Claire’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Claire

I was so excited for this assignment all semester. I love sitting around the dinner table with family and friends, sharing thoughts and laughter as we eat a delicious homemade meal. My Kentucky Kitchen Table project took place in Louisville, Kentucky on November 16 at my family’s house. There were eight amazing people present, seven related and one not. 

The first person is my Dad, Mark. He is a Director of Research for a Pharmacogenomics laboratory as well as a professor in the department of Public Health at the University of Louisville and the best dad I could have ever asked for. Next is my Mom, Beth, not present in the picture above because she is pulling more of her famous rolls out of the oven. Beth is a biology high school teacher and the kind of person who is relentlessly encouraging and is able to make any day the best day of your life. Moving around the table comes my little sister Kate. Although she doesn’t know much about citizenship at the young age of 13, she’s always there to lighten the mood and bring a hint of joy to the dinner table. She’s never met a stranger she couldn’t talk to or a food she doesn’t like. Next, my oldest sister Ellen, a Chinese and International Affairs major with the most intense drive of anyone I have ever met. I hope to be half of who she is one day. Then Sarah, the next oldest sister who is going to someday become an art restorer and is all in all my very best friend. My brother William sits next to Sarah. He is the lead roaster for a coffee shop in Washington DC and is the coolest person I know. He brought along his new girlfriend Maggie, whom none of us know very well. Maggie is from Seattle, Washington and works for a documentary film company in Washington DC as well. The gang’s all here, and so the discussion begins.

“Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” A couple of contemplative thoughts and a few bites of lasagna later, my family jumps right in. They all seem to agree on one major thing; outside of the legal or customary status given to an individual which identifies them as a part of the larger group, citizenship comes with a common alliance of tradition and belief in common ideals, as well as communal promotion of those ideals within that community. It is the recognition by the individual that the group is bigger than themselves and they have a responsibility to that group. Outside of values and ideals, my brother includes that it is also the responsibility to participate in dialogue that has a generative nature to the laws, taxes, etc., that you hold as a nation. Maggie interestingly interjects a bit of a different view point, meaning that as a citizen you recognize that you are a steward, so to the best of your ability you must both be engaged in what’s going on and advocate for the best use of the resources and greatest care for other citizens that your conscience deems right. 

Overall, I would say there was a general consensus on citizenship, each person around the table building off of what the individual before them had said. This topic led into a conversation surrounding the question; what is the responsibility you have to the community around you? Or do you even have much responsibility outside of what our system has enacted as laws? Which led into a conversation about community in general. My mom, being from Jeffersontown, in Louisville, where we currently live, grew up in a time where J-Town was a close-knit group of people where everyone knew everyone, and the norm was to take care of and make a point to know the people that are around you. She said it was rare to see someone that she didn’t at least recognize who they were. Even in the same exact area my siblings and I grew up in a different J-Town, a place less focused on the community but the small pockets of people within the community that unfortunately, tend to not interact with one another. My siblings and I are more a part of the surrounding areas and the city of Louisville itself than my mom was. We trade a larger area for a looser community. We all expressed that we wish J-Town would one day return to more of a small-town community feel; something that is already in the process due to recent improvements. In further contrast, Maggie grew up in the wealthy area of inner-city Seattle. A place where it is almost impossible to know everyone around you. Her idea of a close-knit community relied on her next-door neighbors and church family. And my dad grew up in a heavily catholic community in Pennsylvania, a stark contrast to the conservative Baptist area of my mother. 

Religion of our respective communities and childhood led us into the obvious differences we have found in our own travels between areas considered to be in the “bible-belt” and areas that are not. Eventually I brought up our readings and discussions in class that were related to mission work and the article “To Hell with Good Intentions” by Ivan Illich. My brother, one who devoted most of his undergrad and graduate studies to sustainable development, and my older sister who has a deep interest in world cultures, and Maggie who has had an intimate view of special communities around the world through editing documentaries, and her own travels, jumped at the chance to discuss their viewpoints on the subject. Around the table we discussed the importance of knowing, as much as possible by an outsider, the intricacies of the culture you are hoping to aid, and ensuring that through the aid, you stay true to the culture’s beliefs and values and provide a manner in which the community can maintain and eventually develop further whatever improvement methods that have been put in place.

