Madeline’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Madeline

 

My sorority sister, Anna Kate and I pull up to the house in a new subdivision in the city of Bowling Green, that we plan on doing the Kentucky kitchen table assignment at. My roommate Jenna is putting the finishing touches on her vegetable dish while her boyfriend Carter garnishes his mac and cheese. His friend Damien, whom I have never met has brought soda and is pouring some into glasses as Anna Kate settles in and I sear the chicken that Anna Kate and I had brought mostly cooked.

Anna Kate is a sweet blonde haired girl who I have met only a handful of times. She was in my new member class in the Fall of 2017 with my sorority Delta Zeta. Anna Kate is somewhat more southern than the rest of us, evident in her double first name. She’s sweet and a little meek around new people but loves to have a great time no matter what the event. Carter is a large man, a former football player. He’s a gentle giant. Wouldn’t hurt a fly but at 6’2” and over 200 lbs he doesn’t have to do anything for people not to challenge him. He’s boastful and loud at times but thoughtful and the jokester of the group. Jenna jokes he would have made a great jester in medieval times. Jenna, Carter’s counterpart is small in comparison. She’s barely 5’2” but she’s feisty and very opinionated. She’s my best friend and complements Carter and I with her swift comments. She stirs the pot every once in a while and keeps life interesting. Damien turned out to be more observant like me. He’s lanky and cool. He and I set idly listening to the conversation as dinner was being prepared. Throughout the dinner he laughs and smiles before throwing his head back and sighing before answering every question. In a way it’s comforting. The unspoken language of a wallflower when asked to speak.I, myself, am a wallflower type of person. I enjoy being in a social setting just not in the spotlight. My legal first name is Madeline but almost no one calls me by that. Usually I go by Madie, Anna or Smiles depending on who I’m around. I’m fine with Madeline but my friends and family seem to not be. I’m brutally honest at times with candid quips here and there but most of the time I’m fatally awkward, unsure of myself, clambering around in my lanky off-balanced body. My hamartia is my avoidance of conflict yet I’m loyal to my ideas and like to throw my opinion into the mix.

Everyone fills their plates and sits down at the table where a few pictures are snapped and we begin. I start by asking the required question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following the law, what does citizenship mean to you?”  Carter answers first talking about being active in the community and everyone builds off of that with Anna Kate adding that we’re protected by the laws and get to take advantage of a multitude of amazing opportunities that come with our US citizenship. Jenna and Damien have a harder time and think on it for a while. Jenna adds that being a citizen means being a part of a bigger community and loving all those that are a part of it even if you aren’t friends with them. Damien talks about the duties citizenship imposes such as being informed about the political happenings within your country and being responsible with the opportunities you have. We all discuss with him the responsibilities we have to our country and if those born into citizenship have more or less responsibilities as citizens.

Between bites of food I ask if anyone had dinners around the table with their family growing up and the impact they think it had on them. Damien turns out to be the only one of us who had everyday dinners at the table with the whole household. Carter had a once a week dinner at the table and the rest of us almost never had family dinners. In my household I am the only person who has used our kitchen table for a meal for over a year. Anna Kate’s family didn’t eat together because the whole family was always so busy with dance lessons and recitals and acting classes. They simply just didn’t have enough time to eat a meal at a table. We all agree that eating at a table together is helpful during development and that we would have all like to have meals like Damien’s family did.

Throughout the evening we discuss career choices, environmentally sustainable food, homelessness, buying local, where we all came from, and fond memories with neighbors and friends. Growing up in Kentucky we all had those barefoot in the backyard amongst friends and lightening bugs stories. We also playfully argue with one another if its lightening bugs or fireflies. (it’s most definitely lightening bugs) It’s interesting to see how everyone grew up and the different perspectives it brings.

Carter and Anna Kate had everything they could possibly desire growing up as children of well off households, Jenna and Damien came from middle class households, and I came from a household that was under the poverty line most of the time.  Damien talked about being black and how that has affected how he has seen situations. We discussed Rankine and he explained his encounters with racism and we all discussed solutions. It was interesting to hear about and with the rest of us being white we found it hard to empathize fully. It was a depressing topic but enlightening.

When asked what they think they would give out as advice to their neighbors a few jokes about neighborly issues arise but everyone generally agreed that they wished their neighbors were more open to being friends and they wished to be like in the movies where the neighbors all hang out and have bonfires and dinners. We talked about how American culture has made being close with neighbors a long lost dream. People used to sit outside on porches talking with one another and now people are always on the go or they’re inside watching television. Someone talked about how people just care about themselves now and after some discussion we realized that was quite true.

I learned a lot about how different opinions can come together to form a call to action among a group that better situations that we all see but haven’t done anything about. I also realize how much of an impact our childhood and upbringing has on us. We look at things from an epistemological viewpoint based on our experiences and have to link them together with similarities to relate to one another. From this dinner alone I realize that experiences are the biggest foundation to our opinions. We are either scorned or elated from them.

Jenna wants to be a FCTs education teacher (basically a home ec teacher) because she doesn’t feel like she was prepared for life outside of her parent’s home while going through the public education system, Carter wants to go into broadcasting because he wants to share news with everyone he can to keep them informed and joyful at times, Damien wants to become an actor to bring joy into the world, and I want to go into healthcare administration to make a difference in the lives of the sick. Each of our careers has its place in the world. Without all the different facets we wouldn’t help humanity live better together. You can make a sick person healed but that doesn’t bring joy to them, you can prepare children to avoid food poisoning but life doesn’t always go as planned.

