Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Kelsin

The meal took place in my hometown, Shepherdsville, Kentucky, which is located about 20 minutes south of Louisville. Right on the outskirts of the biggest city in Kentucky, the similarities mostly end after proximity is accounted for. Louisville is a hub of racial, ethnical, political, and ideological diversity, while Shepherdsville is not. To put everything in perspective, it made headlines in our local paper when my old high school hired its first non-white faculty member during my sophomore year. Even when my brother and sister went to school there less than 10 years ago, you could count the number of non-white students on one hand, even though our school had over 1,200 students. However, progress has been made. My dad was a band teacher at our local middle school up for 30 years until he retired two years ago. When he first started working there, his students would bring in pictures of their dads in KKK uniforms and hand him pamphlets inviting him to join. Now, the most offensive behavior I have witnessed was a parade of 20 or so trucks sporting confederate flags parked in front of our school and driving around Shepherdsville for a week or so and the occasional racist comment. I hate that I reference these actions in such a dismissive way when others are deeply offended by these actions, but I like to think that they stem from ignorance, not true hatred. It’s difficult discussing these matters and hard to find the balance between optimism of the improvements that have been made and the reality that every act of racism is horrible. I say all of this to give the setting for this dinner, and describe what me, my brother, and sister grew up around.

For this dinner, my brother, Ben insisted on cooking everything for the simple reason that he loves to cook. While he usually likes to try making some fancy new dish, he decided to be more reserved and make something he expected everyone would like- Mexican. At the dinner was my mother Angie, my father Kirby, my aunt Lois, my uncle Bob, my sister Lauren, my brother Ben, a friend of my brother named Tess, and me, Kelsin. Angie and Kirby are both devout Christians who aren’t very political, but happen to identify as Republicans for social reasons. While they both are ideologically on the same page today, they grew up with different backgrounds. Kirby grew up in a part of Louisville called the Highlands in a liberal, Catholic household along with 6 other kids. He ended up going to EKU where he met Angie and then became a middle school band teacher, which he just retired from. Angie grew up in Eastern Kentucky living a seemingly simpler life with what could be called religiously extreme parents that didn’t allow the celebration of any holidays or for her to cut her hair. She grew up to become a computer programmer and then substitute teacher after having kids. Lois grew up with the exact same background since they are sisters only separated by a year of age, however she has diverged even further from her parent’s beliefs than my mother has. She now attends what she calls a progressive church and leans further left than Angie. She became a preschool teacher and also just retired from that. Her husband, Bob, grew up in Hopkinsville, considers himself to be a libertarian, an atheist, and works in management at Humana. Lauren is recently married, works as a high school German teacher in Hardin county even though she lives in Louisville. She is very conservative and identifies as republican. Ben on the other hand is harder to define. He had always identified as republican, however after the past election he said he was going to switch to democrat, however, I am unsure if he ever did. He works at a public relations company in Louisville, but would rather be off writing short stories. I never got to meat Tess until he brought her to this dinner but she is also from Louisville, attended U of L for an art degree, currently works at Heine brothers, makes leather bound books on the side, and is a vocal feminist. This dinner was filled with diversity in background, age, and ideology which led to a very good discussion.

After a few months of eating fast food almost daily, I really appreciated being home, having a home cooked meal, and getting to talk with people from my hometown. When starting our conversation, I tried really hard to start the conversation off well and set the tone because I didn’t want to make these people feel like it was some sort of interview. To do this I described to them the purpose of the class by going through our three central questions and talking about the bridge that takes us from where we are to where we want to be. I also mentioned some of our readings that emphasized the importance of deliberation and talking through issues so that they could better understand the purpose of the class and assignment.

When inviting people to come eat dinner and help me with a class project it always came out that I was going to ask what citizenship meant to them, so everyone was very prepared for this which meant I got a lot of answers. Angie was quick to point out that citizenship unfortunately does not have as significant of a meaning as it should because there are so many people taking advantage of our country and getting the perks of citizenship without taking on any responsibility or costs that come along with it. While many didn’t agree with the severity of this issue they agreed with the structure of there being benefits and costs, but some saw costs more in the light of what a person is able to give back. Bob felt like a civilly productive member of society since he had just finished serving jury duty the week before, but felt that he gave even more than that back. He really embraced the idea that you get just as much out of citizenship as you put in because his citizenship allows him to benefit by having the security clearance he does which then allows him to help every US citizen by assisting the military in their effort to defend us. Lois however, felt that service was the key to citizenship: doing as much good for others as you can. Ben, who has traveled across four different continents, attended GSA and GSP, and loves to debate, questioned her on this though. If you measure how good of a citizen you are by your service, how do you know if your service is good. Ben graduated with a double major in Chemistry and Spanish and seriously considered joining the Peace Corps until he questioned if his motives were to make himself feel good about himself or if it was truly to help others and if this was even actually helping these people. An all too giddy me jumped at the opportunity to share how perfectly this aligned with a whole week of our readings in class. This is almost the exact same message that Illich presents in, “To Hell With Good Intentions,” when he talks about the dangers of jumping in to help solve a problem without fully considering the potential consequences and repercussions that could come about from these actions.

ess then combatted this by arguing that following this train of thought is what is making our government so stagnant and doesn’t allow it to actually solve problems and what makes our democracy ineffective. Bob jumped on the bandwagon to bash our democracy’s ineffectiveness but justified it by having two sides that just don’t listen to the other. He said that people inherit their belief systems from their parents and will do anything in their power to justify what they think is true. This just proves what we learned in class as the importance of critical thinking as well as deliberation, however, it also relates very closely to the reading, “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail.” In this reading the author talked about how people are guided mostly by their emotions, but mostly use their logical side to try and justify their intuitions. This has the ability to lead to a political disconnect like Bob was saying because it proves the difficulty for most people to be persuaded through facts and logic which then makes having political conversations more difficult to have and then polarizes our country. Ben then disagreed with the thought that democracy wasn’t working and thought that having two sides is good. He said that having the ability to express your own opinion is exactly what makes our nation great. What he would find alarming is if everyone felt the same way about something and the implications it would imply.

