I did my Kentucky Kitchen Table at my home in Oakland, Kentucky. I invited my girlfriend Halee (Third from the left), Chase (second from right) who I met on the bus one day on my way to class about a week prior, his grandmother Ramona (second from left), and one of Halee’s teachers at Ross, Mendy (right). Halee insisted on making the whole meal (and since she scares me a little bit I let her).
The people around this table, with the exception of Halee and me, had very little in common. Chase is a first generation college student from Washington who came to WKU for a Photo Journalism degree. He is from a very poor family in one of the rougher neighborhoods in Seattle. His political leanings are more liberal than conservative and he considers himself to be a democrat. His grandmother, Ramona, was in town to visit him (which is why I chose the date to have the meal). She is originally from Minnesota, but moved to Washington for her job back in 1982. She is a member of the LGBT community and recently got married to a woman named Emily. She is more liberal than conservative but does not claim to belong to a political party.
Halee is from a middle class family and went to the same high school I did. She is politically conservative but has never really given much thought to a political party. She went to higher education at Ross Medical where she received a certificate in medical billing (it has a longer name but I couldn’t remember that for the life of me). Her teacher, Mendy, is also from Bowling Green. She has been teaching at Ross for 7 years. She has a husband and three kids. She is politically conservative and is a member of the Republican Party.
The conversation started with small talk (the weather, sports, etc.) There was no feeling of awkwardness that I could tell. Everyone seemed very comfortable. So when the conversation died down a bit, I asked “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Surprisingly to me, the answers were very much the same. Everyone agreed that to be a citizen was to be active in the community in some form or fashion. Whether that be to donate to local charities or to be active with local causes.
I then asked “What is the ideal society to them?” This got some different responses. To Chase, it is a place where the arts are well funded and encouraged. He wants a world where following a passion or hobby could make you just as successful as following jobs for money. He says that an art program would really help to inspire people in lower classes to become something more. Ramona said much the same thing but she specified more tolerance of other cultures. She said that she is tired of people being marginalized because of their race, culture, religion, etc. My ideal place is where everyone’s identity was American first, then religion, race, identity, etc. I feel that if everyone agreed that they were American first, much of the violence in this country would decrease.
After this question we just ate and talked about random things for a while. I learned that Chase is a Patriots fan but Ramona is an Eagles fan. They said that at the super bowl they made bets and the loser had to buy the other dinner. After some more small talk, much of it hilarious, I asked “What advice would you give to presidential candidates?” Mendy said that she would tell a candidate to base his policies on the people he is representing even if it conflicts with his own political beliefs. This was the first question to have differing opinions. Chase said that it is important for candidates to follow their own beliefs because if they didn’t “Then what they do will be fake.” He believes that people should elect a candidate based on the candidate’s belief system and to do otherwise was dangerous. Halee and I agreed with Mendy. Ramona was more interested in a candidate that was transparent with their personal lives. We all agreed on this to a point, but I said that his or her personal life should not be a problem unless it conflicts with their political lives. For example, I don’t think it would matter if a candidate was unfaithful to his or her spouse as long as they remain a good leader. Halee disagreed saying that we should elect not only good leaders, but morally good people as well.
I tried to ask “Does your religious or spiritual identity relate to how you think we should treat other people?” but the problem was that only Halee and I were religious. The other three were either agnostic or atheist. Chase said that seeing the world through a religious lens is dangerous and leads to much of the racism and world problems today. I disagreed saying that only religious extremists’ view of the world is a dangerous thing. But people who follow the religions more moderately can become more helpful and caring than if they didn’t have that aspect of their lives. Halee said much the same thing (But she sounded much smarter when she said it). Ramona didn’t think religion was dangerous, as Chase did, but she just didn’t think people should need that as a reason to treat others well. She said that it should be intrinsic to be kind to people. Mendy agreed with this statement basically saying that most everyone is kind whether they have religion or not. It is only the crazy people (religious extremists or just nutjobs) are the ones destroying the world.
The meal ended with the question “what social issue was most important to you?” The basic theme was poverty. Everyone agreed that poverty was a driving force for much of the other problems in America. We all basically agreed that poverty breeds crime, and if you can fix or decrease the amount of poor, you can also decrease the amount of crime in America.
What I learned from the meal is that even people from completely different walks of life can meet around a table and talk about things as civil people. Even when we disagreed, no one raised their voice or looked offended. We all parted with more knowledge of the other side of issues that we haven’t thought about before. I know that at least for me, I walked away more knowledgeable of the struggles and thoughts of near-strangers.