It was interesting to get so philosophical with these people that I now all consider friends after our meal. Jenna and I are realists but Carter and Anna Kate have dreams of the world being perfectly harmonized someday. Damien just wants to provide laughs through the pain.  Like we have discussed in class and gathered from our reading, life doesn’t go as planned all the time but we can’t numb the pain without numbing happiness. I think that concept rang true for everyone in the group. We all agreed that life has thrown us around but we wouldn’t give up the pain because the beauty of life is derived from the pain.

Overall, I walked away with a new sense of purpose in life and a reminder of my duties as a citizen. I realized pain and happiness are on scales and sometimes they tip back and forth but they will always even out in the end. We have to buckle ourselves in and be ready for anything to be thrown our way to become the type of person we want to be which as Damien and Jenna pointed out, is ever changing as we get further and further into our journey. According to Carter, you have to pick and sort through the rubble and decide what’s worth fixing. Anna Kate finished off by adding that to do great things and be great people we have to love one another and help those around us stranger or not. She really thinks we are obligated to donate our time to our community and country and I think that’s important. As we all started to clear our plates, we decided we were all going to find something nice to do in the coming weeks before we pack up our stuff and head home for the summer. So if you see two girls picking up trash on the side of the road this week just wave. Jenna and I will probably wave back.

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Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Zora

Our dinner took place on April 15th, 2018 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. In attendance was Jenny, Caroline, and Madeline, and Zora. Madeline made baked spaghetti with garlic bread, I brought my own food due to dietary restrictions, and Jenny and Caroline provided beverages and dinnerware. They are all college students at Western Kentucky University. Jenny and Caroline are both juniors and roommates. Jenny is studying nursing. While Caroline is studying advertising. Jenny was born in the United Kingdom and moved to the United States in elementary school. I think this is very interesting, because she has an outsiders opinion on several aspects of American culture, and could compare it to that of the United Kingdom. Caroline grew up in the Lexington area, a large city about two hours north of Bowling Green. Madeline is a sophomore, studying organizational leadership. She is from Scottsville, a small town south of Bowling Green. I am a freshman also at Western Kentucky University studying mathematical economics. I have lived in Bowling Green for the past five years, but I have moved several times across the United States due to my parents being social workers. I think having people from both different geographic and familial backgrounds gave our conversation more substance because we were able to bring our experiences from where we grew up to answer the various questions. We were able to use the different places we have all lived to compare the differences and similarities we see in Bowling Green.

Our dinner began with introductions, such as our names, our majors, and where we grew up. But as we got further into the conversation we began to focus on what being a citizen means; as well as, how we as citizens interact in our communities. One interesting point brought up throughout our dinner was how we all said having a greater sense of community would be ideal; however, several of our neighbors were not necessarily people we would want or trust in our houses, and we all have so many responsibilities it is hard to interact with those not in our immediate group of people we are surrounded with. For example, Caroline and Jenny’s’ families had both regularly held family meals around the table. They both remember these dinners very fondly. Caroline described the family dinners as a way for everyone to catch-up with each other. They talked about their days and anything important that was going on in their lives. Madeline and I both do not recall regularly having family meals. Although our experiences were very different, the main reason our families did not have family meals was due to all of us having different schedules. For my family, both of my parents worked at different places and had very irregular hours. I went to school, at some points in my life, an hour away. Our family meals were replaced by long car rides into the city each morning and afternoon, and on top of those rides, I had basketball practice every night. By the time we were all home it was too late to eat dinner. However, both Madeline and I agreed that it would have been nice to have family meals around the table because being able to have the time to catch up with one another could strengthen the familial bonds and create more of an awareness of what is happening in everyone’s lives. Jenny was the only one of us to have meals at neighbor’s houses. She said it was a way for everyone to know each other, and created a greater sense of community. Personally, I would feel uncomfortable having dinner at my neighbor’s house, but I think that this is only because I have never experienced it or had neighbors that I was close to. I think that this highlights the isolation in a lot of communities in the United States. We are very closed off and private. There are seldom neighborhood-wide events or regular interactions beyond waving as you drive by, and the once a year yard sale. Everyone is busy doing their own things, and we never have the time to talk to one another.

One reading that I feel related to a theme of our conversation was the chapters we read from Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War by Peter Maas. I think this reading relates because it talks about a community that has been destroyed by conflict and civil war. This is a far cry from isolation seen in Bowling Green, but it vaguely relates to the feeling lost connections and being unaware of what is going on around you. I do not have any meaningful contact with my neighbors, and I have no idea what they have going on in their lives even though we only live twenty feet from each other. Along with the lack of interaction, I also realized even though I have never interacted with my neighbors I still have a lack of trust for some them. Which was astounding to me, because how can you judge someone you have never talked to. I think this lack of community creates a sense of unease and misunderstanding, similar to that of the Bosnian war.

The central question I think our theme of the dinner related most to was, “how do we live better, or less terrible, together?” From our conversations, we all had an idea of what we wanted our community to be, but we originally lacked the way to get there. I think every idea we had was hindered by the simple fact the many people would possibly not participate and the conflicting schedules previously mentioned. However, after giving this topic more thought I think that even if some people do not participate, it is a step towards our ideal society. For example, this dinner I would have never voluntarily gone to a dinner at a stranger’s house but I’m glad I did. Through this dinner, I was able to meet and interact with people I would not have otherwise, and I made new connections within my community. With this dinner, I learned more about how I view society and what I want from it. I also learned that isolation can be transformed simply by having a meal with someone new.