William brought up a good example. He told a story about methods of development within the coffee industry and the importance of ensuring that development is sustainable without outside support. Often times companies will send in people and materials for farmers in South America to start up a coffee bean plantation. At first the farmers are doing well and make use of the materials provided. However, eventually, it often becomes apparent that the coffee plant seeds sent to that area are unable to grow in that climate and so the farmers now have an entire industry full of workers, buyers, and supplies without a product they were able to maintain. This leads to the farmers becoming worse off than they were before the outside help came in. Not much argument followed that evidence.

Religion of our respective communities and childhood led us into the obvious differences we have found in our own travels between areas considered to be in the “bible-belt” and areas that are not. Eventually I brought up our readings and discussions in class that were related to mission work and the article “To Hell with Good Intentions” by Ivan Illich. My brother, one who devoted most of his undergrad and graduate studies to sustainable development, and my older sister who has a deep interest in world cultures, and Maggie who has had an intimate view of special communities around the world through editing documentaries, and her own travels, jumped at the chance to discuss their viewpoints on the subject. Around the table we discussed the importance of knowing, as much as possible by an outsider, the intricacies of the culture you are hoping to aid, and ensuring that through the aid, you stay true to the culture’s beliefs and values and provide a manner in which the community can maintain and eventually develop further whatever improvement methods that have been put in place.William brought up a good example. He told a story about methods of development within the coffee industry and the importance of ensuring that development is sustainable without outside support. Often times companies will send in people and materials for farmers in South America to start up a coffee bean plantation. At first the farmers are doing well and make use of the materials provided. However, eventually, it often becomes apparent that the coffee plant seeds sent to that area are unable to grow in that climate and so the farmers now have an entire industry full of workers, buyers, and supplies without a product they were able to maintain. This leads to the farmers becoming worse off than they were before the outside help came in. Not much argument followed that evidence.

Further conversation followed surrounding themes of responsible stewardship of the things in which you have been given, social obligations, general life advice, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. Although there was only one person at my Kentucky Kitchen Table that I didn’t know well, I feel like I gained a deeper understanding of how those closest to me view the world we live in. It gave me a new perspective on what these particular members of society expect from others; a willingness to engage in society and be an active participant in things that affect the whole. I think this conversation relates to the entire theme of the class, answering the three questions; how can we live better together, how can we have more of a say over our own lives and contribute to others having more of a say over their own lives, and how can we solve problems? All of the topics that we have discussed thus far in class have contributed, albeit in a small way, to solving those wicked problems. 

All in all, I learned that by asking questions and listening to those around us, we can all learn a little bit more about one another and about our differences, uniting us all into citizenship under one nation, and one people all sharing the same planet. Maybe through this greater understanding, we can learn to live better with one another, and be better stewards of the world we live in.

Good people, good food, and good conversation. That’s a Kentucky kitchen table.

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Meredith’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Meredith

I went home to Louisville, Kentucky on Sunday, November 4th with the intent of having my Kentucky Kitchen Table meal with my four intermediate family members and my 17-year-old brother’s girlfriend. This assignment ended up turning into a surprise 19th birthday dinner for myself, and I was greeted by my paternal aunt, grandmother and grandfather whom I rarely dine with. In fact, I rarely dine with my immediate family either. Our family dinners around the dining table died out long ago, around the time that I picked up competitive swimming and my youngest brother graduated from Wilder Elementary and enrolled in Meyzeek Middle School. Things got busy, so we all filtered in and out of the kitchen at whatever time convenienced us, saying not much more than, “Hello!” when in passing. I’ve only been home once before this since starting school at Western Kentucky University, so I was excited to have a family gathering in the comforts of my home and have a home cooked meal instead of swiping into the Fresh Food Company. The surprise of finding my Aunt Sarah, Grandma Marge, and PopPop waiting for me in my doorway as I pulled up was something very special, as they all live in Las Vegas, Nevada, so I rarely see them.

