This past Sunday, April 14th, 2019, I had the loveliest experience hosting a Kentucky Kitchen table of my own in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I was accompanied by four women named Kylee, Claire, Izzy, and Margee. Kylee is girl I met through my sorority. She is a special education major from St. Louis that came to Western Kentucky University to get away from everything she knew. She upholds Christian values and practices and takes on a more conservative political approach. Claire is a friend of a friend, from Murray, Kentucky and finds comfort in calm quietness. She recently changed her major from art studies to International affairs and admits to a mid-college life crisis. Izzy is my dorm roommate from Bowling Green. She is loud and spunky and very opinionated. She is Agnostic and very liberal. Margee is a friend of a friend that I was do not know well. She enjoys intentional conversations, bible study, and helping others. Her good heart shines through everything she says and does. As for me, Alli, I’d describe myself as a student from Louisville who is far too obsessed with animals, and really doesn’t care for children, but you would probably never guess it. I consider myself moderately liberal, atheist, and someone constantly trying to change the stigma around liberal atheists.
I described this event as a potluck with no theme and encouraged everyone to bring something random and tasty. With that being said, we had a delicious meal of buttered noodles, pepperoni bagel bites, pear halves, and green beans. We all laughed at the odd but delicious combination of food and quickly applied our current situation to citizenship. I brought to attention how our current table represents how each of us bring something different to the table as citizens. Each of us then went around and discussed what we felt we brought to our community as individuals and our answers varied greatly. Morals and empathy played a huge role in the direction of our answers. Some people answered suggesting they bring a certain set of emotional characteristics that make them a good citizen, one said her faith controls her action and ultimately her behavior, while others simply stated their interests or skills as defining factors.
We talked much about the community we were raised in and the one we’d like to live in as adults or create for our children. A common theme in our discussion at dinner and in our class was empathy. Everyone around the table felt the world had turned cold and natural, genuine, kindness was a dying trait. Our discussion brought me back to the class reading, “Empathy Exams”, in which a woman was an actress that tested the empathy factor of those in medical school. The reading showed an example of learning and developing empathy through verbal practice, making a questionable statement about whether empathy can actually be taught. The ladies in my group came from very different backgrounds, but all said they felt a lack of empathy in their community.
I learned how their claimed lack of empathy in the world can be found in and felt through “the little things”. They argued, sure, you can teach someone the right words to pretend they have an ounce of empathy, but empathy is more than words, it’s in your soul. Empathy is holding your neighbor as she sobs because her husband has passed. Empathy is helping the little boy who is worried sick about his dog that ran away. Empathy is helping the old woman carry in all her groceries from the car because she’s too frail to do it alone. Empathy is in your actions, not your words. It’s found in your interactions, the intentional and heartfelt conversations. It’s not in a dry, monotoned, “I’m sorry, that must be hard” that is too often practiced by those who want to seem empathetic but lack the natural grace to do so.
In regard to the first question, Margee lead the discussion and the others followed with definite agreement without much expansion to her answer. Margee stated, to her citizenship means basing your actions and decisions around working towards a better world than the one that existed before you were born. She believes it is our duty as world citizens to create an improved community through loving your neighbor, doing good for the sake of spreading the good, and living selflessly. This guided our conversation into the group feeling it is a citizen’s job and utter responsibility to care for others, especially your neighbors, despite differences that have created issues within our world on many occurrences. I believe this question allowed for an eye-opening experience for ladies of differing faiths. It warmed my heart to be able to share commonalities between loving others and doing good in the world with those that felt atheists or anyone without religious practices may not maintain similar values.
Our conversation about making the world better for future generations tied in to our class discussions during our wicked problem case study of the environment. The table acknowledged the impact corporations have in determining the health of our world ecosystems, but felt it is a group effort to truly make a difference. Izzy proposed legal action in hopes of preventing large businesses from getting away with environmentally harmful practices, while Claire discussed the impact of every average person making minor changes within their daily lives. Claire’s argument reminded me of, “The Energy Diet”, and Kylee, having read the article, supported the idea from the start.
After conducting a Kentucky Kitchen Table of my own, I have reflected mostly about perspective. As a person, I try to gear my interactions and responses to others around similarities and differences between our perspectives because I feel that it makes me a kinder, more understanding person. With each day my faith in this practice is enhanced, because I often see perspectives being the root of problems or the reason a problem is absent. I think, as the ladies learned through a thorough discussion of our beliefs and values through citizenship, it is extremely important to try to understand another’s point of view to the best of your ability before making judgements, especially in today’s world divided by differences. Alternatively, it is extremely important to note that even when you try your best to understand, it is quite literally impossible to feel and think the exact things and experiences as another human. I was filled with a sense of peace and humility when I say this applied to topics of religion and politics and was encouraged by the respectful and thoughtful interactions I was able to experience.