A College Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Elizabeth

For this Kentucky Kitchen Table project, I asked two of my friends, Sarah and Shane, if they could join me for a nice conversation over dinner about some topics they usually do not talk about with friends; they both said they would be happy to join me. Sarah has been one of my best friends since high school and who I am confident will be a friend of mine for the rest of my life. I met Shane last semester but we did not get to know each other well until this semester and now he is one of my best friends as well. I decided to ask them to ask a friend or two of theirs, of which I do not personally know well, and they asked Andrew, Whitley and Caroline to join us at the dinner; they all said they would be there. Andrew is one of Shane’s fraternity brothers and was born and raised in Nashville, he is a construction management major and plans to take over his dad’s business one day. Whitley is from Lexington and is one of Sarah’s sorority sisters, she mentioned that she recently changed her major to Biology with and interest in pre-med. Caroline, who is from Nashville as well, and Sarah have had classes together so they met one another through those. We had the dinner here in Bowling Green at Sarah’s house, which is on College Street. I felt as if it was my obligation to cook for them since they were doing me a favor, and Sarah let us use her house, so I decided to cook the food and made baked chicken pasta. This Kentucky Kitchen Table was a unique experience as none of us are family, nor was any of my family there, and we are all college students here at WKU.

When we sat and stood around the counter island in the kitchen (because there were not enough seats and also no table), and I told them a little more about the project they are helping me with and the Honors 251 course. I mentioned the three main questions of the class: how can we live better together, how can we solve problems, and how can we have more say over our lives. I mentioned to them that it might not be a bad idea to have those questions in the back of their mind while answering the other questions I was going to ask them, as it might make the other questions clearer and easier to answer. I am not sure if telling them this helped them at all, but it did not hurt to try to involve the class a little more.

To begin the conversation, I asked them what citizenship means to them. Shane was the first to respond saying that he thought of citizenship as contributing to the society that we live in. We then continued to talk about what citizenship means and overall everyone agreed with what Shane said about contributing to society. To add to that, everyone agreed with that being a good citizen meant contributing to our society in a positive manner. I then asked them how they thought they contributed to the society we live in. Shane is the only one that was old enough to vote in the past year’s elections, so he mentioned that he has voted in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Sarah works with kids at an elementary school so she feels like that she contributes to our society by providing an example to the future generations to be the best person they can. Andrew then mentioned that he does not feel like he does much as a citizen for the Bowling Green community, but he feels the opposite when he is back home in Nashville. He stated that he works for his dad’s construction business that puts pipes in the ground all around the city so that people have flowing water to and from their residences. He said how much hard work it took, but after sour conversation about citizenship, he felt that his work was worth it because it helped tons of people in the Nashville area.

After Andrew mentioning he is from Nashville, Caroline and Andrew started talking about the city of Nashville: what part of town they live in, where they went to high school, who they know, etc. They mentioned a couple of people that they both knew of, but not well, but they still said they were surprised they did not know one another. That surprised Sarah, Shane and I as we all think of Nashville as a huge city when compared to Bowling Green; they obviously do not see the vastness of the city like we do. To include Whitley in the conversation, I asked her if she feels the same way about Lexington as they do about Nashville; meaning whether she felt like she knew a lot of people or not. She said that she did not feel like she knew a lot of people because she went to a high school that was a lot smaller compared to most of the other ones. After this conversation died down, since we were already on the topic of hometown communities, I decided to ask them what kind of community they want to live in.

As the conversation began, Sarah and Shane both mentioned that they wanted to live in a bigger community than what they do now. On the other hand, Caroline, Andrew and Whitley all mentioned that they wanted to live in a community similar to the one they call home now, which they constitute as a big community. I asked them why they felt like living in a bigger community was better than that of a smaller community and the response I got was the opportunities present in a city. They mentioned that there are more businesses, places to live, and people in bigger communities which often leads to a greater amount of opportunities available to them. I asked them how they felt about the interpersonal relationships they would be able to gain from a business point of view by living in a bigger community, mentioning that I feel as if the relationships I have gained from persons in the Bowling Green community, a smaller community, are on a personal level. Andrew then mentioned that the relationships he has gained from working at his dad’s business have been personal and that he has even grown closer with his dad. Whitley mentioned that she works at a YMCA club during the summers in Lexington and feels like she is able to gain personal relationships with the kids and adults that come to the YMCA. Caroline said she was unable to tell whether the she has gained any personal relationships while working in business because she has only babysat her cousins so those relationships were already on a personal level. Overall, we all agreed that we wanted to live in bigger communities because the opportunities available mean more than the possibility of not having any personal relationships in the business world.

