An Afternoon Around the Kitchen Table

By Taylor

We sat down to eat at my home in Mount Juliet, TN. We’re a family of four, a little unused to accommodating this many people around the kitchen table. With an eclectic mix of chairs, and very little elbow room, the seven of us gathered around the table. (My little brother made a brief appearance to eat before scurrying back upstairs to play video games). My dad made ribs, my mom made mashed potatoes, and I made creamed corn (well, I put the frozen corn in the microwave to heat up). I suggested the idea of a potluck, but my mom preferred for us to cook the meal.

I was a little apprehensive about hosting this dinner. Historically, I haven’t had good experiences with discussing things which people are likely to disagree about in my hometown. I tried to select guests who I felt were open-minded, but I wasn’t optimistic we would all walk away from the conversation with a deeper understanding and appreciation for each other- I thought it was more likely that someone’s feelings would be hurt. The guests at dinner included Frank, Cher, Jane, Hank, Jack, Kate, and myself.

Frank is my father, and he’s in his early forties. He grew up in Chicago and moved to Tennessee in the early 2000s. He was a little quieter during dinner than he would have been if it had just been our family, but when he spoke, it was obviously something he’d been thinking about for a while.

Cher is my mother. She’s a pastor’s kid and grew up bouncing from town to town as my grandfather was reassigned to different churches. It’s given her a unique perspective; Grandpa had a propensity for taking in those who need a place to stay, so my mom has lived with people from all different backgrounds. She isn’t very interested in politics, but she is passionate about helping others.

Jane is my mother’s old coworker, a friend from back when they were in real estate during the early 2000’s. My mom switched career paths, but Jane stayed in the business. Today, she works for a nation-wide real estate company, overseeing half the country. She’s proud of how far she’s come, but several times during lunch she expressed sadness at how often she has to travel for her job. At one point, she told us her situation is representative of the overall modern trend of putting work ahead of family.

Hank is… Jane’s husband. I define him that way only because he didn’t give me anything else to go on. He remained silent for almost the entire lunch, despite several enjoinders to share his opinion. Eventually I relented when I sensed my petitions were being met with increasing annoyance. Overall, I got the sense that he only came because Jane wanted him to.

Jack is the pastor at one of the local churches. He had a lot to say, and there were times I wondered if I should cut him off to give someone else the opportunity to speak. In all fairness, he did have a lot to contribute, and at the very least he kept the table from devolving into an awkward silence.

Kate is his wife. She was also born and raised in Illinois, where she married and had four daughters and later, half a dozen grandchildren. She was a little quieter during lunch- she didn’t volunteer her opinion- but when I asked her about her perspective, she provided me with thoughtful answers. She does a lot of work at the church on behalf of her husband, sort of the “behind the scenes” hero. She’s passionate about helping people, in whatever way she can.

One interesting theme that I observed during our discussion about citizenship is that everyone viewed it as a serious responsibility. They viewed it as not just a responsibility but also a privilege to be a part of a country that is greater than the self. Another generally agreed-upon aspect of citizenship that came up was the obligation to help others within the community. The guests agreed it was an obligation, but they seemed to contradict themselves in regards to enforcement. “Yes, everyone should help others, but they shouldn’t be forced to. Don’t take money out of my taxes for charity- let me give on my own, if I want to.” It reminded me of Jane Addams’s “The Snare of Preparation;” like Jane, they believed that people have an obligation to help others. However, they were adamant that charity should be voluntary- I imagine Jane might be more inclined to require people to give.

Overwhelmingly, the group voiced that the best thing about our world today is freedom. Religious freedom was a big part of this, which was unsurprising since we needed to schedule lunch to be after church that afternoon. However, the guests also freedom of opportunity. A few of the guests grew up at a time when a college education was relatively rare, rather than the default option for most students after high school. They expressed that the wealth of opportunities for people in this country was one of the best things about it.

A major social concern the group echoed was what they termed the “breakdown of the family.” A large portion of the conversation was spent on today’s youth: “They expect everything to be handed to them, they don’t want to work hard…” The group had concerns that young people place less value in familial relationships, and they touched on the idea that young people are less moral than older generations. This reminded me of the David Brooks article, “If it Feels Right” in which he asserts that young people lack the ability to articulate moral reasoning as well as a shared moral framework. However, they were a little more optimistic than Brooks; the group acknowledged that each generation does things differently, which isn’t inherently negative. They even went a step farther to say that if our generation lacks certain skills/values, it’s probably our parent’s fault for not instilling these in us.

This naturally led into a discussion of how several of the guests used to eat with their families around the kitchen table frequently. Most of them expressed nostalgia over those experiences, and a little regret that they didn’t continue the practice. Sitting around the kitchen table and talking with each other gave them a stronger sense of belonging, cohesion, and understanding; they felt much more involved in each other’s lives. Today, most people are too busy to take time to eat together at the table- or it’s not as big of a priority for them as other things. Coming away from the conversation, several of the guests expressed that they might like to be more intentional about eating with their own families around the kitchen table and talking about their lives.

When the conversation turned to what advice they would like to give to politicians or someone running for office, everyone expressed a desire for increased respectful conversation. Instead of demonizing alternate viewpoints, politicians should listen to different perspectives and learn from them. This surprised me a little because of how much it directly relates to what we are learning and practicing in class. We deliberate weekly about different issues and readings, and we are learning to listen and consider the views of others. In a way, this consensus along with the overall meal renewed my faith in the value and practicality of deliberation. Sure, deliberation can work in the classroom when everyone wants to talk so that they get a good participation grade. But if others have a sincere desire to practice these skills in order to solve problems, then maybe deliberation really does have practical applications in the real world; maybe we really can solve problems in this way.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the meal went, and that it did not turn into an argument at any point. I think part of the reason this did not happen is that several people in the group did not know each other well, and they were too polite to disagree as they might have with someone whom they were close to. Still, it was nice to hear from different people about their viewpoints while maintaining a respectful atmosphere.

