being a good neighbor. My response was similar, proposing compassion as the key aspect. Victoria said that we should be nice to each other, and I could not agree more.
Actually, my favorite part of the discussion was that of the general responses to this question. Voting was not criticised of course, but at the mention of following laws, Dr. Jen said “or not following them,” which I thoroughly enjoyed. In our class we talk about how we live better together and how we can solve problems, and I think sometimes these contradict. “Living better together,” in my view, categorises behaviour that encourages smooth interactions with others, and as such, little controversy. This is makes Dr. Jen’s response intriguing, as often in order to live better together we must compromise not only our goals and feelings but our morals. It is almost as if sometimes we have a choice between living fluidly or attempting to change what we do not like. Take for instance, the refusal of serving LGBT folks. In many circumstances, this is legal. Therefore, to protest or make a noise is not only an act of refuting current laws, but also of prioritising your morality above your relationship with the community.
We have talked about deliberative democracy in several readings, but what of when that fails? How does on deliberate a racist? You will not dissuade a person with an argument detached from reason, so it is likely civil conversation will not change them. Which is more important then: being nice to your neighbors, or standing up for your morals? Or what of racism? I cannot say for certainty it is dissolved anywhere, but I do know for sure it is still evident in other places. What is our duty then? It is easy to say we should try to live well together, but can we really say that when the cost is the well being of others? Or should we perhaps stand up for our morals, even at the cost of a peaceful society? Sometimes, it seems, morality and cohesiveness contradict, and loathsome as it is, this seems to be a permanent trait of human reality. With this in mind, I would actually pose a new question for our class and anyone trying to be a good citizen: what do we do when we cannot live well together?
Still, I think Victoria’s response displayed our hope for this dilemma: we must learn to be kind. I realise this seems contradictory to my previous statement, but what I mean is that we must place compassion before our personal beliefs. Compassion, in my view the hallmark of morality, should be seen as a sort of test for any other morals. If a belief contradicts with compassion, I propose we teach our children and students to brush it aside. We may believe whatever we want in our individual houses and minds, but if we want a society that does not destroy itself over differences in opinion or accept a peace in which the minority is suppressed, we need to learn to suppress that aspect of our nature which beckons us to imprint our own beliefs on the outside world. We must learn to objectively view our beliefs for the culmination of our experiences and situations, and put them to the test of compassion. Haidt argued we are but riders explaining the actions of a compulsive elephant; I argue that we should get off the elephant and walk on foot, even if it is harder for us. I think that I did garner a sense of cruel, necessary hope from reflecting upon this simple dinner.