I learned a lot from my friends, the people I had just met, and even myself. I also was able to see how the themes of the class actually play into reality. Even though we are only college kids and still have a lot to learn about ourselves as adults and who we want to be, I think living life by trying to answer the three main questions of the class can do a lot of good for our future selves and future generations. Doing Kentucky Kitchen Table with my college peers really allowed me to see how diverse or similar a small group of people can be when asked small yet difficult to answer questions. It is important, even necessary, for people to have differing opinions in some situations and the same in others. It is also important for people for voice their opinions and ideas because who knows, maybe that idea could change the entire situation. For example, all the deliberations that I attended this week would have been extremely hard to make happen without some light disagreements and practically impossible without people voicing their ideas and opinions on how to solve the problem. Solving problems, especially those that are wicked, can be difficult and sometimes feel impossible; but, with everyone putting in their opinions and ideas about the issue at hand then that can lead to us living better together as a society. I am glad I got to talk to my college peers and ask them personal questions about themselves and the society we live in today. Overall, I am glad I had to do this project because these conversations would have never happened without these guidelines, but after this first time, I feel like these types of conversations are likely to happen again. Kentucky Kitchen Table really opened my eyes and showed me that even though we are young adults, it is still possible to have adult-like conversations around the dinner table (or dinner island in my case).

Kentucky Kitchen Table in Bowling Green, KY.

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by Madeline

Our dinner took place in Bowling Green, KY on April 15th. Caroline, Jenny, and Zora attended. Our Kentucky Kitchen Table was a little unconventional since Zora and I were unable to have them at home with family, and I think this gave our KKT a unique college perspective! Caroline is a junior at Western Kentucky University majoring in advertising and grew up in the Lexington area. Jenny is a junior majoring in nursing originally from the United Kingdom, but moved to America when she was in elementary school. Zora is a freshman majoring in economics with aspirations to do law (also in Honors 251) and is from Bowling Green, but has moved around as both her parents are social workers. I’m from Scottsville, KY, a small town about 30 minutes south of Bowling Green. We had baked spaghetti with garlic bread, Zora brought special food as she is vegan. I made the food, but Caroline and Jenny provided their apartment and dinnerware.

We talked about what it means to be a citizen, on both a local and national level. Overall, everyone seemed to come to a consensus that citizenship is about being kind to one another. Jenny talked a lot of how her Christian faith led her to want to help and be kind to others. She wants to be a nurse, so her future is going to be centered around caring for other people. She said she wanted to be kind to people and have a good impression, because maybe one day she can share the love of Christ with them. She also talked of the difference between the United Kingdom and the United States in regard to kindness. She said in the U.K. everyone is in their own little world just trying to get from place to place, and that smiling or saying hello to a stranger would be strange. I feel like this is more of a Kentucky thing, but it made me feel good about being a U.S. citizen nonetheless.

When it came to eating around a kitchen table, Caroline and Jenny had, while Zora and I had not on a regular basis. Zora’s family has an odd schedule from both her parents being social workers, and they all have different eating habits. She said it would have been nice to have dinners together, comparing it to how she enjoys holidays with her family. For me, I lived with my single grandmother for years, and my mom and brother moved in with us when I turned 13. We all had different schedules and the kitchen table was never clean, so we had a lot of fast food and freezer meals. Because this was unconventional, we never really ate around the table together and definitely did not have any neighbors over. I always wished that that had been different, but it was hard to advocate for it at the time because no one else really wanted to. Caroline and Jenny both had positive experiences from eating at the table. Caroline said it was a sort of release to get to have that time with her family, in that it was a time to just relax and not think about anything else going on. I think eating at the table and having that conversation probably strengthens family relationships as well. If dinners have any of the same conversation that our Kentucky Kitchen Table did, they are most likely opinion shaping. I would say actually talking about these issues probably results in children having some of the same ideas as their parents, which is neither good nor bad, I just know that I have a completely liberal view on life in contrast to my grandmother, and it could be from not ever talking about it and how my opinions were shaped outside of the home.

When talking of what advice we would give to future politicians running for office our stances were centered around keeping people in mind. I feel this is odd in that political leaders should already be trying to represent the vast majority of people. Politics have become more about popularity, fame, and money than service to the country. It is sad that a group of college students are so disheartened by the government in our country, but maybe this can be some sort of fuel for change. When looking at the three questions that frame our class, I feel that this issue relates to them all. We can solve problems if we talk about the issues at hand. We can live better together push for change. We can have more of a say over our lives in just doing these things.

I also think it is interesting that everyone at the table wanted to be a good person that people respected. This seems like common sense, but how does chaos and evil break out if everyone in the world had a desire to do good? This relates to the Love Thy Neighbor readings by Peter Maass, that is surrounding the violence within the Bosnian War. Everything was normal and peaceful prior to war, a place like the United States. War was able to start out of what seems like nowhere. Misunderstanding and unresolved conflict is the core of fighting, and this dinner represents a grain of sand in the scheme of talking it out, but is still a representation of working to an understanding nonetheless.

This leads me to the overall way this dinner translated into the class for me. After a week of deliberations I realized this dinner represented something much bigger that society is lacking. The key thing that tied this dinner and deliberation together is conversation. One thing that I feel people really are not good at today is talking about issues. People never want to listen to opposing opinions. I think this has led to the younger generations just staying out of all of it, not wanting to engage in confrontation that actually should just be conversation. In the David Brook’s article If it Feels Right he talks about this, in that people just go with “what feels right” in the moment, rather than analyzing and coming up with new ideas of what is right.

Eating with my peers was refreshing, and I came out of my Kentucky Kitchen Table with a better understanding of how this small dinner can relate to the overall themes of the class. I feel like sharing this experience with college students made the dinner different, but did not affect the depth of the assignment.