I think if I did another project like this in the future, I would be quicker to intervene and steer the conversation in the right direction when it started to wander. There was a period of ten minutes or so where the group discussed the merits and drawbacks of our current president and the discussion was derailed pretty severely. Still, I learned that it’s important to hear people out; the longer you listen, the more likely you are to find common ground. For example, while I was unsurprised to hear that abortion was one of the social issues the group was most concerned about, I was surprised to hear that some of them thought the best way to combat abortion is to expand medical treatment and contraceptives, as well as increasing programs and services for new mothers. We might disagree on minutiae, but when it comes down to it, as human beings, we have more in common than things that divide us.IMG_8522

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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.

Kentucky’s Kitchen Table

By Bryana
For my Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment, I decided to host the dinner in my hometown of Campbellsville, Kentucky. I had the dinner around the kitchen table that is in the house that I grew up in, the same house that my dad grew up in and was built by my grandparents. It was important to me have the dinner around the kitchen table in my family homkkt pice because that house has played a large part in my growing up, life lessons and me becoming a citizen. It just seemed appropriate to do the Kentucky Kitchen Table here because the conversation was mostly about citizenship and hearing people’s view points was another life lesson for me.
The people who were at my dinner were mostly my family members, and my brother and sister each brought someone with them. The person sitting at the head of the table was my dad, Bryan. My dad is an extremely hard worker who has always tried his best to make sure that my family has everything that we need. He always takes it upon his self to take full responsibility for everyone in the family. He is what some might describe an “old school” type of guy and his favorite phrase to tell my siblings and I is “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” which are his words to live by. People who know my dad and I often say that we are just alike, between our stubbornness and the way we always have a comeback for anything that is said to us, we are pretty similar. Another important personality trait about my dad is that, though he claims to be anti-social, he has a very strong since of community, is very involved with everybody around where we live, and is always willing to help out neighbors and friends. The next person at my dinner was my mom, Christina. My mom is someone that has always been there for me one hundred percent. Though she’s not perfect and makes mistakes, she is someone who has a huge heart and big love for helping people. She loves being involved in the community and is the type of person who is willing to step and lead people when she needs to. Throughout the years of being a softball mom for me and a cheerleader mom for my sister, she has given up countless hours to fundraising, driving us to practices and standing on the sidelines for my siblings and I. She’s very family orientated and is a major reason that I am so close to everyone in my family. Also, at my Kentucky Kitchen Table was my older sister, Mary Jo. She is the most care-free, bright, hyper and crazy person that I know, and I mean that in the best possible ways. She is the person that I consider my best friend and is someone that is always there for me. Ever since we were little, she’s the person that was always around to keep me playing, and active and trying new, wild things. She loves being around people and trying to get everyone around her to smile and have a good time. The last of my family, but definitely not the least, at my dinner is my older brother, Tyler. My brother is seven years older than me, so he has some perceptive on life that is different than mine and basically grew up in a different generation than me. Tyler is what some people might describe as a guy’s guy. He can make friends with almost anybody and anytime we go to any type of social outing together, nearly everybody in the room knows my brother and is excited to see him show up. People often refer to my sister and I as “Ed’s little sisters,” Ed being his nickname and what everybody in Taylor County calls him, other than the family. My brother is the type of person that other people just enjoy having around, probably because of his fun-loving and friendly nature. Another person at my Kentucky Kitchen Table was my sister’s boyfriend, Patrick. Patrick brings some diversity into the group at my dinner because he grew up outside of my family and our values. Pat is a fun, loud and adventurous guy who loves hanging out with his friends. I think one of the things that makes Patrick so diverse from my family and I is that my family is extremely family orientated and have family dinners all the time, while Pat is less family and religiously oriented than my family, but he still has no trouble fitting in to the family. The person at my Kentucky Kitchen table that I personally do not know very well, was my brother’s girlfriend Kim. My brother and Kim just recently started dating so my family and I have not really gotten a chance to now her very well yet, but this dinner did help us all get to know her better. Kim is a very sweet and intelligent person with big goals in life and she is always very kind and polite to everyone.
When I asked the required question about citizenship, everyone around the table talked a lot about how the most important thing about to them about being citizens in the United States was that they cherished their freedom. It was important to everyone at my dinner that their freedom be not be forgotten by those who are in power in are country and that we as citizens should appreciate the freedoms that we have. We discussed how people have different roles in our community and how it is people’s jobs to help support the people in the community in any way possible. The people at my dinner all seemed to have a strong sense of community and love to be involved with the people that surround them. Most of the people at my dinner knew their neighbors and were friendly with them. My parents talked about the times when they were younger, and how people in the community would get together and have dinners and street parties very regularly. Nearly everybody around would come to things like this, and everybody in the community would be friends. This is very different from today, because the newer generations, like my brother and sister, do not know their most, or hardly any of their neighbors and we today do not get to experience the way that neighbors and community members gather together and get to know everyone, like in past generations. Everyone around the table agreed that it is important to treat the people in our communities well and that getting involved in our communities is important for many reasons, like having friends and people you can rely on, and be relied on by, the people around you. A strong friendly community were everyone is connected and willing to help others is something that the world needs more. Some of the best things we can do to help our community is to just simply be involved and treat the people in it with respect. Another we discussed at my Kentucky Kitchen Table was how it seems the newer generations do not have the same respect for people in our communities that the older generations have. Things like being able to take time out of our day to visit our neighbors and being able to have face to face conversations, and scheduling neighborhood gatherings for everyone to come and simply enjoy each other’s company our things that we seem to have lost value in as the generations have gone by.
I think that the most important thing that I learned over the course of this meal is that to have a strong sense of citizenship it is important for us to be involved in our community. The things that were talked about at my Kentucky Kitchen Table relate to the central idea in this class about how we can live well together. We talked about how it is important to treat our neighbors with respect and being able to have fun community gatherings with our neighbors is important to living well together. The way we discussed about community at my dinner reminds me of the people talked about the way everyone got along in Love Thy Neighbor, before the war. Everyone got along and participated in the community before the war broke out. I just hope that the people from where I’m from have a strong enough sense of community that we could never turn on each other the way the people did in Love Thy Neighbor. I am grateful that I got to do this assignment in my home, around my kitchen table, in my community with people that I trust and respect. The things we talked about at the dinner, things like community and community roles and patriotism have helped to better understand how important it is to always be an active member of the community and to always try to be an involved citizen. I think that my favorite part about the Kentucky Kitchen Table, is that I got to learn what it means to be a citizen and community member by the people whose opinions I respect the most.

