On April 11th, 2019, Bailey, Hayden and I hosted our Kentucky Kitchen Table Dinner in Bowling Green at my older sister’s house. We figured everyone was lacking on getting enough fruits and veggies (college kids). So, we prepared a vegetarian feast of salad, sweet potatoes, peppers, scrambled eggs, and fruit. Joining us was Laura, Logan, Amelia, and Erika. Laura is a sports psychology major from Segovia, Spain and plays on the WKU girls tennis team. Logan is very charismatic and knows how to laugh at himself. He was even kind enough to help me and Hayden prepare dinner. Amelia is a new friend of mine. She is kind-hearted and a great listener. Amelia is majoring in social work- how perfect! I had never met Erika before this dinner, but it turns out she had my mom as a teacher during high school for two years and had heard a lot about me. I’m sure she wanted to run out of the house after realizing I was the crazy kid my mom always talked about, but she remained very polite. Erika is a political science and economics double major. She plans to be a judge one day.
Our guests struggled to formulate an answer after we asked the required question. There was definitely a moment of hmm citizenship is more than voting, paying taxes and following laws? After everyone took a few seconds to think, we began to focus on the importance of participation. Everyone agreed that citizenship has a lot to do with what you contribute to your community and how active you are within it. Amelia mentioned that she loves how our generation is more politically and socially active. I think was easier to define the role of a good citizen than to describe what citizenship means. To be a considered a citizen you do not necessarily have to be politically and socially active. However, to be a good citizen you do. We didn’t go too in depth about what “socially and politically active” actually looks like. Today in class someone suggested that we tell the people who come to our deliberations that the fact that they simply showed up to talk is important. I think that is a fair illustration of the point our guests were attempting to make. It is our job as citizens to show up when there is an issue in our community. A good citizen is informed and concerned, or at the very least willing to listen to members of the community who are. This conversation made me realize how guilty I feel about the lack of effort I put into being a good citizen. I love to talk about controversial issues, and I love to listen to what people have to say about them. Yet, I mainly seek conversations and actions surrounding topics I find interesting. Sure, I recycle and I can talk about how I feel about abortion because I enjoy these topics. Nevertheless, you won’t find me advocating for people who don’t have access to a decent hospital who live only one town away from me. I’ve learned that being a good citizen requires you to care about things you maybe don’t care about or think about simply because they do affect your fellow citizens. Good citizenship requires more than considering just “How can we have more of a say over our lives?” Good citizens also contemplate “how can I contribute to others having more of a say over their lives?”
Next, we asked our guests what they think the best things about our world today are. Ericka admitted that all of the bad things ran through her mind before she could come up with something positive. She said she hates that she has to search for an answer. We talked a little bit about how most of us can go to bed feeling safe at night, and how we are privileged to feel this way. We talked more about how much worse things could be and how much worse things are in other parts of the world rather than how great our world is. Once we reminded everyone to think in broader terms, our guests mentioned their appreciation of diversity. Overall, this part of the conversation was really disheartening. Afterward, we asked them to describe the type of community they would like to live in. Our guests idealized the concept of a completely nonjudgemental community. I hesitate to validate what David Brooks said in “It Feels Right” because he really trashed our generation. That said, this aspect of our conversation reminded me of his argument that our generation is building an atmosphere of moral individualism. Of course, nobody wants to feel judged all the time. Still, I wondered why everyone jumped to this response. I believe that the issue is not to to the extent that Brooks argued, but I think a lot of our generation does tend to rationalize based on feelings and personal views. If this desire for a nonjudgmental community roots from our wanting others to accept our individualistic and diverse determinations of what is moral and immoral, we might run into even more issues later on. Creating a strong sense of citizenship and community often relies on coherent goals and beliefs about how the world should look. After this part of the conversation, I wondered if a community in which everyone accepts any and every different viewpoint and decision would only become more individualistic and polarized.
Unfortunately, our dinner felt rushed. Laura was somewhat quiet during the meal but she did briefly compare the slower pace of life in Spain to the faster pace of life in the U.S. Her comparison made me think about the reading “The Power of Patience” by Jennifer Roberts. I definitely agree with Roberts point. The more time you put into something, the more you get out of it. Looking back, the entire dinner sort of seems like one big analogy for the average American’s life. Sometimes we are so caught up in the rat race that we forget to sit and take our time and really get to know someone or understand something. When Laura mentioned a slower pace of life I felt envious and actually relieved by just imagining living that way for a second. I feel as if we had a great group of people but that a lot was left unsaid. Having a kitchen table dinner, something I hadn’t done in an embarrassingly long time, reminded me of how important it is to slow down and truly listen.