Tackling Problems One Meal at a Time

By Nate

My Kentucky Kitchen Table project took place in the suburbs of Bowling Green. Though Bowling Green is not my original home, I have come to call it so. My girlfriend’s family hails from here, and I seem to make new friends here each day. There were four people gathered around my table: Kaitlynn, my girlfriend, Meredith, a girl that I know in passing from my dorm building, and Janet, Kaitlynn’s grandmother that hosted the Kentucky Kitchen Table project at her house. Kaitlynn is my girlfriend of seven months and is from Lexington. She is bright and a very cheerful person. Although we have differing ideologies, we have much more in common than separates us. Meredith is reserved and very intellectual. She has the vibe of an old soul and has similar beliefs as me. Janet is sixty-nine years old and although I have only met her a couple of times, I can tell that she is a very kind person who cares deeply about people. I prepared green beans as a side, which I cooked in a deep brownie tray because I didn’t have a pot at the dorm, so I made due and they turned out great. Kaitlynn made mac n’ cheese and Janet bought chicken. Meredith baked brownies for dessert.

 

After diving into our meal, the first question was “what does citizenship mean to you?” This spurred answers from Meredith about being involved in local events such as the fair and shopping local. Janet, being the eldest there, had a slightly different perspective. She said that citizenship for her was mostly about being a good neighbor and helping those in need, she added that the world would be a much better place if people would get to know their neighbors more and lend a hand when someone is in need. A question that spurred more conversation was “what kind of community do you want to live in?” Theses answers were mostly stereotypical, a nice crime-free suburban neighborhood, until I said I want to live in a very small town, where you know everybody and every car you pass waves at you. This prompted some discussion about the positive and negative aspects of living in a rural versus an urban area.

Soon after the question “What social issue is closest to your heart?” was discussed, we delved into politics. Then it became apparent that we were a very diverse group. Not a traditional ethnically diverse group, but a group with diversity of thought. Around the kitchen table we had people that represented both the political right and left, as well as moderate and more hardcore versions of each. In today’s political climate it is made to look as if people with differing political opinions cannot engage each other in civil conversation. However, around this Kentucky kitchen table I found this stereotype to not be true whatsoever. Our diverse group discussed matters, and, in many cases, we had a lot more in common than one would be believe. When we did not share the same viewpoint, we would treat the other people respectfully.

Another theme of the discussion was that most of the things we were discussed about community was family based. It seemed the underlying motive behind the ideal community that good citizenship is meant to propagate is that this community would be a good one to raise kids. Janet, being the only one there to have raised a family was very enlightening. She pointed that knowing your neighbors and helping them out is a good thing to do when you are planning on raising kids as they can help keep your kids out of trouble. Also, she talked about supporting children who are less fortunate in the community by supporting local youth organizations and maybe even volunteering. The younger people around the table, myself included, idealized a perfect little house in a nice community, but hadn’t thought as having a role in making this happen. Janet illuminated this concept of building a community by actively working to make it better. In my life I have seen this to be true but had not realized it. My father, being a landlord, had always talked about how if you fix up your yard in a run-down neighborhood, some of your neighbors are bound to do the same. This shows the ripple effect that being a good citizen and member of society can have. Also, in my town I have seen that you cannot simply buy your way in to a good community. The most upscale neighborhood in my town isn’t the place I would call the best community. It is filled with rich people who hardly know each other, and the neighborhood has an out of control burglary problem. After Janet’s comments I reflected on this and also noticed that perhaps the best community where I am from is far from the wealthiest, however it is filled with lovely people who love life and know all of their neighbors. Every spring this neighborhood has a community yard sale and they have neighborhood cleanup days. This all shows that the only way to achieve everyone’s wish of living in a good community was to work at it through being a good neighbor and therefor a good citizen.

Through this Kentucky Kitchen Table project, I learned that everyone has dreams, and a major path to these dreams is through good citizenship. In order to live in a society that everyone wants to live in, we must work at it. In a society that is so divisive and makes everyone and everything seem as if it has its own agenda, one thing that can bring us together is our shared citizenship. If we all worked on being better citizens, then this country would be a much better place.

Another thing that I learned during the course of this project was the importance of communication. When I first met my girlfriend, it was clear that we had far different political views, however for our sake we decided that we would both discuss it with each other with civility and respect, and we have done so very well. Over our conversations I have come a little bit her way, and her mine. I had thought that this kind of civil discussion and working too see other people’s points could only be maintained for two people at most, but this project persuaded me to believe otherwise. In our discussions I saw people of vastly different beliefs communicating respectively and effectively with each other, in a fashion I thought extinct from our nation’s discourse. In 1850, the United States had acquired a vast new amount of land from winning the Mexican-American War and the slave states and anti-slave states came to the compromise of 1850, admitting California as a free state and passing a tougher fugitive slave law, while the other new territories’ laws would be decided under popular sovereignty. This kind of “meet-in-the-middle” compromising needs to see a revival in our nation. I believe that this revival would best be started around kitchen tables across the country, as people with varying beliefs can come together and discuss matters with civility as we did around our kitchen table.

This project relates to the central class question, “How do we solve problems?” because around our table, our diverse in thought group were able to come together on varying issues much easier than one would have thought it to be. When trying to solve problems, it is important that we try to engage each other with civility and mutual respect that allows us to reach agreeable solutions to the many wicked problems our community and world face. Around the familiar kitchen table environment, it was much easier to discuss matters that are typically controversial and avoided—perhaps, maybe they should serve fried chicken at the floor of the Senate!

