It’s All About Talking and Listening

By Caroline

When initially looking at the Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment, I knew that I would love to bring this fascinating project to my hometown because it would not only allow me to further my knowledge of this class but would expand my idea of people in my own community as well. With that being said, on fall break, Lebanon, KY was in for a delightful treat in my hometown household. Contemplating who I would invite, I wanted to bring a tasteful diversity to the table and immediately came up with a total of 5 people: my former AP Human Geography & Psychology teacher, Jamie, her husband, Chris, a woman in my community who is of Hispanic ethnicity, Kenya, and my mother and father, Jim and Sharon. To begin with, Jamie is someone I do know very well being that she is one of my past teachers, but she brings very diverse experiences to the group in the fact that she has traveled to many cultures around the world and has a large amount of knowledge regarding the potential topics for the kitchen table. Her husband, Chris, is someone I do not know very well, but I quickly realized that he has served in the army and brings a plethora of personal stories that added flavor to our discussions. I also invited Kenya who is a woman that lives in my community that I am not as familiar with, but she brought a very different perspective since she is of Hispanic ethnicity and has lived in both the United States and Mexico. Lastly, my mother and father attended and were both delighted to host this project in the welcoming hospitality of our home. My mother works in the emergency room in our local hospital, and my father is the loan officer and Vice President of a bank in my town. My mother, being the host, decided that she would make a meal which consisted of a scrumptious meat loaf, mashed potatoes, rolls, and green beans, but she said that if anyone wanted to bring a dish they could. Kenya made authentic Mexican chicken tacos with a side of guacamole, Jamie made a coconut bar dessert (which was a hit), and Chris made potato soup.  I quickly realized that it was very neat with the people that I invited because everyone who attended either didn’t know each other very well or were complete strangers, so it made the discussions that much more interesting.

To begin the conversation, I explained to the group what the Kentucky Kitchen Table was and what all it encompasses. My father then said the grace, and we began eating and talking right away. I commenced the discussion by introducing the first question regarding what citizenship means to us, beyond simply voting, paying taxes, and following laws. Jamie jumped right to the question in saying that citizenship comes down to being loyal to one’s country and truly holding everything that your country values close to your heart. However, Kenya introduced the idea that she has witnessed citizenship from an outsider’s perspective and a US citizen’s point of view as well because in Mexico, unlike the United States, people do not “hang the flag in every corner you turn” and are less likely to praise and show citizenship to their country. She noticed that as Americans, we show citizenship much more outwardly than other places. However, my father mentioned that “giving back to our country and community” is a definite way to show citizenship whether that is simply serving your community or even country. With that said, we realized that Chris has served in the army, and he shared many of his stories of his time serving the United States. One being, he was in Germany when the Berlin Wall was being taken down which was a very eye-opening experience for him. Through his experience, citizenship to him means wholeheartedly serving his country. With Chris talking about his time fighting for our nation, it quickly led to a discussion about gun violence with the recent horrific mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas. Although we all tried to come up with solutions to this “wicked problem”, we each realized that there was no one solution. I explained to them that in class, we learned that there really is no solution to a wicked problem like mass shootings, only a better or worse, in that we can pull things from many different solutions to make things more suitable.

We also talked about our obligations to people in our community and people in other countries. The theme of this aspect of the discussion was along the lines of what we have said in class in the fact that we feel more obligated to those people in the closest proximity to us. However, Kenya explained from her perspective that we really do need to feel obligated to people of distant countries because she has witnessed the true condition that people in other countries are in and was once in similar conditions in Mexico. She explained that from truly living in those shoes, she sees that people coming to help other countries is something that is prayed for and the obligation should be there. She gave very vivid descriptions about the drug violence, the brokenness, and the poor conditions that overwhelmed her past country. This really opened my eyes because although in class we read the speech by Ivan Illich, “To Hell with Good Intentions” that ultimately explained that by entering another culture with the intent to do good, we are only doing more harm because we truly don’t understand the gravity of the situation. However, by hearing her personal, genuine story, I was able to see the opposing perspective realizing that maybe we do need to continue our “good intentions” in the pursuit to help others. My mother, with her huge heart, began to tear up after Kenya’s anecdote because she herself felt that as people we really do have an obligation to others but must understand to what extent we can truly help those around us. Jamie talked about her traveling experiences, mainly to China and how we simply don’t understand other countries until we step foot on their grounds. She explained that she honestly only knew about other places from what she had read from textbooks and heard by word of mouth, but quickly realized that by traveling to other cultures, she was able to understand the rest of the world better. I think that that really tied up our discussion because although we have so many wicked problems and are expected to show citizenship to our country, to truly be able to “live well or less badly together” we must understand the rest of the world around us which will overall add to our understanding of our obligations, our country, and even ourselves.

Overall, I really enjoyed this assignment more than I thought was possible. Coming home for fall break, this project added such a new, captivating experience to my time off, and the people who attended made the remark that they learned a lot and would love to do this more often. To sit down and have a real discussion with people was honestly remarkable because those types of things unfortunately don’t happen anymore because of the fast-paced world that we have become accustomed to. We were able to sit down free of technology and just speak honestly sharing our personal experiences and opinions with one another; it was beautiful. Through this assignment, I learned initially that if we would simply slow down each day and have patience to just talk about things, as discussed in the article, “The Power of Patience,” we could discover so much more and learn a vast amount of information about our world and those around us. By simply sitting around a table with somewhat strangers and those who I am closer to as well, I dug deeper into the world we live in and was able to deliberatively understand other people’s opinions and why they are who they are . I also learned that my perspective of the world around me isn’t all there is to be offered and that there is so much more to know than just what I have learned in the nineteen years I have been here. By having experience like Kenya in Mexico or like Chris in the military, we are able to understand even more about our world and through that, live a much more fulfilled life. I have learned through this project that one of the central ideas of our class “how do we live well or less badly together” is ultimately a mixture of many ideas. For instance, it takes understanding of many perspectives, actively speaking about issues, seeking a better understanding of the world around us, and simply being empathetic to listen to others’ opinions and experiences. We can’t simply go through the motions every day, we must do more and seek more out of our daily life and encounters, and through this assignment of casually talking around a kitchen table, I realized that time spent in conversation and listening to others is one of the most valuable aspects in our world today.FullSizeRender

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