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Chassidy

 

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in my hometown of Adair County, KY on Sunday, April 15th. Including myself, there were five people, along with Faith, Andrea, Krystal, and Jackson. As I do with most of my assignments, I ignored the importance of this assignment and procrastinated it until the last possible minute. On Sunday morning I urgently texted Krystal and asked if I could host a dinner at her house because I needed an actual kitchen table, which my house does not have. Although I knew everyone that attended my dinner, I’m not close with everyone and this dinner allowed me to see them all from a different perspective, get a glimpse into their outlook on life and their opinions on a variety of topics, and just get to know them all better.

Everyone that attended my dinner brought a quality or attribute to the table that nobody else possessed to create diversity within the conversation. Krystal is a mother, a wife, and a freshman academic advisor at the college in my hometown and she was able to bring an immense amount of experience and wisdom that we would not have had otherwise. Faith is someone that I’ve known since I moved to Adair County 6 years ago, but we did not become close friends until about a year ago. Andrea is a junior in high school while Faith and Jackson are both freshman at the college in my town and although they share similar situations because they attend the same school and are in the same atmosphere a majority of the time, they have very different pasts. Everyone at my dinner had very similar religious beliefs which played a huge impact in how we all answered the questions and our outlook on life as a whole, but our variety of past experiences and challenges in life also had large contribution on how we felt about certain topics.

We kept the meal simple by fixing burgers with chips and cookies for dessert with the main focus of the dinner being on the discussion. I did not start the dinner with the intentions of asking and answering all of the conversation starter questions, but I ended up doing that because as I read them I became curious to hear what everyone had to say about each one. In many cases we unanimously agreed on one answer, but in some cases we all had different thoughts and ideas to contribute. Starting with the required question, what citizenship means to us, we agreed that it meant being a community and having the ability to belong to something. No matter what a person’s race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc. they have the ability to belong to something much bigger than that and to be a citizen. When answering questions relating to topics such as: if our religious identities relate to how we treat people, do we have obligations to other people, and what kind of person we want to be we all answered in very similar ways agreeing that our religion is very important to us and that became a huge influence in how we answered these questions. We discussed being selfless and willing to serve and love others regardless of who they are in the same way that God loves us. We also considered the idea that is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible about loving our neighbors as yourself and how that applied to so many of these questions. When we imagined the kind of community we wanted to live in we all listed one words that described that perfect community. Contribution, love, cohesive, and equality were just some of the words we used to express our perfect community.

Although we all had similar answers for a majority of the questions because we all shared similar religious beliefs, we also have a variety of backgrounds and childhood experiences, that helped create a lot of differences in our answers. When we discussed the question on whether or not we ate dinner around a table with our families growing up the answers varied widely. As I mentioned earlier, I did not have a kitchen table to even do this assignment at and Krystal so graciously allowed me to use hers. Growing up my family had a kitchen table but it’s primary function was just a place to lay our keys, jackets, and bags when we got home. So growing up I never ate dinner around a kitchen table on an everyday basis and neither did Faith. Jackson didn’t either growing up, but his family does now. Andrea explained that sometimes her family does but not every single day. On the other hand, Krystal always ate dinner around the kitchen table and continues that tradition with her own family now. We’re always taught that communication is a very important part of any relationship and Krystal further explained how critical it is not only in relationships or friendships, but also with families. I never even imagined what I was missing out on by not eating dinner around a table with my family growing up until I’m around other families who do practice that habit every day. They all share stories about their day or new things that they learned or random thoughts that pop into their head. I never envied people for having a piece of furniture in their house, but the older I get the more I do.

This dinner really opened my eyes to how the smallest differences in people can make such a huge impact on their futures, how they view the world, and how they develop their own opinions on different things. The topics themselves taught me that a lot of people would agree that coming together as one body is a crucial part of being a citizen and forming a community. Throughout American history we’ve struggled with the idea of diversity and accepting everyone regardless of differences, but that diversity that some fear, is what makes our country a community of people. Not only did our actual conversation teach me a lot, but the act of sitting around a table being forced to talk to one another and have an open discussion about what we did that day, answering questions from a sheet of paper, and everything in between showed me a lot. I did not realize that such a simple act like sitting at a table and eating could be such a relieving experience.