This last comment is what stuck with me most from the entire discussion because whenever I think about disputes and disagreements I automatically correlate this discomfort with a lack of progress. I never really considered the importance of divergent thinking which a reading said was the key first step in starting to solve a problem. This entire dinner gave me a unique opportunity to see people with vastly different opinions and backgrounds come together and discuss very big ideas civilly and come to agreements. In this assignment I learned everyone has a unique perspective and that I want to hear it.

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A Night of Reflection

By Ashley

My dinner went a little differently than a typical Kentucky Kitchen Table due to some difficulties in making plans and plans being cancelled so I used my families Thanksgiving dinner for my conversation. Because my mom’s side of the family is so large, we aren’t able to all fit around one table so throughout our Thanksgiving meal I table hopped to ask everyone for their thoughts on some of the discussion questions. The meal took place at my house in the fairly small town of Crestwood, KY which is about 20 minutes from downtown Louisville, however, those in attendance were not all from our town. Kent, my mom’s brother, and Pru, Kent’s wife, are also from Crestwood but they live in a more remote, quiet part of town than we do. Kent was raised in Louisville and is now a pipe fitter and a preacher at his and Pru’s small church. Pru was a rock and roll disk jockey for nearly 30 years till she retired. She now works in the Papa John’s international headquarters located in Louisville in marketing. They are married with one son named Kenny who was also at the dinner. Kenny is currently living in Florence, KY near Cincinnati working as a photographer at a studio. Laura, my mom’s sister, is from Richmond, KY along with her two children Sue and Jay, and Sue’s husband Anthony and their kids Molly and Brock who were also all in attendance. Laura is now retired and spends most her time with her grandkids. Sue is an elementary school teacher, Anthony is a police officer and apart of the armed forces, and Jay is an auto mechanic. My mom’s sister Lisa was also there. She lives in Louisville and works with an insurance company. She shares a house with my Grandma Jean, who was also at dinner, to help her in her old age. My grandma never had a job since her and my grandpa, who has passed away, had 5 children which was a lot to take care of. My mom, dad, and sister were also there. My mom Stacy is flight attendant for Delta and has been flying with them for over 30 years. My dad John works with Humana in their offices in downtown Louisville in the IT department. My parents have been happily married for 29 years now. My sister Rachel is four years older than I am and is going to school at the University of Louisville for English.

To start the conversation with everyone I got around to talking with, I would ask the required question; “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following the laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Almost everyone had the same initial response that was something along the lines of ‘Wow that’s a though question!’ However, after a little goading, I would get an answer out of them and most enjoyed talking about it. I talked to Kent, Kenny, and John all together and Kent and John were thinking similarly in that citizenship meant being apart of a community and helping your neighbors. In addition, they brought up the other benefits we have such as our many freedoms and our ability to run for office, which was a sentiment also shared by Pru. Kenny agreed with those things, but pulled from different life experiences as he is about 30 years younger. To Kenny it meant that so long as he was paying his taxes and following the laws, he had as much value as a person and the ability to use his life however he so wanted to. I found these responses very interesting because of the generational difference and their different life experiences. Neither Kent or John had the perfect life, but they both grew up as your typical boy. They enjoyed playing and watching sports and had good friendships in high school and college. Kenny on the other hand, has been through some tough times. In high school he started having homosexual feelings and he didn’t know what do because he wasn’t sure how his parents would respond as his dad was a preacher. One thing led to another and instead of telling his parents this, he turned to drugs and alcohol and by college, was doing these things quite regularly. He finally got the help he needed and over the last several years has been figuring out who he is as a person, but these experiences have made him grateful for the freedoms he has because he said in other countries he may have been persecuted for living this lifestyle. Instead he’s be able to take his time figuring out who he is and what he wants to do which is what he felt like citizenship meant to him. Sue and Anthony said that to them, citizenship was about being a part of something bigger themselves and being able to come together in times of need, which they really understand because of Anthony’s time in the service. Rachel felt that citizenship was apart of our identity. It is something that has been apart of shaping many different parts of us from obvious ways such as our language and the way we dress to how we view the world and our morals and values. Pru also talked about citizenship shaping how we view the world some. She told us about how working in the international headquarters she was led to many people from other countries, as well as when she was a disk jockey she would work with many artists who were not from America. In these interactions, she learned that so many of them view our citizenship in much higher regard than we do and that they would even know the privileges we have better than we do. This made her realize how many things we take for granted because we live in this generally calm, peaceful place where we don’t feel like we have to worry about these privileges being taken from us because we have citizenship.

From there, I would normally look at the list of questions and ask them one or two more depending on where our conversation about the first question had gone. For example, with John and Kent since we had been talking about benefits of being a citizen, I asked what they thought the best thing about the world was right now which they answered with things such as the availability of information, medicine, and healthcare. It was interesting though because they struggled with answering this question and kept going back to negative things and I would have to remind them I asked about the best things in the world not the worst. It struck me that so often this is how society works and it rubs off on us personally. The news and other media outlets always focus on the bad things in the world, senators write legislation to try and keep making things better, technology companies keep coming out with new and improved products, people always try to make more and more money because what we feel like what we have is never enough. The more society does this, the more I see people in my life changing to this negative outlook on everything, myself included. This is one downfall of citizenship. We are so interconnected that we sometimes struggle to be our own person and not simply become the person society has deemed as ideal. This interconnection can also be a great thing though. When I asked Sue and Anthony what type of community they want to live in, they said a smaller one where the saying “it takes a village to raise a kid,” was reality. One where they would feel safe sending their kids outside to play and where people are helpful. This got me to thinking about my childhood and how many people I have been impacted by, and all the little parts of people that I have adopted as a part of me that have shaped me to be the person I am today. Even now, I realized, I am still growing and changing and being affected by the people who now fill my life.