Last minute, my brother’s girlfriend bailed due to having caught a stomach bug. I had been banking on her being the person around my dinner table whom I didn’t know very well, but my aunt, grandmother, and grandfather were great substitutes, as I have only seen them a handful of times in my life, due to the distance between us.

My parents lived very different lives until they met one another, and after that they built their current lives hand-in-hand. My mom, Gail, grew up wealthily in Albuquerque, New Mexico and is of Hispanic descent, which you’d never be able to see past her blonde hair dye. Nonetheless, her Western childhood allows her to bring unique perspectives to the table that my brothers and I, having grown up in Kentucky, would never dream of. At the age of 18 she chose the University of Texas to be her home for the following four years, a college where she knew not a single soul. She spent one of her summers working on an Alaskan oil rig as the lead mechanical engineer, and ended up settling down afterwards in Louisville, Kentucky, working for the General Electric Company (GE). My dad, Scott, grew up very differently. He was born and raised in a tiny town, home to 500 people, in rural New York state near the city of Buffalo. His family grew up without much money and he spent much of his time working. His perspectives are always unexpected to me. I tend to stereotype small-town residents as rather narrow-minded, but my father has the most open mind that I know. He went to school for mechanical engineering, same as my mom, and was also hired on at GE in Louisville at the same time that she was. This is where their story began.

A little later down the line, my parents had me, their first-born. Two years later, they had my 17-year-old brother, Clayton. Clayton is a quiet boy with a good head on his shoulders. People often dismiss him as shy, when he just reserves his words for times that he feels that are of value. Clayton has always been an athlete and played every sport under the sun growing up. Not only did he play them, but he was good at them. I’ve always been jealous of his athletic ability, and of the grace with which he receives praise for his abilities. He is a humble boy and takes after my dad in the way that he is open-minded.

Four years after Clayton, Curtis came along. Curtis is a 13-year-old geek who absolutely loves science, Rubik’s Cubes, magic tricks, swimming, and his trumpet. He is wise beyond his years, dedicated, and passionate. He spends his days in the math, science, and technology magnet program at his middle school, his afternoons at swim practice, and his evenings repeating over and over, “Want to see a magic trick?” At heart, he loves to learn.

My aunt and grandparents made the move from Eden, New York to Vegas a little after my dad made the move to Louisville. There, my aunt married and divorced an ex-sniper, recovered, and eventually settled down with a construction worker named Brandon. Over the years, she somehow managed to collect five dogs, which she refers to as her children. She works in a nursing home and has a unique outlook on life because rather than having experience with children, like most women her age do, she has extensive experience with older folks.

My PopPop and Grandma have been married since before my dad was born and have always been a symbol of a united front to me. No word does my PopPop justice, save for “goofball.” He is a graduate of Syracuse University, as is my grandmother, a retired insurance salesman, a part-time Home Depot employee, and a big trickster. He is a lover of flashlights in any form of fashion, whether they be ten mini-flashlights that strap onto every finger or color-changing toilet bowl lights for better bathroom vision in the nighttime. This passion of his probably makes him well suited for his job at Home Depot. My grandmother is quite the opposite and often comes across as strict. Their love is proof that opposites attract, and I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen them butt heads, despite their polar personality differences. They have a unique perspective, as they have had to raise three kids on an insufficient amount of money and were unable to escape that poverty even after their children graduated on to adulthood. They ended up declaring bankruptcy, which rocked their world and ours. Many things changed during that period of their lives, and they see things a lot differently now.

I began our discussion while peeling potatoes at the kitchen counter with my mom, aunt and grandmother while the boys prepared the meat. I was disappointed in the fact that my aunt and grandparents reserved themselves for most of the conversation, but they provoked and enabled my intermediate family to dive into a discussion deeper than one we’d ever had before. This depth could not have been reached without their facilitation. It ended up with the three of them asking some of the questions that I had prepared from the list of questions we were provided with in class, which I found to be interesting. It showed that concerns regarding citizenship are relatively universal: they span generations, genders, geographic differences, differences in financial status, and so many factors that could segregate populations, even ones small enough to fit in my kitchen. I thought it was cool that the conversation took the turns that I had anticipated, but that nobody else around the table knew were premeditated. I had been worried that conversation would seem unnatural with all the prompting I planned to do, but I should have saved my worry for something that deserved it more!