Throughout this semester we’ve discussed so many different wicked problems and even though none of them have a right or wrong approach to addressing them, the most important thing is that we talk about them in a respectful way. By talking about different things, we get a variety of opinions that we could not have thought on our own. When we read the “Introduction to Wicked Problems” one of the characteristics to describe a wicked problem is that people have to be willing to change their mindset. People have to start being open to hearing different viewpoints to initiate a change in their mindset. This assignment taught me that everyone has ideas that they wouldn’t normally share unless they were asked. We can’t work towards a solution for these wicked problems unless we bring them up and are willing to ask people for their thoughts on it. I feel that this assignment answered all of our central questions in some way or another. We can live better together by being more accepting of each other regardless of our differences and by not being afraid to talk about subjects that make people uncomfortable. People are afraid to talk about things like gun control or racism because they don’t want to offend anyone or they don’t know how someone will react their opinion, but we won’t see any change use we’re willing to start talking about it. We can solve problems by talking about them, coming to some sort of compromise, and implementing change. This idea of talking to reach a “solution” was discussed heavily in Martin Carcasson’s “Tackling Wicked Problems Through Deliberative Engagement” where he mentions that people have to get through “the groan zone.” A lot of different opinions coming from a lot of different voices can be difficult to handle and take into consideration. However, we have to start somewhere and work from there. Knowing what a wicked problem is and the characteristics used to describe it is a good starting point. Everyone that is addressing wicked problems has a common goal: reaching a mutual solution. Remembering that when discussing anything is quite valuable when you come to the groan zone, but after the groan zone Carcasson bring up a good point that we can’t just talk forever. Some kind of action has to be taken. A mutual consensus has to be made based on the ideas that have been mentioned. At my dinner we obviously were not there to address a problem and come to an agreement, but it made me realize that we need more opportunities to sit and talk about different things in a respectful environment.

 

Kentucky Kitchen Table: Logan County

My name is Maddie, and my Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in Logan County, KY on Friday, April 13th. The dinner was hosted at my home, and my guests were Haley, Cori, Elizabeth, and Cody. Haley identifies as a moderate, gay, Christian, and half-Canadian. She is a full-time college student studying psychology. Cori is a Republican Christian from a farming family who loves animals and has a full-time job; she does not plan to attend college as she already has her dream job as a dog groomer in our hometown. This is my first time meeting Cori, and she is Haley’s cousin. Elizabeth is a feminist, Christian, conservative college student studying religion, and she wants to be a pastor. Cody is conservative, non-religious, and a high-school student who plans on entering the workforce when he graduates in May. I am a liberal feminist who identifies as agnostic and I am studying theatre as a full-time college student and working a part-time job. Haley and Cori both brought vegetables and dips, Elizabeth brought homemade cookies, Cody brought homemade chicken dip, and I made chicken and dumplings as the main meal. We all took our time discussing our beliefs and values, and how that affects our views of citizenship and our roles in society.

What does it mean to be a citizen? We all agree that citizenship is our responsibility to pay taxes and vote, but in addition to that, we had varying opinions on what else is required of us to be a citizen. According to Haley, a citizen is someone who cares about the country they live in, but that doesn’t mean they have to be overwhelmingly patriotic about it. She also believes citizenship is a willingness to be involved in our country, such as actively speaking out for our views and supporting those around us. Cori believes citizenship lies in connection. She says that we as citizens are all intertwined, and we must embrace the endless connections we have as individuals as being a citizen. She believes that shared experiences also make us citizens because we all find connection within national events and tragedies that we depend on others to get through. Elizabeth believes that being a citizen means you are and active participant in government and everyday life. She believes someone is a citizen when they are making an effort to pursue the “American dream”, which specifically for her means providing for families and trying to better yourself and your community. Cody believes that being a citizen just requires a person to live in the country. If you live most of your life in a single place, you are a citizen in said place. I believe citizenship is about bettering ourselves and our communities and upholding our moral standpoints to bring about change. I think we must be actively pushing to be better than we are the day before, and to do that we must hold fast to our values.

After first discussing ourselves and our ideas of citizenship, I believe every person at the dinner had a better understanding of who they were eating and conversing with. Citizenship is more than voting and being involved in the government, and that varies from person to person. This conversation opened our eyes to how different each of our values are. We sat around the table as friends, family members, and strangers, believing at the beginning we were not very diverse as white teenagers growing up in the same town, but our values were all so varied sometimes it surprised all of us. We discussed our most important social issues, and we could all agree on animal welfare and environmental problems, but the conversation did get a little tenser surrounding women’s and LGBTQ+ rights. One of the best moments of the dinner was at these moments, however. Because these issues were felt so strongly about, there was a lot of discussion on why every person viewed the issue in a different way. I found these conversations to very eye-opening to everyone involved, but especially myself because I often forget that the belief for equal rights is not universal, but those in opposition often have explanations and are willing to openly discuss their views while taking in the views of others. Everyone at the table held their own beliefs, but what might have otherwise been an intense argument was instead a civil deliberation on our values based on religion, gender, and politics.