Overall, this experience was really awesome, and I got to do a lot of reflecting on my own life and learn more about my family and talk to them in way I haven’t before. The central idea of our class I can best relate my personal Kentucky Kitchen Table to is how we can have more say over our lives. I feel like for everyone that I talked to, the questions I asked required a lot of reflection which is a great way to have more say over your life. When you are able to recognize the good things in your life, you can become more grateful and a more joyful person and have a more positive outlook on life. When you are able to recognize the bag things in your life, you can start working on either fixing those bad things or removing them from your life. One reading this related to is the article by Jennifer Roberts, “The Power of Patience: Teaching Students the Value of Deceleration and Immersive Attention.” Reflection requires a lot of patience. It is not always the most fun thing to sit there and look back at our lives when we feel like there are so many things we need to be doing or could be doing to keep moving forward. However, we have to keep in mind that history contains many great lessons that we can learn from to move forward. So as Roberts discussed, by taking time to sit and observe something for a long period of time, the more you will learn and see in that thing. Even during my Kentucky Kitchen Table, the longer I would talk to someone and pry answers out of them, the deeper and more reflective they were able to get.

 

A Kentucky Kitchen Table to Be Thankful For

By: Natalie

The Kentucky Kitchen Table was conducted in St. Louis, Missouri at my family’s Thanksgiving party. Since the Table took place over the holidays, the participants were family. Seven people, including myself, were generous enough to eat their turkey while talking about their views of the world, themselves as citizens, and the social issues that we as Americans and global citizens face. Those at the table were my great aunt, my sister, two of my aunts, my mom, and my second cousin. My great aunt, Crazy Aunt Joyce, is 64, unmarried with no children, and works for American Optometric Association, and, as her name entails, she is the life of the party. My sister, Emilie, is 21, a student at Missouri State University, a Global Studies major with a minor in Spanish and Geo-tourism, and an avid world traveler. My Aunt Teri just turned 50, married into our family, mother of three boys who are all in college, works as a kindergarten teacher, and is a phenomenal baker. My Aunt Kristi is in her late forties, married into the family, is mother to a daughter and son both in college, works as an administrator in a daycare, and loves to visit her lake house. My mom, Ann-Marie, is in her late forties, is mother to two girls who are both in college, has been a stay-at-home mom since her kids were born, and loves to craft and camp. My second cousin, Emily, is an 8-year-old who loves to dance, but happily ate her turkey and listened to the conversation.

During the Kentucky Kitchen Table, we discussed several different questions and how they related to our lives. First, I asked, beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? Responses included carrying on traditions, having the freedom of speech, defending freedom, protecting those who don’t have freedom. Emilie said, “being a citizen is being apart of the community of Americans as a whole”. She went on to talk about all of the communities you are involved in, like your school, church, work, and neighborhood. Emilie described that even though we are connected and involved in the same or similar communities, we are all completely different at the same time. Our different religions, ethnicities, educational background, upbringings, and others make us all unique, but builds on to our communities as a whole. After this was said, the group related their experiences to being a citizen. Kristi spoke about how women have more rights and freedoms in America than most other countries. As a woman and as a society we should work towards granting those rights towards all women across the globe.

When I asked the group what social issue was closest to their heart, and why, their answers related closely to their professions or to their political beliefs. Kristi, a former preschool teacher and current preschool administrator said that early education for children was important to her. As a country we do well as educating our children at a young age, but she says that we could do better. Kristi advocates for getting kids into social setting and beginning their education at a young age. Ann-Marie spoke about due process and why it is vital to the country. This fundamental right protects our government from locking up anyone for any reason. Through this building block of our country, you can’t do what you want, but other people can’t do what they want to you.

Furthermore, the question revolving how their spiritual identity relates to how they view and treat other people sparked a good conversation. Joyce, Emilie, Teri, and Ann-Marie were all born into and continue to practice Catholicism. Kristi is, a not practicing, Christian, but has similar fundamentals as those at the table. The table agreed that their faith does relate to the how they view other people. Joyce brought up the how she was taught the Catholic Golden Rule to treat one another as you would want to be treated. She says this has taught her to be understanding, compassionate, forgiving, and loving towards other people. Ann-Marie brought up that the Constitution and Bill of Rights fundamentally relates to the Ten Commandments in terms of right and wrong. Teri thought that she has learned and taught to be accepting of others because we she was taught that only God is perfect. We are mere humans who cannot judge the faults and the actions of imperfect people. Although, she emphasized that this does not give people a “free pass” to act how they please. It simply explains why people make mistakes. Also, Emilie says that the values she has learned through her faith, such as compassion and empathy, has driven her to volunteer for her community throughout her life. She says that she has been blessed with so much in her life and that she has also been taught to give back to other through material needs and since she is an able-bodied individual. Therefore, their faith has shaped how they see other around them.
Additionally, I asked if anyone ever had a conversation with someone from a different background than them. The immediate response of everyone at the table was, “of course”. Ann-Marie and Emilie have meet people of different backgrounds while traveling and living abroad. Emilie said that during one of her many trips abroad she lived with a host family for a semester. She not only spoke to the family about their culture, daily life, and heritage, but she was able to experience it first-hand. Teri and Kristi meet individuals of different backgrounds through their respective jobs. Ann-Marie spoke of how her family serves at the soup once a month for the past three years. There she has meet people of different background than herself. People without loving parents, people who were unsure of where their next meal came from, and various other people. After detailing her various encounters, she said that the people weren’t that fundamentally different than herself. She has bonded over “knock knock” jokes, soccer, and Christmas presents; things many people can relate to.

Through this Kentucky Kitchen Table I learned about that the older members had different upbringings and community relations than I do. For example, family dinners were mandatory each night for my great aunt and almost always took place at my aunts’ and mom’s homes. When I was living at home my family made it a priority to have family dinners. However, with each of our busy schedules, including practices, meetings, and my dad’s traveling for work, our family dinners would happen about 4 times per week. Also, growing up they knew their neighbors very well. Ann-Marie would play with the neighborhood kids all the time when she was younger. She and her brothers would meet up with the other kids to play every sport imaginable in the summer and build long snow forts in the winter. As adults, Kristi and Teri, know their neighbors very well. They have been friends with many of them since they first moved into the neighborhood. Everyone agreed that the only neighbors they didn’t know were the ones that didn’t come out of their house very often. This shows a difference within the structures of our families. Therefore, there seemed to be a change within the participants families. Even though they grew up with structured family meals, as matriarchs, they encouraged, but did not require their families to have meals together every night. While the change isn’t necessarily negative, the priorities of the family changed from one generation to another.

