Kentucky’s Kitchen Table: From a Smalltalk Conversation to a Deliberative Engagement:

By Alex

The Kentucky Kitchen Table I hosted took place in Liberty (the seat of Casey County), Kentucky. Liberty is a very small town located 30 miles south of Danville, Kentucky, a town most people have heard of unlike my actual hometown. The diner consisted of 7 people all from my hometown, who had differing opinions on several of the topics discussed.

Scott and Jamie, my parents, have lived in Liberty their entire lives and both attended Western Kentucky University for their college educations, but have differing opinions on several issues and topics, that will be discussed further along in this paper. Scott works for the Kentucky Transportation Department, and though I may be biased, is one of the hardest working people I have ever met, shaping some of his beliefs. Jamie is a teacher, who loves her job and the students she works with.

Adam and Andrew, my brothers, are currently enrolled in the Casey County School System, and are both athletes, which takes up a large amount of their time. Andrew is in 6th grade currently, and knows little about politics, freedoms, and other aspects of the United States, but was eager to learn during the conversation. Adam is a Sophomore in high school who recently tuned 16 years old, but has little interest in politics and similar topics, and focuses mostly on athletics, so his contribution to the conversation was interesting.

Lauren is currently enrolled at Western Kentucky University, and is one year away from a bachelor’s degree in Communication Disorders and plans to become a Speech Language Pathologist. She is also from my hometown, so I thought it would be interesting to include her into our conversation. And Lastly, Lexi is a junior at Casey County high school, and a friend of my brother. I had never really talked to her outside of the Kentucky’s Kitchen Table discussion we had, and her various opinions were interesting and helped maintain conversation.

Our conversation started simply, with the following question; other than voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? Responses weren’t immediate, and everyone at the table took some time to think before responding. Finally, Lauren sparked conversation by mentioning that it citizenship includes all the rights and responsibilities that come with living in the United States of America. This answer sparked the conversation, as I simply asked everyone around the table what some of those rights and responsibilities could possibly include, looking for a particular answer. Everyone listed off certain things they thought were rights, such as having a job and paying income taxes, along with earning an income and being able to make a living, but no one seemed to reach the answer I was hoping for. Finally, I chipped in to help everyone see the point I was attempting to make; As an American Citizen, we can all attempt to engage with one another on certain issues to solve different types of problems.

Before moving on to other questions, I thought it was important to explain the main points of our Honors 251 class at WKU. I explained to my guests that wicked problems surrounded the world today, giving the technical definition along with several examples I will mention later on. After this, I mentioned that the technique of deliberative engagement was very important to help solve wicked problems and help come up with practical solutions that had more benefits than disadvantages.

After mentioning wicked problems, I decided to ask the question, “What social issues are closest to your heart and why,” hoping to reach a wicked problem and discuss how deliberation can help in maintaining a neutral and helpful attitude when solving them. Jamie quickly answered, with the support of Lexi, Adam, and Andrew. Since they are all in the school environment, the several issues in the United States surrounding gun control and how to stop school shootings. I asked Jamie what she thought of the situation, along with how to help reduce the amount of school shootings, and her response was very set in stone. She believed that the number of guns in the United States was way too high, and that gun control should be enacted to help reduce shootings. Scott quickly responded with the opposite answer of hers, making several points that taking guns only works if you can remove all weapons from United States citizens, but the number of illegal weapons not in circulations makes that impossible, putting responsible American’s who would potentially turn in their weapons at harm.

The gun control debate went on, until I mentioned that my Honors 251 class had a very similar discussion. Going off of the Honors Discussion, I asked my family to think of different options, with pros and cons, that could help the gun control situation. After holding my own mock deliberation around the dinner table, my family quickly realized something that I learned early from practicing deliberative engagement. They learned that though people have severely differing opinions on the same issue, they are not necessarily wrong.

To ease the tension of discussion the touchy subject of gun control, I asked more questions with hope to get a better sense of everyone’s opinion at the table. Taking another page from the class in order to get everyone to have an input of the conversation, I asked everyone around the table to give an answer to the following question: What is the thing you love most about where you live? Adam answered first, saying he really liked where he lived because of his friends and how often they got together. Lexi responded similarly, that she enjoyed how close everyone was in Casey County. Scott and Jamie both responded that they loved being able to live very close to their families and friends. Andrew mentioned that it was simply home for him, and Lauren joked (though it is true) that it was the only place in the world that she did not need a GPS to travel. Each answer had the same underlying theme, it was familiar, more familiar than anywhere else.

One of the last questions I asked everyone around the table was if they thought this conversation was important, and if they felt we had accomplished something from our Kentucky Kitchen table. Andrew and Adam both said no jokingly, and admitted it was more interesting than expected. Lexi and Lauren both were happy to have been included, and mentioned that the discussion was intriguing and interesting, and said that they would work to realize others opinions were not wrong but just different than their own. Scott and Jamie both admitted that the conversation was much different than they were expecting, being it was mandatory from a college class I was taking and were very happy to have been able to participate and communicate on issues, while also agreeing to look at some future discussions differently than past ones.

During this Kentucky Kitchen table, I learned several things. One of the first things I learned is that even though Scott and Jamie are the same age and have lived relatively similar lives, they each had differing opinions on certain topics. These opinions weren’t massively different for every question I asked, but overall their answers differed from one another. Another important thing I learned was that talking to people from your hometown doesn’t have the same effect as talking to people from different areas. For example, the people at my Kentucky Kitchen table are lacking what I have gained from Honors 251. Where my Kentucky Kitchen table consisted of people all from my hometown, Honors 251 is full of people from all over Kentucky and other areas and has allowed me to talk with those who have very different opinions from my own. As highlighted briefly above, I learned quickly that having differing opinions doesn’t mean that someone is wrong, and that talking to those you disagree with is an effective way to solve problems.

Throughout Honors 251, I have learned several new key principles that have already began to help me in real world conversations and in disagreements with others. The class has highlighted how important communication with others is to solving real-world problems, and has allowed me to realize that conversation is key to bettering the world we live in. My Kentucky Kitchen table kept reminding me of the reading we did early in this semester by Keith Melville, “How We Talk Matters.” I’m sure my family did not initially want to spend their dinner while I was home from college talking about what they thought was going to be a forced discussion brought on by a college course they did not know much about, but as the conversation trekked on everyone at the table became more interested and alert to the topics at hand and became more and more talkative. This helped me realize that a lot of the problem in the world today aren’t because the world today is in a worse shape than it has been in the past, but because the people of the world refuse to communicate on the issues at hand. People now would rather their opinions be considered right than to solve the topic at hand, and the beginning of my Kentucky Kitchen table embodied just that, but as the conversation went on, more open-mindedness began to occur, and our dinner better represented what the world so eagerly needs; common ground and respectful conversation.