The main recurring theme of our dinner was of connection. We discussed how connection has brought our country together while simultaneously tearing it apart through divisive ideals and subgroups. We talked about the wonders of technological advances, and Cori’s belief that our ability to connect with anyone, anywhere, at anytime is one of the single good things left in this country because we can reach out others, and we never have to feel alone. We talked about morals and how each of us believe in supporting others and helping those in need, drawing on connections to help ourselves and others survive and succeed. Each of us could agree that the best way to cross bridges is to do it with the help of others. A central idea of our class is to figure out how we live better together, and at the dinner table, it was clear that for us that the most effective way to do that would be through clear communication and meaningful connections with others, no matter how our views line up. There was some discourse about the best way to form those connections – such as when technology should be put away and “real” conversation should occur, and how we should address conflicting ideas like the ones we faced at dinner – but the consensus was that a society thrives when we work together to achieve better things.

The reading that kept standing out to me during this dinner conversation was “How We Talk Matters” by Keith Melville. The main point of that article was that public discourse matters and disagreement is important as long as we are respectful and working towards progress and not division. This assignment proved to me that citizenship is deliberation: we as citizens work to make progress, and deliberation is one of the most effective ways of doing so. At dinner, each person had their own morals that they held higher on a scale of importance. We explained ourselves, and at the end of the evening, we all took away something new. I was amazed at how people who I knew as outspoken or soft-spoken were all willing to share their opinions without fear because of the deliberative setting. We had a meaningful conversation about our role as citizens, our country, and our differences.  In “How We Talk Matters,” the author states that deliberation is occasionally seen as elitist, but as proven at our Kentucky Kitchen Table, deliberation is a strategy of connection and progress that can be used by just about everyone. Deliberation is the way we get from where we are to where we want to be. We do not live in a perfect world, but we do live in a hyperconnected one. We have the ability to reach out to those who disagree with us and understand them. We have the ability to discuss heavy topics with friends and with strangers, and it is possible to come out of those conversations feeling enlightened and willing to make compromises towards solutions to the world’s problems. The article says that we all benefit from deliberative conversation, and that’s exactly what happened at our kitchen table.

This experience has been very eye-opening for everyone involved. We learned a lot about people who we thought we knew well and those we don’t know at all. I learned that everyone can be involved in deliberative conversations, even those who seem more volatile and polarized in their views. Everyone at this table had strong opinions on one topic or another, but there was always some overlap in every person’s opinion. I was surprised by the intensity of the conversation at times, simply because the intensity didn’t mean a fight among guests, but a meaningful discussion that left everyone at the table with something to consider on the way home. We all agreed on connections being so important, and the deliberations and open conversations allowed each of us to have a better understanding of each other, and we created stronger connections between ourselves. The experience of having dinner around a table left me feeling like I could have an open and honest conversation with just about anyone, no matter how different our values were. We discussed some tough issues that were close to my heart, but after understanding that each of us involved at the dinner had as much in common as we did in difference, we would get to the other side of the conversation civilly and successfully. I was very proud to watch people who had little experience with deliberation be so open to the idea of having meaningful conversations about ourselves and the world we live in. It is so exciting to see the diversity in our area become uniting rather than polarizing, which is often how our country seems to be. I feel that even in local settings, we can solve smaller problems by sitting down and listening to one another with the intent of understanding. That is how we begin to live better together and make progress in our lives and communities.IMG_1898

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).

KKT in Alvaton, KY

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By Maria

I hosted my Kentucky Kitchen Table at my family’s home in Alvaton Kentucky. Alvaton is a small community about 10 miles out of Bowling Green. My home has been the epicenter of family gatherings for the past 9 years and because it is such a comforting place for a lot of people, I decided it was the best place to host a conversation over dinner. My Kentucky Kitchen table happened in our dining room ,instead of our actual kitchen because I needed to be able to sit the 9 people, I invited, around a single table.

The 9 people I invited came from a variety of age groups. The biggest age group consisted of 48-55 year olds. This group provided a perspective of living a majority of there life in a time before I was born. In this group were my parents (Tim and Toni), my Uncle Lloyd, and his girl friend Paula. Tim and Lloyd are brothers who love cars, love their children, and are loved by all animals. My father and uncle also have the unique experience of being raised by my fiery grandma. Toni ( my mother) is a daughter of a world war 2 refugee, a mortgage officer, and a creative, loving person. Paula is my uncle’s girlfriend, she works for better business bureau, and loves her daughters and grand children. The second age group was 29-33 year olds. This age group consisted of my cousin Micheal and his friend DP. My cousin Micheal is 33 years old, an internationally trained chef that currently works in construction. I didn’t know DP well , so when I asked how he liked to be described, he said to just put that he is from Mississippi. The third age group ranged from 16-21. This group included my boyfriend Joseph, my sister Hanna, and Julia, my sisters friend. Joseph is 21 years old, he was born in Arizona, and actively tries to identify with his Mexican heritage. Hanna is 16, loves her dogs, identifies as Asexual, is an insanely fast reader and is probably one of the smartest people I know. Julia is 16, identifies as Queer, speaks fluent German, is the daughter of an Egyptian immigrant, and a German immigrant.
Everyone brought food to this gathering, however I helped my mother prepare the main dish of the night. My mother and I made her mother’s recipe for Weiner Schnitzel and baked tomatoes as well as some vegetarian Schnitzel for me to enjoy. My Uncle Lloyd and Paula brought potato salad. My cousin Micheal brought a tomato and pepper salad. Julia made her mother’s recipe for Baklava. DP made sweet tea and Joseph brought juice.
Once everyone had taken at least one bite, explained the assignment to them. As well as told them not to say anything they didn’t the internet to know such as if they murdered someone in 1995. Then I preceded to ask the first question of what citizenship means to you. The first person to answer was DP and he said “Imprisonment”. I barely understood what he meant by that but luckily the other people at the table had more to say. For the most part people said something along the lines of being a citizen to them meant they had the freedom to be who they wanted and have the opinions and beliefs they wanted. I believe the most impactful thing said about citizenship came from my mother Toni. She explained how sacred and important United States citizenship had been in the creation of her life and why she loves this country despite its issues.