Lastly, the aforementioned conversations greatly relate to the themes of this class, readings, and deliberations. First, the conversation reflecting on what it means to be a citizen relates to the central course question, how do we live well together? Those at the table spoke about how as citizens we must defend our rights and our freedoms. Not only do we have to defend our own rights, but those of others. We can live better, together, if everyone is treated equally and granted to the same basic freedoms. As discussed, each person is not just a citizen within their own community, but they are a global citizen. They have similar responsibilities as a citizen of the world as they do a citizen of their community or nation. For this reason, Kristi spoke about defending the rights of women in other countries and creating a greater equality within our own country. Additionally, our discussion about viewing the world according to our faith relates to Jonathan Haidt’s chapter, “The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail” in The Righteous Mind. Haidt writes about each person’s rider and elephant. The elephant, the dominant side, represents emotion and the rider represents the logical thinking. Sometimes, when individuals make decisions based on their faith they let the elephant make the initial decision and rider justifies it. Logistically, a person cannot be forced to treat others with respect and dignity. However, our elephant tells us to accept the teachings of a religion because it is the right thing to do. Our rider justifies this choice by saying we want to be treated with these qualities, and we can’t expect it from others unless we practice the same things. Therefore, the conversations with those at the Kentucky Kitchen Table validate the themes of this course through the opinions and discussion of others.IMG_6468

Kentucky Kitchen Table: Change is a Good Thing

KKTBy Sara

The sound of laughter and chatter filled the warm air outside as guests began to arrive. Attention was focused around my two-year-old niece as she implored the guests to play ball with her while they were waiting. I hosted my Kentucky Kitchen Table at my home in Barren County, Kentucky. Barren County, which neighbors Warren County, is a rural area consisting mainly of farmland. As of 2015, only 43,570 people called Barren County home. Those guests who have decided to wait outside in the warm October air admire the rolling hills and roaming cattle surrounding the home. They chatted and caught up and for some, spoke to one another for the very first time. Inside the house, the smells of pot roast, fresh bread, vegetables, and warm cake mingled in the air. The table was set for ten, with filled glasses of sweet tea and lemonade already claiming spots for each guest. I went outside and announced that the meal was ready, and my guests began to make their way inside.

Bobby Joe, a seventy-year-old farmer from Green County, Kentucky and his wife, Donna, a fifty-four-year-old factory worker from Somerset, both smile as they talk with everyone else at the table. Bobby Joe grew up incredibly poor in a small community in Hart County, Kentucky and received no more than an eighth-grade education. He married young and had three children with his first wife, making an honest and hard-earned living as a farmer growing tobacco, raising cattle, chickens, mules, and mares, and repairing farm machinery for others in the community. His first wife, Glenda, worked in the local hospital, Jane Todd, for practically her entire life until she passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Bobby Joe remarried years later, marrying Donna, who worked in the same hospital and was friends with Glenda. Donna was a single mother who raised her son while working to provide for them. These two individuals have very different backgrounds that offer two unique perspectives at our table.

Eva Mae, Bobby Joe’s sister and a recently widowed eighty-one-year-old, lives in Hart County, Kentucky with three of her grandkids. She has dealt with her children’s drug usage and many medical hardships that both she and her husband endured in their thirty-six years of marriage.

Drew, a thirty-four-year-old recovered, (but always recovering, he emphasized), alcoholic and father to a fifteen-year-old son offers a unique perspective at the table. Drew speaks from a place of someone who has hit rock bottom and bounced back. While he expresses regret over these wasted years of his life, he also expresses appreciation for the new outlook on life that recovering from this situation gave him.

Andrea, the twenty-five-year-old newlywed wife of Drew and newly named step mother to his son, also expresses a lot of her outlook on life as being influenced by her new husband. She grew up in a lower-middle class family that was never hungry but didn’t have much more than they needed. Growing up, she struggled with wanting what everyone else had but also feeling privileged to have what she did. She worked minimum wage jobs throughout high school. After graduating, and since, Andrea has worked a factory job. Jacob, the also twenty-five-year-old twin of Andrea, also sat at the table. Growing up in the same situation, he joined the National Guard straight out of high school. He underwent basic combat training at Fort Benning, Georgia and advanced individual training at Fort Lee, Virginia. Returning home after AIT graduation, he went to work in a factory while still attending monthly drill trainings for the military.

These drill trainings were stationed in Central City, Kentucky, where Jacob met his newlywed wife Kylie. He and Kylie share a two-year-old daughter that they have raised in Barren County, Kentucky. Kylie grew up in a home with a mother who abused various substances and created dangerous situations for she and her siblings. This placed a strain on her relationship with her family that she continues to battle with today. In her teenage years, Kylie struggled with accepting herself and admitting to her family that she was bisexual but eventually found the courage to feel comfortable with herself. She also joined the National Guard directly out of high school, effectively removing herself from the situation she had felt so stuck in. She now works at the local hospital and focuses her attention on being the best mother that she can.

Tristan, a nineteen-year-old Mexican-American, sits awkwardly at the table as he is unfamiliar with the majority of people he is sitting with. Tristan was raised in a Mennonite community until he reached the end of their educational system, that does not extend past eighth-grade. He works with his father at their family owned construction business and on their family owned farm in a small community called Fountain Run, Kentucky. He and his sisters help their father tend to their unique herd of cattle, horses, donkeys, and zebras. To help him feel more comfortable during the meal, Tristan’s girlfriend Leah came along with him. Leah is an eighteen-year-old student of Southern Kentucky Community and Technical College. Leah grew up in a rather affluent household in Barren County with her married parents and two brothers. She leans toward the Democratic side of politics, a contrast from many others at the table.

I, Sara, an eighteen-year-old first-generation college student, sat at the table and absorbed every word said by my guests. I recognized that every single person at this table had a different story and had lived their life in a way that I would never be able to fully understand. In the moment I took a moment to appreciate the way that this assignment brought me closer to some of my family members, a friend, and a new friend that I had the privilege to meet that day.

