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.