I already knew that my mother was registered Republican, my father was registered Independent, and my grandfather was a big Trump supporter. I was unaware of the political affiliations of everyone else around the table, including my own. I was a bit afraid that our conversation would be solely political, but it was the opposite. My mom’s Republican affiliation shown through her answers a bit as most of them involved leading a Christian life and acting as a light to others, while my dad’s answers were a bit more exploratory and varied in terms of religion and logic. My grandfather cracked a few Trump jokes, but nothing serious or overbearing. I expected this.

I was most surprised by my brothers’ answers. Of 13 and 17-year-old boys, I didn’t expect much. They’re still fooling around and growing up along the way and at times I wonder whether they really put much thought into things like citizenship, community, and their own obligations to the society as human beings. My brothers don’t have much experience in the real world, so I couldn’t fathom how they could formulate the real-world answers that I was looking for.

Despite this, Clayton ended up drawing a lot upon his lifeguarding job, saying that it taught him about fiscal responsibility which allowed him, in turn, to consider donating to causes that he had only supported morally until then. He said that his job helped him meet more people in the neighborhood which taught him about the importance of a united community. This also showed him something he had always had but always taken for granted: the fact that my parents had introduced him to every last one of our neighbors and that he knew there was always someone around to help him in times of emergency, spare him an egg, or shoot basketball with. He also learned about the importance of genuinely caring for the well-being of others. He mentioned that while it is difficult to attend to a few hundred people in a 50-meter long pool for hours in the hot sun, he learned how to pay attention even when it was difficult because not only did he not want to be in trouble with his boss if a drowning occurred on his watch, but he didn’t want that loss on his own conscience either.

Curtis also spouted out some impressive answers that I figured he was incapable of. He didn’t have a summer lifeguarding job to refer to for validation of his answers, so I knew that everything he was saying was something that he genuinely felt, not something that he had personally experienced, watched, or been taught. When asked whether his “job” served a greater purpose, he acknowledged that while he did not have a part-time or full-time job that was paying him checks bi-weekly, he was a student and his time in school was spent learning valuable skills that would one day enable him to earn a job that helps others. He aspires to be in the military, and I believe his hopes of that were the driving force behind the answer he provided. Later, Curtis made my favorite astounding comment of the night. When asked what advice he would give to someone running for office, he said, “I would tell them not to do things because of their political identity. I would tell them to make decisions and do things the way they know is right.” Politics and leadership are complicated in ways that Curtis’s innocent brain can’t comprehend, but sometimes it’s necessary to take the seriousness down a notch and remember that we simply need to upkeep the best version of our country to later pass on to Curtis’s generation. While he’s too young to register as a voter, I think that if he holds onto this simplistic piece of advice, our country will be in good hands when it comes his time. His comment reminded me of “If It Feels Right” by David Brooks. The article discussed morality in terms of it being in its decline, but Curtis reminded me that sometimes going by your gut feeling is for the best.

Through this discussion, I learned a lot of the same things that I’ve learned in class but never really seen played out in my household. It’s not necessarily that these themes haven’t been prioritized-citizenship, morality, religion, etc.-but we’ve never actually sat down and discussed the driving forces behind them all. Our discussion also reminded me of “The Energy Diet” by Andrew Postman. Postman noted that even just the tiniest intentional expenditures of energy could make a big difference. I realized that my family members, specifically my brothers, have been making these tiny intentional expenditures of energy all along, when I just thought they were stumbling through life, accidentally becoming good, respectable citizens and neighbors.

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Pictured from left to right are Clayton, Curtis, myself, my mom Gail above me, my Aunt Sarah next to me, my PopPop, and my dad, Scott. My Grandma Marge insisted on taking the picture because she wasn’t “camera ready.”