Toni believes she wouldn’t have been alive today if her mother and grandparents hadn’t been granted first entry to the United states then later citizenship. As Toni was telling the story of her mother’s escape from a fascist government to her path to citizenship in a new country, I noticed many parallels between her story and Exit West. For Example, in both stories loved ones had to be left behind in the dangerous country because they were either to old or scared to leave.Another parallel is that both my grandmother and the main characters in Exit West face xenophobia in the countries they found refugee in. I think that what I read in Exit West helped me to understand the struggle immigrants and refugee’s face, while the story of my own family’s experience as a refugees made this understanding so much more personal to me.

My mom’s comment about citizenship, started a discussion about immigration. For the most part almost everyone at the table was pro immigration expect for Paula. Paula believes that muslim immigrants are very dangerous and tried to conscience of it for a whole five minutes. I didn’t try to change the subject even though I heavily disagreed with what she was saying because I felt it was important to hear some one who has a different opinion out. However after Paula made a comment about how Muslims hated god , Hanna had enough and finally spoke up. Hanna gave Paula a education in the progression of the there monotheistic religions. This magically ended the conversation about immigration. However, it magically appeared again later with some other political opinions even when the questions asked had zero to do with politics. I learned a lesson of life that people are going to talk about what they want , even if it has nothing to do with the conversation at hand.

The question I asked next was as “What kind of person do you want to be?”. Interestingly enough some answered this question in way that could be applied to the three questions that frame our class.”How can people live better (or, at the least, less badly) together?
How can we solve problems? How can we have more of a say over our lives – and contribute to others having more of a say over their lives?” For example Micheal said that he just wishes he had more say over his life, so he could be more helpful and happy. Another example is that Paula and Toni both said they just want to help as many people as possible / be everyone’s mother. Actually both Toni and Paula’s career reflects this wish of theirs. Toni assists people in owning a home and even when they can’t get a mortgage she still helps them work towards making the changes necessary to receive one. Paula helps to protect people from bad or hurtful businesses. Julia and Joseph’s answer had less to do with the class’ three central questions and more to do with their current struggle with identity. Joseph described to us how he wishes he knew more about his Mexican father because he feels as fills part of his identity is missing. Julia just wants to be able to balance her multiple identities such as being Queer and a strict Roman Catholic or trying to balance the three cultures(American, Egyptian, German) that are part of her life. However this struggle with their identities fits into to one of the main themes of this class about how we view ourselves and others. Basically they were bringing real world experience of the Self part of the course to light to me.

I also asked the question “ Which social issue was closest to your heart?” Toni expressed that helping immigrants and refugees was closest to her heart. Paula expressed that she just wanted equality for everyone and help anyone no matter their differences. Hanna said at the moment mass shootings in schools, and our education system is the closest to her heart. Julia informed us about why LGBTQ+ rights are so important to her. This actually lead to an interesting moment when Julia explained to the two older age groups what each letter in the acronym meant because they had very little experience with the acronym. Then this led into me saying and realizing how important multi generational, and multi identity conversations are because people’s hearts are usually in the right place they just are not always educated in the current lingo to express their support or beliefs. Also during this discussion, I got this really great advice from Tim and Paula. Basically that even though ,I care about so many social issues, I can’t solve them all without burning myself out. This advice remains due of a class discussion we had about how to know when you have fulfilled your moral responsibility. I remembered in this class discussion that we agreed we should do as much as we can but not where it interferes with our own personal comfort. I believe that is what Tim and Paula’s advice is based in.

The final questions I asked were “Did you know your neighbors growing up and do you know your neighbors now?” I noticed a trend with this question. The oldest age group answered yes to both, whereas the other two age groups answered no to both. When prompted to explain their answer, the oldest group agreed that it was important to know your neighbor so you could have someone to depend on nearby. For things such as, sharing things like sugar and bobcats, having someone to watch or care for your house when your gone. The younger groups expressed a fear that their neighbors could be crazy murders and that is why they choose not to know there neighbors. I thought it was interesting the contrasting views between the generations . The fact that one group find a security is knowing their neighbor and the other felt more secure not knowing their neighbors. The most interesting trend I found was that every single person at the table believed that a sense of community is a very important aspect of humanity. This made me wonder how will my generation and younger form communal bounds if we are to scared to know our neighbors?

Even though my Kentucky kitchen table got a little loud, and everyone had differing opinions, nobody had any anger for anyone else at the table after the conversation was over. That to me was one of the most amazing thing , that a group of people could talk about such serious and deep topics without hurting each other. And I know this is an experience we frequently have in class , but experiencing it in a less controlled setting solidified my hope in community conversations. I will end this blog post with the last thing my uncle Lloyd said on Sunday: “The great thing about the United States, is that people are free to have different ways of being.”