I had decided that to make the most of the meal, I wanted to cook everything by myself. I prepared a meal made of many homemade Southern comfort foods, something that was sure to go over well with all of my guests. Beginning the meal, I allowed everyone to fill their plates and talk amongst themselves before I initiated the most important part of the project. I asked the one required question but requested that my guests didn’t answer until I asked it again at the end of the meal. Instead, I prompted them with the question: “What kind of person do you want to be?”

It was silent for a few moments, as could be expected. I waited and allowed my guests to think it over rather than trying to break the silence with another question. After a few awkward moments, Drew decided that he would like to be a person that others could depend on and someone that is never known to speak negatively of other people. Eva Mae agreed and added that the best thing she could strive to be is someone known to love other people, no matter their situation. The conversation continued as Jacob assured Eva Mae that she was exactly that kind of person and thanked her for the lessons that she had taught to him and his new wife.

As the discussion on that question died down, I moved to ask if what my guests enjoy most about where they live. Everyone in attendance lived in rather small communities but Leah had experienced the lifestyles of bigger cities. While practically all of the others talked about enjoying that they had room for their children to play outside their home and were never far from family, Leah expressed appreciation for the safety and the true sense of community that a small town provides.

I continued asking other questions, not only the ones offered on the handout but also ones that came to mind while I heard my guests reminisce and reflect on their lives. The discussion went smoothly and by the end, Tristan and Leah both felt so incredibly comfortable with these people who just an hour ago had been complete strangers. After getting a sense of where my guests stood on certain issues, I decided that I would soon wrap up the conversation. I arose and offered dessert and reminded everyone of the question that I would soon be asking again. I had to repeat myself as my voice was drowned out by the chatter and laughter just a few feet away. When everything settled down, I asked the question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”

Kylie was the first to answer, sharing that to her citizenship was a sense of belonging—a sense of true belonging—and what led her to enlist in the National Guard. Jacob agreed, adding that citizenship took an entirely new meaning to him when he joined the military. Tristan, who asked that I mention again his Mexican-American decent, said that to him, citizenship is not something that you learn but something that you feel. To him, citizenship is a feeling of safety and assurance in life. We all nodded in agreeance and began to stack our plates and get up. Right before everyone left the table, Bobby Joe chimed in and said, “Citizenship is everything.”

Reflecting on the meal, it is made clear in my mind that this project relates heavily to one of our classes’ central questions: “How do we live well together?” It was obvious that everyone at the table wanted nothing more than everyone to accept one another and who they were, no matter how they lived their life. It is not surprising that current politics came into the discussion but every single person at the table agreed that our political climate and how we discuss politics are entirely wrong. It was mentioned that it was extremely difficult to have a political conversation without someone or a group of people being attacked for their views. When this was said, not only did I remember the importance of guided deliberation, but the imagery of the rider and the elephant immediately came to my mind. In our society, everyone wants to defend their side of the idea without even trying to understand where their “opponent” is coming from.

During this project, not only did I get to learn many things about people who I thought I knew completely, but I also got to learn that what most people really want is a genuine world peace. Most members of our society, or at least the ones that sat around me at my Kentucky Kitchen Table, are tired of the way things are. The world needs to change, and discussion is the first step.

Buffalo Kentucky Kitchen Table

table

By Virginia

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in the town of Buffalo, KY. A small town outside of a small town, Hodgenville. My attendees included:

  • Kim- A mother of 5 boys, she is currently going back to school. She insisted that she cook all the food, but allowed us to set the table.
  • Rob- A disabled veteran, he is also currently going back to school.
  • Cameron- A freshman in the nursing program at Western Kentucky University. He is Virginia’s boyfriend, he’s really cool.
  • Virginia- That’s me, I’m a Spanish major at Western Kentucky University.
  • Jacob- A senior at LaRue County High School, he is a wrestler. Virginia and Jacob were in marching band together for 2 years.
  • Tristan- A 6-year-old, he’s in second grade
  • Alex- An 8-year-old, he’s in 4th grade at
  • Khyce- He is 15 years old, and a sophomore at LaRue County High School. He recently moved to Kentucky from Florida.

We went through the question list, and I’m going to retrace the steps of the conversation through these questions. They helped to structure the dinner, and to keep conversation moving. This first question was, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Kim responded with, “It means you belong somewhere, you have a group of people you are connected with. It comes with the freedom to be you.”

This question was the only question to get an answer out of the kids, “What do you think are the best things about our world today? Tristan replied, “Bacon pizza… God and Jesus… and my family!” Alex boldly stated, “Life itself.” Which is pretty deep, coming from an 8-year-old.

A question that I already knew the answer to was then put on the table, “What is the thing you love most about living where you do?” Rob chuckled and let out a single word, “Privacy.” This family does live in what most people would consider, “the middle of nowhere.” They have a miniature farm and decent sized garden, with a house full of exotic pets. They’re earthy people, people who appreciate life and what they can create.

Cameron asked the next question for me, “Do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” Kim said, “Yes, I believe that everything is connected. My work may seem small but it is meaningful.” Which caused me to think of the big puzzle of a country we live in. It’s a puzzle in the fact that it’s made up of pieces. Constantly moving around to find their right spot, but trying to create the bigger picture. Rob responded with, “I believe that my service meant something to this country, so yes.”

Does your religious or spiritual identity relate to how you think we should treat other people? Does it relate to how you see yourself as a citizen? Kim smiled and responded with, “Yes, of course. I model myself to be like Jesus. I strive to be like him in every way of my life, regarding helping those around us.” Cameron then went into a rant on how religion isn’t real and how it’s all just a play on the cycles of the sun. However, he was not scolded for his beliefs, his family allowed his views to be heard. I saw in this family what had always been lacking in mine, an ear to the abstract thought.

Cameron threw out, “Do you think we have any obligations to other people in our country? In our community?” Jacob quipped, “I don’t owe any of these people anything.” Kim rolled her eyes to that response and broadcast, “Yes, we do. If we want others to help us we have to help them.” The golden rule is very much alive in this family. Kim understands more than anyone that hard times can come quick and unexpectedly, she helps people in hopes that if she was ever in their shoes, they would help her. I believe that does put a lot of faith in people who may not be trustworthy, but it reminds me of the video that was watched in class where the little girl was hit by the car. Individualism has dulled human compassion, the want to help others just to help. Being a shoulder to lean on does not make you weak, it makes you a citizen. A part of something greater, the power to help those who are connected to you.