Louisville, Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Haley

At first, when hearing about the Kentucky Kitchen Table project I thought it was dumb. I didn’t understand the point of it, and just saw it as another thing to do on my to-do list. I then googled “Kentucky Kitchen Table” and started reading other people’s experiences, and my interest was piqued. I read all of these stories about people’s family and friends engaging in meaningful conversation about topics that actually matter. I was then excited to host my own Kentucky Kitchen Table.

For my Kentucky Kitchen Table I decided to do it in my hometown, Louisville, Kentucky. I hosted the dinner at my house, with my parents and our neighbors whom I invited to make the table more diverse. My neighbors brought their 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son as well, making 7 people around the table. My mom, Jennifer, is a pharmacist who loves to read and go to yoga, and my dad Steve, is the CEO of an insurance company, who loves to go to the gym and play golf. Both of my parents are pretty strong republicans and tend to have very conservative view points. Jim and Nancy my neighbors, come to find out, have very different political views. Jim is a Physician’s Assistant who loves to play games with his kids in his free time, and Nancy is a social worker at a low-income school in Jefferson County who loves to paint. They told me that they tend to lean towards the more democratic side, but would consider themselves more of independents. Their two kids Sophie and Jack, go to Kammerer Middle School and love to play sports and hang out with their friends. Their kids quite frankly were a little young for some of the conversation, but they brought some valuable opinions nonetheless.

When I invited them over they seemed thrilled, and asked if they could bring anything. I told them that I would make the main course, chicken parmesan, if they could bring a vegetable, and they brought asparagus. We had mostly only had small talk with our neighbors at this point, so it was cool to actually sit down and talk to them. When they got there, we introduced ourselves more formally, and actually started to get to know one another. Jim and Nancy were both very sweet people, with very interesting life stories. They are both from Kentucky, born and raised, but other than that common denominator they were as different as they come. This became very interesting as we sat down at the dinner table and began discussing the more pressing topics.

I started the conversation by telling them about our class and the topics of how can we live better together, how can we solve problems, and how can we have more of a say over our lives. I described to them the process of deliberation and how this conversation should stay respectful, and how listening to other opinions could perhaps give each-other a new point of view.

When asked the question, “what does citizenship mean to you”, there was kind of a dead silence and then once everyone got to talking the phrase “being a productive member of society” kept being repeated. When I started to think about that, I thought what does that mean? Sophie surprisingly chimed in on this question and said that citizenship to her meant being kind to everyone and helping people, whereas Steve said that being a citizen means that you do your fair share in the economy, and community. I think that it was interesting especially on this question, how age really affected the answer. Sophie, Jack, and I seemed to think that citizenship is something that is so simple, and that we as citizens, overcomplicate it. Whereas the older people at the table, Steve, Jennifer, Jim, and Nancy thought that citizenship was more of a job that included more dutiful tasks and work. This question got the ball rolling but there was not much disagreement, or diversity in the conversation. One question that I thought was very interesting was, “do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” When asked this question Nancy started telling stories of her children that she works with in the schools. She feels like sometimes she is the only one who can make an impact on these children in low-income schools. She believes that her greater purpose is to be a light in these schools, and uses her faith to drive her in that. We then began talking about how it is so important to have mentors as a child, who push you to be a better person. The question then arose, is it these kid’s faults that they end up in drug circles, and gangs, when the only thing that they have ever grown up around is drug circles and gangs. It was interesting when Sophie and Jack began to talk about how they feel like they can make an impact on kids in their schools from what their parents are teaching them at home. How can we as citizens make sure that we are doing all we can to lessen the amount of poverty and crime in these low-income communities? This made me realize you don’t have to be in a position of power, status, or wealth to be able to positively impact someone. My mom, Jennifer then brought to the table how she didn’t think that you had to have a direct role, to make an impact. This brought some controversy, as myself and Nancy disagreed pretty heavily with her. We had the mindset that in order to do something, about anything, not just with at-risk children, you have to take initiative and play a direct role, which is something that as citizens who have the means to do so, should do.