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Different Viewpoints Across Generations

By Kelsie

My IMG_0273family had a late Easter dinner on April 14, 2018 which is when I chose to engage in my Kentucky Kitchen Table Project. This took place in Calvary, Kentucky which is the birthplace of both of my great grandparents. At the dinner (my table) was myself, my grandfather, Rickie, great grandmother, Patty, and my other great grandmother, Betty. I chose to have this discussion with people who were older in order to view different generations’ perceptions on citizenship, government, e.g. Both of my great grandmothers are in their early eighties and have lived in Marion County their entire lives, Patty describes herself as wiser due to being the oldest of ten siblings. Both come from agricultural families of middle-class income. Ricky, my grandfather is in his fifties and is more engaged in politics than my grandmothers. I started off this discussion by asking the first question to them “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” To which the conversation began to center around how America allows people to earn their status based on achievement and hard work, in many cases. Patty stated “I wish I had the opportunities your generation had, I always felt like I was obligated to stay around here and do exactly what all my family did before me.” In some cases, social class can hinder one’s ability to fulfill their dreams, but when bringing this up they all agreed that although college is expensive that it is much more accessible for today’s youth. I found this as an interesting topic because in our class we always talk about how we could live better together and I feel that most people coming to college and fulfilling their dreams have some interest in learning more about others on diverse college campuses. Furthermore, another topic of discussion relating to this question was that citizenship to them means that you should contribute to society and work hard at whatever contribution you make. My grandfather is a very hard-working farmer, which he takes a lot of pride in, and said that having that contribution to society makes him feel like he is a part of something, and gives him purpose rather than focusing on the monetary incentive. This statement motivated me to move into another point of discussion on what types of people they wanted to be, and although my great grandmothers are old in age they had some very refreshing answers. My grandmother, Betty, said that she wants to be more carefree and outspoken; Grandma Betty has always been the quieter of the two, but she claimed that talking to people that she doesn’t know is still something that she forces herself to do on occasion. I found this inspiring because if all of us would go out of our way to talk to strangers and get to know other people in society I feel that could be a small start to understanding and living better together as American citizens. Furthering from her answer, the main theme of their desires was to be a person who was hard-working, religious, and honest. In my opinion, I feel that these are all qualities that I strive for and are very respected in their generation as well as this generation. Also, since they brought up religion I introduced the question of whether religious beliefs shaped how they believed we should treat others. Since they are honest people they did admit that being raised within a period where racism was more prevalent that they were not proud of how they had viewed African Americans at some points in their life, but all three of them said that because of their deep belief in God and his creations that they never treated anyone as different. They also expressed that they consciously tried to be compassionate to others and their situations due to their religious beliefs. Therefore, I believe that religious beliefs do motivate some people to disregard biases they may have been exposed to, to accept people as equal and treat people with respect.

The next topic of discussion I focused on was the community-based conversation starter, such as “what kind of community do you live in?” and “what do you love most about living where you do?” My guests are a part of my extended family and all grew up and remain in a small, rural area that is about fifteen minutes from the small city that defines our community. My grandfather stated his excitement for this topic because he absolutely loves our small town, his main positive aspects are how personable people are in a small town. You know how they say in small towns everyone knows everyone, he loves running into someone he knows everywhere he goes. Another positive aspect he discussed was the convenience of not being too close to anyone, considering he lives on a large farm, but still feeling like “I could go next door to ask to borrow some sugar.” He expressed that the feeling of unity he feels in our community is by far his favorite part of our town. On the other hand, though I feel that most people in my hometown community are basically the same causing issues with no diversity and low exposure to different people and cultures. Also, my grandmother, Patty, said that she loved how safe the community was. This stems from the unified feeling when coming from a small town, but with less people who also all know each other, crimes seem to be more defining and shameful. My grandmother calls me often telling me that I should not walk alone and to carry maze with me everywhere I go which shows how paranoid she is about the dangers of being surrounded by more people considering that Bowling Green is a city, which commonly have higher crime. Therefore, small towns seem to be ideal in some aspects but also contain drawbacks when discussing exposure.

Branching off from this topic, this sense of togetherness in a small community like mine made them feel that they had an obligation to help others in the community. For example, a young boy lost his leg in a car accident and the community supported him by buying t-shirts to fund treatment, mentioning his story and praying for him throughout county churches, e.g. The obligation to help others is increased when the situation is more personable. Contrastingly, other than my grandfather, my grandmothers thought that the United States needed to fix our own problems rather than dealing with other countries issues, unless a state of emergency arises. My grandfather strongly disagreed though, which may be in part because he knows more about large issues in the world, and he combatted this with the fact that the United States is obviously one of the most privileged countries in the world and that we should use what we possess to help other countries and their citizens who are struggling through poverty, e.g. Therefore, their deliberation conveyed the problems within and outside of the United States that were close to their hearts.

Betty said “the social issue that is closest to my heart is all of the drugs these young people use that ruins their lives.” In our family, there is someone directly affected by drug addiction, therefore making this topic especially important to us. Once agreeing with my grandmother, I discussed our article “How to Stop the Deadliest Drug Overdose Crisis in American History” by German Lopez by introducing some of the solutions such as preventing wrongful prescription of opioids, making drug usage safer, and making treatment more accessible. They came to the consensus that some of these solutions paired together could potentially resolve the issue, but they seemed to see the addiction as more of a disciplinary fix. My grandfather strongly wanted stricter regulations on drug activity because he saw the options I offered to them as more enabling which we discussed in class, since they did not actually prevent drug usage he, most of all, thought they would not help as much as in theory they would. He believes that if there is more of a punishment enforced that there is less of an incentive to even start using these drugs. Although, I explained that the options of better access to treatment or making drug use safer as ways to save lives which both of my grandmothers felt was the most important thing to begin to address the problem. Our personal relationship really affected their viewpoints on the issue I believe because they knew that this addiction was not primarily a moral issue which is normally a large misconception of the public, as we discussed.