This assignment made me realize that we have more in common with our neighbors than we think. Seeing these mutual held beliefs is an important step in appreciating the values of deliberative engagement of a community. I believe this project relates to the reading, “Tackling Wicked Problems Through Deliberative Engagement” by Martin Carcasson. Around the table, it was almost like a miniature town hall meeting. We had divergent thinking going on; everyone was coming from a different place and had their individual beliefs which they expressed freely. We worked through the groan zone next, though I did not find it to be so bad. Then, all there was to do was convergent thinking, which was fairly natural to do at this point. We were quick to come to common ground, realizing our “end goals” were basically the same. Through this miniaturized set of deliberative engagement, I saw how we should all work to solve our wicked problems. By letting everyone’s voice be heard, treating that voice with respect, and putting forth the effort to see where that voice is coming from, leads us all to realize that there is no problem too big when we all work together.

Kentucky Kitchen Table in Relation to Our Everyday Lives

 

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By Kinsley

This week, I had the privilege of sitting down and enjoying a meal with familiar faces and some not so familiar ones in Bowling Green, Kentucky. My name is Kinsley, and quite possibly one of the times I learned the most during my freshman year of college is during a Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment for my advanced Citizen and Self class. The assignment’s premise was simple: grab a few people who are from culturally different backgrounds, people who grew up in different areas of the world, and ask them to a dinner where they contribute food and quality conversation. I think it’s fitting to introduce the faces of the fresh ideas and possible solutions to solve the world’s wicked problems. To put it simply, a wicked problem is one that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that often are difficult to recognize.

Katelyn is a soft-spoken, aspiring journalist with a passion for the Middle East; she is in the process of learning Arabic with intentions to better serve the people of countries in need. She spends her free time researching new ways to help the refugee influx from recent years into the Bowling Green area, and she is excited to serve in a Middle Eastern country this summer. She will begin volunteering at the International Center of Kentucky soon. She is passionate about her faith, her family, and loving her neighbors, despite the stereotypes associated with their physical attributes. Katelyn brings a heart for the nations to our table.

Taylor is a southern gentleman at his finest, as he loves the outdoors and believes strongly in the rights and privileges that the Second Amendment provides. He is a computer science major, following closely in the footsteps of his father. He loves the classics, Ocean’s Eleven and Talladega Nights topping his list, and he would classify himself as “one of the funny ones.” His ancestry is a large part of who he is; as twenty-five percent Taiwanese, he loves the history that his grandmother brought from Taiwan to the United States in the twentieth century. Taylor adds cultural diversity to our table.

Nichole is passionate about Dallas Cowboys football and feels most comfortable when gaming with her guy friends. From a young age, she has had the divine opportunity to travel the world; some of the most beautiful, enticing destinations she has visited include Munich, Germany and Brussels, Belgium. For as long as she can remember, she has had the chance to be immersed in a variety of diverse cultures. Nichole is keen to moving around the United States and sees each new move as a new way to grow. Perhaps one of the most influential points in Nichole’s life occurred a mere three weeks ago when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Nichole brings a fresh sense of emotionally raw diversity to our table.

Rylee is a fellow classmate and spends her time studying; as a part of the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University, and a writer for The Talisman magazine published on campus, she is passionate about what she does. As the only one at our table to have lived in the Bowling Green area for her entire life, she is knowledgeable about the happenings in the city we all now call home. She is passionate about her faith and the people she meets in her day to day interactions at the Beverly Hills Bargain Boutique, for her she draws much more than a paycheck. Rylee thrives on customer service. She is more liberal-minded than many in this small group, enabling her to bring forth diversity. Rylee brings a heart for people and a smile that can light up a room to our table.

Holly teaches eighth grade English at Butler County, a local middle school in Bowling Green, while she raises two children of her own. She is passionate about her line of work, but is also concerned about the crisis of cut funding in Kentucky schools. Her childhood, marked by certain events, allowed her to have differing opinions from the rest of the group. Holly loves pouring her knowledge into the children she encounters every day, and she brings strong, yet caring, opinions and ideas to our table.

Polio, a chronic disease that has seemingly plagued her since her youth, does not prevent Bonita from living her life radically. Bonita is an actively involved member of a local church and spends much of her time witnessing her grandchildren grow. As the oldest participant at our table, she brings knowledge of the early 1900s, and she is able to compare the ways in which the world was and how it is now. Bonita brings a new perspective and seasoned years to our table.

Michael is the principal of Bluegrass Middle School in Bowling Green, Kentucky. As he and his spouse, Holly, are both employed by schools systems, thus employed by the government, he has many opinions about the corruption and inequality of budget-cutting among public schools in the state. With a background in psychological science, he deals heavily with the emotional aspects of children. He has much to say about the refugee crisis in America, and especially the impact that it has had in the Warren County area. Michael brings the inner workings of the mind and emotional states of being to our table.

When asked the most crucial question of the entire night, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you,” each person at the table emitted a variably different response. Everyone present was raised in atmospheres foreign to the others, and this created an exciting idea of citizenship. As for me, both of my parents are Air Force veterans, leading me to grow into an adult familiar to the concepts of honor and pride for my nation, which eventually led to many of my adult decisions resting upon my Republican, conservative-minded upbringing. Perhaps one of the most interesting testimonies is that of Bonita, who was born and raised in Kentucky. She was born into a farming community, and because she was overcome with Polio at such a young age, she has a unique outlook on the ways in which the world helps the disabled and needy. This question in particular caused me to be reminded of the key theme of “How can we live better, or at least less badly, together?” When people of ethnically diverse backgrounds are faced with the complex idea of citizenship, as it has possibly never crossed their minds before, they oftentimes struggle to find words enough to describe their associated thoughts and emotions.