The question, “What advice would you give to people running for office in our country?” was asked. Kim and Jacob handled this question, both saying something upon the lines of, “Tell the truth, do not just say what people want to hear.” This connected me to Ivan Illich’s reading, “To Hell with Good Intentions.” He told the volunteers that they were making things worse. This is not what a bunch of sweaty, comparably rich, white people want to hear. They want to be patted on the back and told their doing great. To be spoon fed positive notes and “everything’s going to be alright.” However, the truth is needed to get things done, quite frankly. Upon the recent presidential election, the entire country is in a state of political turmoil. People are biased, and unwillingly to educate themselves. It’s easy to “bait” voters by telling them things they want to hear, and once in a position of power, the baiters change their mind.

We then moved on to the question, “what social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Kim’s take on this question caused me to go into a downward spiral of self-reflection, “I live in a bubble. I don’t want to know what’s going on in the outside world, because it makes me sad. I can’t help everyone, and I can’t change anything.” Is self-aware ignorance bliss? Or is it foolish ignorance? I would be happy not knowing the perils of the outside world. But, it’s necessary to feel the pain of the world to truly be a part of it. Siddhartha Gautama spent the beginning of his life inside the walls of a palace, held from the darkness of the world. Upon finally adventuring out to see what had been outside his world’s edge, he found the disappointments of the world. They saddened him, but motivated him to find himself upon the mess. Life being more confusing, but also never as clear. He became Buddha and without the outside, he would’ve never truly connected inside. To shield oneself from the perils of the world is one’s own choice, but to break into uncomfortable thought and be ready for disaster, the outside world is needed. Rob’s issue, however, took a different route. “Disrespecting the flag. When they burn it at rallies, or do whatever else besides treat it properly.” I pondered this for a second, it did not send me searching deep into my soul, but rather searching in Rob’s. We all have images of peace, you can wear your favorite sweater or lucky perfume. I suppose an image of peace for Rob is the American flag. During service he saw it as a piece of home, all his loved ones, the reason he was there, and the reason to hope. Burning such an image that is held personally is understandably upsetting. I wouldn’t be any different if people ran through the streets burning stuffed plush bunnies like the one I’ve slept with since I was a kid. I started to think of the conflict that Americans go through with the flag today, scattering it on bikinis and embroidering it on polos. To commercialize such an image is to open it to disrespect, and to appear as a mock to Rob’s way of life.

I learned that people are much more than they seem. Most people would write these people off as country do-nothings. But, they have their own life, thoughts, and needs. They desire to function in peace within their household and community. But, they have moral expectations, which they would hope are also held by those they interact with. They made citizenship feel like a community. Broadcasting that every human has common ground, which, if was more accepted, might cause the need to help others become stronger. This brings us to the question, “How can we live well together?” Coming from this dinner, I saw several solutions to this question. The main theme coming out as the golden rule, “Treat others the way you would want to be treated.” To reinstall humanity into our nation would build a better world. Honest politicians, nice community members, and respectful strangers. Not a polarized, angry, and easily fooled mass of consumers. The reading that I would like to connect to this dinner would be chapter in The Empathy Exams, “The Devils’ Bait,” about all the people who had the illness Morgellons. They were all citizens of an illness, they may not have really known each other, but they were connected. They were allowed to be them with their loyalty to their disorder. They found their area to be true citizens, and to perhaps use the power that they felt there to connect to the world outside of the illness they had, Morgellons. This project was just like a regular dinner with them, but with more questions and more attention required. It’s opened the floor to new opinions and perspectives, and I hope to learn more.

Pork, Potatoes, and Politics: My Kentucky Kitchen Table

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By Granite

On October 22, 2017, I hosted my Kentucky Kitchen Table in the rural town of Gamaliel, Kentucky.  Gamaliel is a small town located in Monroe County and boasts a population of around 500 inhabitants. A total of 10 adults and three children attended my Kentucky Kitchen Table. These included my father Grady, my mother Cindi, sister Zena, grandmother Faye, grandfather Garon, uncle Geoff, aunt LaDonna, cousin Grayson, cousin Gibson, and Gibson’s wife Tessa. Grady is an emergency room doctor and Cindi homeschools my sister Zena, who is a senior in high school. Faye and Garon are retired, with Garon formerly working as a mechanic and then as the founder of Gamaliel Shooting Supply, the family business. Geoff manages the Shooting Supply, and LaDonna is an interior designer. Grayson is a sales representative at the Shooting Supply, Gibson is the communications director, and Tessa stays at home with their adopted son, Gideon. The family members present represented four generations of Pares and brought unique and diverse perspectives to the figurative and literal table.

My family began the dinner with a prayer led by my uncle, and then I provided a general description of the purpose of the dinner and of the class. To begin our discussion, I asked the only required question for the dinner: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” As different members of my family voiced their opinions, a common theme quickly became prevalent: each individual believed that citizenship meant having pride in your country and in how you treat your fellow citizens. I was specifically interested in how the different generations represented would view different social issues. However, the generation gap did not seem to play a large role in their responses. Rather, each individual member of my family stressed the importance of citizenship and its role in our society today. As the conversation shifted between topics, I noticed, not for the first time, but in a new way, how tight-knit, respectful, and appreciative my family is. Despite having differing opinions on some topics, no one spoke over another, no arguments developed, and the mood was consistently jovial. This made the conversation much easier and allowed for people to feel they could truly voice their opinion.

After first allowing the conversation to continue organically, I realized that people were getting off topic. Thus, I decided to proceed through the list of provided questions and have people answer the question directly. Once someone had answered the question, others would join in and agree or disagree or even provide a personal experience of their own. I found one of my favorite parts of the discussion occurred when someone would share a personal experience in relation to a question, and then an entire conversation would develop between that family member and another, resulting in multiple side conversations that were all related to the topic at hand.