Through this experience I learned not only more about my family members but more about myself. I now recognize all the good things that stemmed from my unique background and community, along with why there may be more controversy and issues in Bowling Green rather than my hometown. This relates to what we have learned in class because through leaving that small town I have experienced so many different people with varying backgrounds and viewpoints which I believe will help me live better with others, solve problems, and have more of a say in my own life in the future. Furthermore, I learned how disciplined the older generation is, I feel that the newer generation is so much more accepting and open to deliberation, discussion of large issues than those generations who have very strict belief sets. For example, my grandfather directly putting the opioid epidemic in the hands of law enforcement because although my grandmothers saw that this was not a moral issue, he thought that it was punishable due to the moral decision to initially take opioids. This experience was very eye opening and helped me to relate to many issues that we have been discussing this semester.

Brenna’s KKT: Kitchen Table in The Capital

kkt

By Brenna

On Friday, April 13th, I traveled to my hometown Frankfort for my Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment. I had invited my mother’s group of close-knit work friends that I had only met a few times before. I brought my close friend Nathaniel with me so I did not have to make the drive alone. All together my house held nine people and two dogs. My mother insisted on cooking a southern comfort meal for all of us. She is experiencing empty nest syndrome and has missed cooking throughout the week. She fried chicken, cooked green beans, made cornbread, and baked macaroni and cheese. It was five-star meal compared to what I usually get at Fresh. Despite the bad juju surrounding the day, being Friday the 13th and all, the meal was a success.

My mother’s friends all work in some department of Kentucky’s state government. Therefore, our choice of background noise was the KET live-stream of the Kentucky Chambers during this crazy legislative session. Growing up in the state’s capital, this was a familiar scene in my household. My mother has worked for the state in various capacities. She is currently serving as one of three, also the only female, Public Service Commissioner. She is fiscally conservative, but she thinks “everyone should mind their own business about everyone else’s bedrooms and bodies.” I could not have said it better myself.

Eileen is an opinionated woman who has learned to love life. She works an office job but finds herself traveling across the country on a Harley during the summers with her husband. Karen is an eccentric friend that my mother has known for many years; they worked together under Fletcher. An avid UK fan and fellow political science student.  Aron is one of the only males accepted into this gang of women. Aron is a tremendously intelligent young man with an extremely analytical mind. He was able to work abroad for the government because he is fluent in Chinese. Kenya is actually a WKU Alum, and a very proud one at that. She is enthusiastic and lots of fun to be around. She has an adorable daughter that I’ll be babysitting this summer. Shiela was the only friend I had not met before. She is quieter than the others but just as opinionated and wise. Scott was Aron’s friend that tagged along. He was very timid, but this group of brash women can be intimidating. My friend Nathaniel is a fellow Hilltopper and took Honors 251 in the Fall 17 semester but his professor did not require a Kentucky Kitchen Table project. My dogs, Misty and Buttercup, were the life of the party and expressed their moderate political views by barking at certain legislators on the television.

Overall, the group was fiscally conservative. However, they have many different views on things such as environmental issues, social issues, and Kentucky issues. We spoke on the pension bill and budget that was making its way through the House that day. It was evident that these women realized the consequences of these bills – almost more so than the legislators themselves. Their jobs are directly affected by these bills which then affect how they can serve the Commonwealth. The group cared about their jobs and had a passion for serving the people of the Commonwealth in whatever capacity they held.

The only question I was able to ask before the work gossip started was the required question: Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?

Eileen grew up in a military family so she believed that service was important to citizenship. Not necessarily military service, but public service or even just community service. She believed that this was an important aspect to improve one’s community as well. This received a few nods of agreement from the group. Shiela chimed in that simply participating was important. Voting, for example, is not just picking a name on a ballot. Actively participating in an election is following the cycle and learning of the candidates to choose the one that most aligns with your views. As a group, we decided this was an extremely plausible aspect of citizenship that everyone can do. Social media has made news easily accessible for all. While this may spread “fake news” it keeps people aware of the current political climate. Karen wanted to add that one does not need to be extremely passionate about politics to be an active participant. Emphasizing that although we as a group enjoy watching the KET live stream and C-SPAN, being a good citizen does not require you to carry a pocket constitution and dream of internships in DC. We are passionate about these things, but that does not make us better citizens than those who do not. My mother then chimes in from the kitchen “Also, don’t be stupid!” She uses that as a basic rule of thumb for most aspects of life. From here the conversation steered towards anecdotes about kids and work gossip. Another piece advice I learned, from daredevil Eileen of course, was “If you’re gonna sin, sin hard.”

Overall, the dinner was extremely enjoyable. These women and Aron have a dynamic extremely similar to that of my college friends. They truly enjoy each other’s company and it was great to learn faces and personalities of the people my mom spends the most time with.  They were also knowledgeable and wise. Through their years they have learned many aspects of citizenship that I, at just 19, am ignorant of. Citizenship can be stripped to simply doing your responsibilities: follow laws, pay taxes, vote a few times a year. However, citizenship requires participation. Active participation. This does not mean everyone must hold public office, but everyone should know who serves in a public office. Simply being aware of your legislators is a great start to becoming a good citizen.

One of the central questions of this course is: How can we have more of a say over our lives – and contribute to others having more of a say over their lives? I believe this starts with actively participating in elections. Being knowledgeable of the candidates and throwing your support behind one can make the difference. If you support a candidate it is possible that your friends will as well and this can ignite change into today’s government by placing new faces in old seats. The group agreed that having a voice starts with a whisper but can soon become a yell. At first, it may seem like the effort is making no difference but soon, one can impact many lives. My Kentucky Kitchen Table was full of great people, great food, and even better advice.