Perhaps the most controversial conversation of the evening began with these simple words: “What kind of community do you want to live in?” Thus, a discussion about gun control and Second Amendment rights was launched. “As for me, I’d like to live in a community that is graciously armed,” says Taylor, “because that is what I am most comfortable with. I could practically shoot a gun before I could walk.” Though many at the table were in agreement with Taylor’s opinion, Holly had a strikingly different viewpoint. Even after growing up in a community where guns were present and in her own home, she feels the most comfortable when there are none in her close proximity. This topic spurred a conversation that lasted for upwards of twenty minutes, and intertwined within was the reality that citizens, those living in the same city, shopping at the same grocery stores, and enrolling their children in the same public school systems, can, and do, coexist. Political, social, and moral decisions, while crucial to one’s expressed identity, do not solely define a human being. To allow guns or not to allow guns is simply a matter of opinion in which, when handled properly, can allow for healthy stretches of the mind and the realm of normal conversation.

It was interesting to learn that the dynamic of “being neighborly” has changed drastically in recent years. In the twentieth century, it was expected that neighborhoods were familiar with the families that lived there; dinner parties and welcoming cookie platters were typical. However, when our table was faced with the question, “Do you know your neighbors? Why or why not?” the answers were more than scarily similar. I, personally, have lived in the same house for ten years, and I dare say that I have no recollection of a single person’s name on my street. This unknowing is more spurred by a busy life rather than the lack of desire to get to know those living close to me. I think community has changed with this century due to the very virtual reality that we now live in. Society as a whole is under this incorrect impression that knowing people on social media is the same as having a personal relationship with them. “No, I really don’t know my neighbors, and I’m not sure there’s a real reason behind that,” was the resounding response from many at the table. Katelyn had a different idea though; growing up in the house her parents have owned since before her birth, she came to know the girls who lived in the house next to hers. As life usually does, it drew the girls apart, reducing Katelyn’s known neighbors to an astounding zero.

Though I could write forever of the lessons I learned, I think it is essential to remember the key themes of Citizen and Self and how they truly relate to the intense realities of the world. Knowledge and intentionality of conversations was a prevailing piece of our Kentucky Kitchen Table experience. No doubt was this exposure of the inner workings of each person’s hearts one of the most eye-opening of my life; I think this is simply because the millennial generation in which I identify with has forgotten the importance of “loving thy neighbor” and of communicating, deliberating, thinking in an effective way to solve the wicked problems present in the world today. Relative to the class as a whole, I would say that Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War by Peter Maass is the most related to the ideas and topics discussed at our table. Faith, family, and personal history were the key themes in the ways that conversations were driven.

I truly believe that the first steps towards a more connected world are to obtain culturally different opinions and retain this knowledge in order to answer the questions that it seems all citizens desire to be answered:

How can we live better, or at least less badly, together?

How can we ensure that we have more of a say over our own lives, and how can we ensure that others have more of a say over their own lives?

How can we solve problems?

It is our job as citizens to strive towards the type of world these questions illustrate each and every day of our lives and to not give in to our desires to quit until we have found the answers we have always so desperately searched for.

With All Sincerity, Kinsley

Brandon’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Brandon

IMG_0832Left to Right: Me, Brandon, Dad, Mom, Ian, Braxton, Chapel, Sharon, Manyoo, Tricia

I had my Kentucky Kitchen Table at a good family friend’s house here in Bowling Green. The hostess, Tricia, is no stranger to friendly gatherings. She hosts small group bible studies occasionally throughout the year with potluck style dinners, so we’ve been unintentionally practicing for this for a few years. I could not think of a warmer house to have my KKT in.

Her husband, Ian, was born in Zimbabwe. His parents were missionaries so he grew up in South Africa. He came to America to get a degree in Mechanical Engineering at WKU. He has a fun accent.

I got to know them initially through their son, Brandon (he has the same name as me). We became friends in Middle School and have stayed friends since. He’s studying Advertising.

Brandon’s younger brother Braxton was hanging around too. He’s homeschooled, but also heavily involved in community sports.

As a whole, they’re all fairly conservative and strong Christians. Tricia is a stay-at-home mom that homeschools her kids, as well as a freelance writer.

My mom and dad are pictured on the left, in between Brandon and Ian. They like coming to Tricia’s house as much as me. My dad is a retired IRS agent and conservative. He grew up in East Tennessee. Mom works as a secretary for a federal probation office. She’s a registered Democrat but mostly stays out of politics. Overall, she’s a very optimistic person.

Across from them sat Ian’s brother’s family. His brother couldn’t make it, but his brother’s wife Sharon was there with their two adopted Korean children, Chapel and Manyoo. Sharon is a stay-at-home mom and a part-time substitute teacher. She’s also fairly conservative.

I’d never met Sharon and her kids before, despite knowing Tricia’s family for five years. Sharon’s pleasant to talk to and she was always one of the first to answer the questions. Chapel’s kinda shy and Manyoo is the opposite of shy.