One of the first questions I asked was for someone to share a time that they had a conversation or interaction with someone from a very different background. Gibson and Tessa immediately spoke up and detailed the interactions they had with native Taiwanese while they were adopting their son, Gideon. Several years ago, they attempted to adopt a child from an orphanage in the Republic of the Congo. When this fell through, they turned to Taiwan in order to find the next member of the Pare family. Throughout the adoption process, Gibson, Tessa, Geoff, and LaDonna visited Taiwan multiple times, and Tessa even spent several months straight there while going through the legal section of the adoption process. While she was there, she was  reliant on the generosity and assistance native people of Taiwan for everything in her daily life. Because Tessa is an adopted child, she demonstrates one important facet of being a citizen- the willingness to care and provide for others in order to help improve their quality of life. Tessa’s history and familiarity with the adoption process caused Gibson and her to want to adopt their children.

When I asked for other examples, Grady began discussing his time spent as a doctor in the E.R. and how he often interacted and treated patients from all walks of life. He referred to having seen the homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics, terminally ill, and even a member of the brutally violent gang MS-13. As a doctor, he was expected to view and care for each patient equally, regardless of race, gender, religion, or social status. Everyone in my family supported this statement, which led into a brief discussion on my group deliberation regarding the mental health of EMS providers, a category which Grady falls into.

I quickly affirmed my suspicion that one of the issues closest to my family’s heart was freedom. As the owners of a gun store, my family is often presented with arguments from those opposing freedoms provided by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. While we fully support the Second Amendment, we also believe that the many other freedoms provided by the Constitution are paramountly important to the meaning of citizenship. Gibson pointed out that the freedom of religion embodies part of what it means to be a citizen- coexisting in harmony with those who have any religion, or even no religion at all. However, as Christians, our religion comes with a caveat- one of the tenets of our faith is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This plays a large role in our citizenship; we become a better citizen by loving those around us and helping to provide a better way of life for those whom we have the opportunity to help. Geoff also brought up the point that, in the United States, we live with no immediate fear of war. The peaceful living situation provided to us as citizens of the United States opens the door to incredible opportunities to promote change, make the world a better place, or simply do nothing. Grayson agreed, saying that one of the best things about being a citizen in a free country is that we have no obligations. Our freedom was won in order to have the ability to participate and also the ability to not participate at all. While voting, paying taxes, and following laws are important aspects of being a citizen, the freedoms provided by the United States of America allows citizens to exercise all, some, or none of these fundamental rights.

Following this spirited discussion between Uncle Geoff and his sons, we took a break from debating citizenship to enjoy another aspect of citizenship: the ability to spend time with family and enjoy good food! The conversation shifted for several minutes to the delicious dishes provided by Cindi, LaDonna, Faye, and Tessa. After dining on pork loins, mashed potatoes, cauliflower salad, rolls, macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, and topping off dinner with Cindi’s delicious apple pie, the conversation turned back to citizenship. Before I even had the opportunity to present the question, Zena asked my grandfather Garon what social issue he was most interested in. While Garon thought about his answer, I asked other family members to chime in on the topic. Their responses were widespread and somewhat surprising to me. However, a common theme seemed to be earning what you make. Grady mentioned that he believed one of the greatest issues facing society was changing the mentality regarding people having a willingness to work versus having a willingness to receive unnecessary help from others. The rest of my family immediately agreed. Because my family has owned a small business since 1976, hard work has been one of the many values instilled in each generation of our family. During dinner there was a general appreciation of those who work for every dollar they earn. Nevertheless, this was not the only social issue brought to the table. Zena, who has earned a minor in American Sign Language through WKU despite only being a senior in high school, has a passion for educating the public of the fact that deafness is not a mental illness. She brought this up in response to her own question, and I was surprised to learn that many people view deafness as something that can prevent those who experience it from doing normal, everyday things. It was only after we had discussed all of these answers that I realized Garon never answered the question! However, I decided to pose another question to him. Upon asking him what kind of person he wants to be, he responded that he hopes to be someone who is peaceful, patient, and forgiving. This statement was echoed by Grayson and Gibson, who claimed that they are responsible for their own actions and ensuring that their actions are used to help others. As soon as they mentioned this, I immediately thought of If It Feels Right, an article by David Brooks. In this article, Brooks argues that many young adults in America believe moral choices are a matter of individual taste and that they only undergo actions that promote their own personal well being. As Grayson and Gibson spoke, I realized that these two young men were saying the complete opposite of what Brooks claims. They viewed the world through the the idea that it was their responsibility to be as good of a neighbor as possible and realized that their actions affected many more lives than just their own.  

Before we ended our dinner and discussion, I decided to pose one final question to my family. Because my family’s political views are fairly consistent throughout, I was interested to hear what advice they would offer to an incoming political candidate. From my sister to my granddad, everyone agreed that politicians who wish to be successful and invoke real change should strive with all their might to keep the promises they make on the campaign trail. Zena made the insightful comment that the first lie is the one that hurts the most. Once a politician has been labeled as a promise-breaker, they will never be trusted again. I thought this was very interesting in regards to the most recent presidential candidates. Both of our candidates in the last presidential election repeatedly made promises they were either unwilling or unable to keep, and this lowered their favorability in the eyes of the voters.

When I first read about this assignment, I thought it sounded very interesting and I knew I would enjoy having a thoughtful and intentional discussion with my family. The fact that my mother, aunt, and grandmother are excellent cooks was just a happy coincidence! After completing my meal, I realized that the experience lived up to my original expectations. The type of open, reasonable discussion that occurred around the dinner table is an excellent way to discuss difficult topics while respecting the opinions and ideas of others. Hopefully, the knowledge I gained from hosting my Kentucky Kitchen Table will allow me to be more attentive to the ways I speak to and interact with others and help me to become a better family member and citizen.

My Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Annalee

This past weekend I had the opportunity to eat a dinner around a table in my hometown, Louisville, and discuss the way the world is, and how our community interacts. Among the people I ate with was an “optimistic dreamer” who spends most of her time at the University of Louisville’s Office of Technology Transfer getting a first look at the new technology UofL has to explore, her name is Karen; a “quiet mom” who works passionately with GIS (geographic information system) looking at data and the maps in Louisville, her name is Lisa; the “hardworking” renaissance man I call dad, and of course, my “warm” Aunt Jenny who often used her experience working as a behavior specialist to add an authoritative response to the discussion. My Aunt Jenny was the first person to come to mind when thinking of who would allow me to host a dinner at their house, and she was thrilled to have an opportunity to bring out her china. Everyone brought their own dish to the dinner, and I supplied the dessert. The two woman, Karen and Lisa, that my Aunt Jenny invited where complete strangers to me when we began the meal, and throughout I noticed the difference in backgrounds and things that were closest to their hearts; I think that was one of the things that made the discussion that much more beneficial for us all.

The first thing I noticed when beginning the dinner was that the individuals around the table had never had an experience like this one before, and after answering their many questions about what my class is like I noticed how much they were all looking forward to it.

We started with my aunt’s homemade chili and a caesar salad that Lisa brought, and throughout the meal I saw a connection between how little these people had experiences like this and how they reacted to the questions I was asking; they often times had to think a little and a few times their response began with “I had never really thought of that, but…” I can definitely relate to this; many of the articles we have read in Citizen and Self have opened my eyes to options I never would have thought extensively about. We spent the first bit of the dinner discussing citizenship and what it meant to them, and Karen said that she thinks being able to be the person that you are is what citizenship is all about, and mentioned religion as an example. There was an overall agreement that those things were often taken for granted, and as the night went on their opinion on that slightly changed as they discussed social issues and how there are so many people in the world with a fear of being the person they are. I thought that it was interesting to see their slight shift in opinion, and while I think their opinions were very optimistic and hopeful, I think they were expected and represent a large part of how we think today. We believe something to be true until the moment the truth is contradicted and we either end up feeling inferior to the opposing argument, or fight back, when instead we should think for ourselves and have a reason behind a change of heart. While they were discussing which social issues are dearest to their hearts, I noticed that they were bringing up things that they felt a lot of empathy for, whether that was the kids from Maryhurst Alternative School in Louisville, who need escape from abuse, or something more widely known such as abortion. A lot of the discussion surrounding these social issues came from a more personal discussion about home lives. Because my dad and my aunt were both at the table, they had similar perspectives of their childhood: growing up around a dinner table where they had the same meals every week and could not leave the table until every bit of the meal was finished. My dad said, “I mean I can look back at it now and think of it fondly, but at the time I really hated it.” Karen thought of the girls in Maryhurst and how they definitely did not have safe home lives, and made the comment that so much of what she knows, from manners to social problems, comes from her household and how she was raised. A lot of the conversations that we have with our families are what shape the core of who our family is, and I think that can definitely relate to what we talk a lot about in class; what we are commonly exposed to, the media for example, is where we get the base of our arguments.

My Aunt Jenny spent the second half of her career working as a behavior specialist for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, and during this dinner she mentioned how she feels as though she has an obligation to help families and children find their way in life. It meant so much to her to first-hand see the improvement in the student and the way they interact with their family. I think it is common for individuals in society to really resonate within their career path and think of it as their way to contribute to the community. It is a personal obligation, where she, and many others, feel the desire to see something happen. Later, when speaking about which social issue is closest to her heart she spoke about how she has a lot of empathy for the families she works with that need food stamps, but then struggles when she sees those parents with a laziness towards getting a job. That is another example where the people at the dinner noticed the contradiction in their own lives, which is something we talk a lot about in Citizen and Self; there being a disconnect not between how we feel, but how we explain how we feel. I was curious to see if anyone else around the table has something that they do because they believe that it is the morally right thing to do. Lisa talked about how she always felt the need to help the homeless by giving them money, although she often felt uncomfortable doing so. She eventually came up with a plan to take them out for a meal with her rather than just handing them the money and not seeing the use they put towards it. This situation reminds me of our discussion of Haidt’s article Righteous Mind, specifically about the elephant and the rider and I think it is a perfect example of a person’s rider taking a little control to explain a more logical approach to the elephant’s actions.

As dinner continued and we had the choice between Karen’s chess pie and my brownies, my dad was still thinking about the question about obligations to the other people in our country/community. He kept bringing up the point that “honesty is so important, regardless of the situation,” and went on to share his opinions on doing what is good versus what is right. His comment made me think about a time when a person in my life had lied to me about something that, had I found out about at the time would have really hurt me, and they did it to ‘protect’ my feelings. I learned from finding out the truth later that that experience was one where I would have much preferred the person have done what was right, instead of what was good; honesty is so important to me. I remember talking a lot about the battle between good versus right while discussing Ivan Illich’s speech, “To Hell with Good Intentions,” in class, and this moment at the dinner table was one where I felt I could really put the readings I had studied from class into the real world because someone I know from home was speaking about the same thing, it was quite frankly pretty cool.

I wanted to end the dinner on a more positive note, so I asked the question about the best things in our world today and each person had immediate responses. They were shouting out words like “people,” “love,” “family,” “relationships,” all of the things in the world that we can have strong connections with if we really try. Lisa’s response was one that I really loved, and it stuck with me throughout the night: she said, “the best thing is being able to help others in a crisis, it is about humanity and humility.” I think that if everyone took the time to talk with their neighbors and their families about the issues they hold dearest to their hearts, that it would start a chain reaction and broaden to positively changing the way democracy works today. We also talked a little about democracy during the dinner, and my Aunt Jenny spoke about how although we have so much freedom in the U.S., people still take things like religion and race and judge others with a righteous and almighty mindset; one that will have the opposite effect for an improving democracy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this experience. The reactions I got before the dinner had even begun were ones that would definitely inspire me to implement discussions like this into my daily life more. This was the first time that I had ever gone into a conversation about the world and about democracy that I had a different approach to, and it definitely had an impact on me, and hopefully the others around the dinner table. I learned that while my dad and my Aunt grew up in the exact same home environment, their adult lives had shaped them into seemingly very different people. Karen and Lisa both said that they never would have thought to taking the first step in befriending their neighbors, and I honestly cannot remember that being a normalcy in my childhood home, either. This semester we have been talking all about community involvement and actually getting out and talking with people about the topics that are depicting so much of our lives, and this night felt like a really good start.

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