Dinner started off with general conversation around the table. I waited until everyone was seated and had had the chance to eat a good portion of their meal before asking the first question. As for the food itself, my dad made some of his good ol’ homemade chili, Tricia made some excellent lasagna, and Sharon brought Korean potstickers. All of it was quite excellent.

I asked the required citizenship question first. It created a lot of blank stares and “Hmmmm” responses. Granted, it’s not something we really think about on a daily basis, or much at all, so I waited patiently for an answer.

Sharon was the first to give an answer. “Freedom,” she said. Everyone quickly echoed the sentiment. Group consensus wasn’t my goal, but everyone could get behind freedom, myself included, so I segued into the next question.

I asked what advice they would give to the people running for office in our country and there sure wasn’t any hesitation in the answer to that. Ian said, “Listen to the people,” and others added on variations of this sentiment. He said people are tired of feeling underrepresented and that if the people in charge actually listened to the people that put them in charge, then the country would be much better off. I noticed a distinct lack of politicization for either side in the answers, which I thought was interesting.

I stirred the pot with the next question, asking “What social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Brandon responded immediately with “Abortion” with the rest of his family backing him up. Tricia elaborated by explaining why it was important to them, citing the Bible and their belief in the sanctity of life, beginning at conception.

Sharon gave a slightly broader answer of “Family Life.” She talked about prioritizing her family, and how many of the things wrong with modern America had to do with the degradation of family values, such as the acceptance of gay marriage and a lack of child discipline.

The mood got very serious so I decided to lighten it by asking “What do you think are the best things about our world today?” This proved to be the most decisive questions of the night, though not in a bad way.

Ian said technology was one of the best things about the world, citing how it’s improved countless lives and brings people from all over the world together. Tricia reacted with surprise and said she thought technology was one of the worst things about the world. She elaborated on how people are addicted to today’s technology and have given in to instant gratification because of it.

I personally sided with Ian, partially because I’m optimistic but also because it goes along with our class discussions of bringing everyone together. Modern technology can be a double-edged sword, but overall I think it has massively benefited society.

Sharon had a completely different answer. She spoke of nature as one of the best things in the world and how the natural beauty of the world was something worth cherishing and protecting. It was a very inspiring answer.

I followed up with “What is the thing you love most about living where you do?” Since almost everyone present grew up in a different state (or country), I expected different answers, however, there was a common consensus that “community” and “friendliness” were what defined Bowling Green. Ian said community wasn’t nearly as valued in South Africa as it is here, which surprised me.

Sharon and Tricia both spoke highly of how everyone is willing to put aside their differences and come together for a common cause during times of distress, both on a national and local level, and that that was one of the things that made the U.S. unique. It was a nice, optimistic upswing. Everyone was smiling.

They kept wanting to answer more questions, so I kept asking them, even though everyone had already eaten dessert. They were really into it.

I asked the question about having meals around the table with your family growing up, and my dad took point on that one. He told us how his dad (my grandfather) worked a rotating shift at a factory when he was growing up, and even though his hours changed, he always tried to eat with his family whenever he could.

I always like hearing new details about my dad’s life growing up. He only tells these kinds of stories with friends, and most are ones I haven’t heard before. It was one of the little things that stuck with me.

All of the others said they ate with their families growing up as well. Sharon nudged Chapel into talking by asking her directly if they have dinner as a family. She gave a shy, “Yes.”

Most everyone highly valued having dinner with the family. Tricia said growing up she didn’t even know some families didn’t eat dinner together, and that it was a sad trend that more families weren’t eating together. Ian said he did it with his family in South Africa.

We ended the night with the soul-searching question “What kind of person do you want to be?” Manyoo gave the humorously vague answer of wanting to be a “good” person. Chapel tried to copy his answer, and after a few synonyms, Sharon gave up on trying to get a different answer out of her.

Interestingly, the adults answered the question not on who they want to be, but how they want to be remembered. At least, that was the common theme of their answers.

Ian wanted to be remembered as a kind, generous person, and after some prompting, he told us a story demonstrating these virtues. Several years ago during Thanksgiving, Ian was driving home to his family when he saw a car broke down on the side of the road with a black man standing next to it. He pulled over to offer his assistance, and the man said his car had a flat tire.

Ian called several different tire sellers to try to find the tire the guy needed, but it was an unusual brand of tire and the only place that had them was the Walmart in Franklin, KY. So, being the ultimate nice guy, Ian drove the man down to Franklin and waited with him until the auto center opened. Once the man bought his tire, Ian drove him back to his car.

It was really late by this time as the whole ordeal took about six hours. The man thanked Ian profusely and they went their separate ways. It was a rather heartwarming tale.

My mom said she wanted to be remembered as a do-gooder, even though doing good sometimes resulted in her getting taken advantage of by others. My dad said something similar.

Brandon didn’t give a serious answer. I said I wanted to stay the course and continue doing what I was doing. Tricia ended it by saying she wanted to leave behind a positive legacy for others to follow.

I thanked everyone for coming and gave Tricia a hostess gift. Overall, the discussion went really well and everyone enjoyed themselves. I learned that even though we all came from diverse geographic and demographic backgrounds, we all more or less wanted the same thing: To live good lives and be good people. It sounds cliche, but hey, life’s cliche. I was reminded of the article “How We Talk Matters” as the dinner showed that civil discourse is not only possible but can also be enjoyable. I walked away with a new appreciation for simple, dinner conversation.