When talking about what our responsibilities are, and who we want to be I think it was a general consensus that we all want to be “good people”. The disagreement came when discussing how we could achieve that. I think for different people being a good person, means different things. For Sophie and Jack, that could mean sitting with someone who is sitting alone in the cafeteria, but for Jennifer or Jim that could mean, helping a co-worker who is struggling, or donating to a charity. At the end of this discussion, I thought to myself maybe this is why it is so hard as a collective group of citizens, to decide on how to fix a problem, or even live well together, because we all have different ways of contributing to society. Maybe, instead of scrutinizing people because they don’t bring what we do to the table, or they bring something different to the table, if we commended them and opened our minds to what they have to bring we would live more harmoniously.

The last thing we talked about is how we had lived next to each other for almost 3 years and haven’t done this sort of thing sooner. This was really interesting to me because it really shows how selfish we are as human beings. We are “too busy” to really invest in our surroundings, which is a huge pitfall of our generation and current time. I think this is a huge reason of why we find it so difficult to live better together, and to solve problems collectively, is that we simply don’t make it a priority. This dinner gave my parents especially, who live there, a great opportunity to get to know the people who they live right next to. I think also it gave them a good opportunity to discuss how neighbors can be better neighbors. One definition of neighbor is a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward fellow humans, and I think that this dinner allowed Jim and Nancy and Steve and Jennifer to be able to assess how they can be better neighbors to each other. My parents have since then had dinner with Nancy and Jim several times, and they even all played a round of golf together.

To me this dinner really encompassed the main purpose of this class, I found myself throughout the dinner referring to some of the readings that we did in class, and drawing from that knowledge to form how I thought about the issue. “To Hell With Good Intentions” and “How We Talk Matters” encompass themes that were so prevalent in our conversation, such as how should we help, should we even help at all, and how can we best cater to others. It was through this night that I realized that we have a long way to go in society to become a well-oiled machine, and talking about controversial topics, and having open conversations about them is the first step. I also learned that branching out and learning more about the people that live in your community is so important. Jim and Nancy challenged me to think about things differently, and consider those who had a different childhood than I did, and who have different circumstances than me. Overall, this was a very rewarding experience, and one that I would do again given the chance.

Kentucky Kitchen Table

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My kitchen table project was set in Louisville, Kentucky. Michael, Kristin, Peter, Charlie, and Josh ate dinner with me (Sarah) at my family’s home. Michael is my father who used to work for General Electric, and now works for First Build. Kristin is my mother who works as a stay at home mom and substitute teacher. Peter is an exchange student from China who goes to Josh’s school. Josh is my younger brother, a sophomore in high school. Last, but not least, Charlie is my older brother. He also attends Western Kentucky University and is a junior. Mike did not want to be included in the photograph.

We all helped participate in making the dinner, splitting the jobs of shredding the cheese to help make the pasta, baking the chicken, and boiling the green beans.

“Citizenship means being able to govern ourselves,” Mike said as he answered the question “what does citizenship mean to you?” He went on to explain how citizenship in the United States gave people freedom that some countries do not have.

We went on to discuss what each person believed what the best thing about our world today is. In Peter’s opinion, the best thing is the temporary peace. However, Josh stated that technology is the best thing about the world. This single question began to show how different viewpoints can shape opinions and have a result that is completely different than the person next to them.

Peter’s answer of peace made sense, as he came from China. Many people are still in danger in China, whereas the United States is a free country. In Peter’s eyes, that is peace.

Josh, on the other hand, has been raised with the privilege of freedom. Technology has been centered in his life through school work and communication as well as appliances and other things. Technology is the world to him, so that is why he answered with that.

Mike stated that his favorite thing about the world today is life. He is content with just living and breathing.

“I love breathing, man,” he said. “Let me tell you something, we are blessed.”

He also loves the diversity of nature and the beauty of the world itself.

When asked what he wanted to live in, Josh once again responded with a twenty-first-century answer. He mentioned wanting to live in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is an area in southern San Francisco, where there is a lot of technology and businesses.

When Peter answered what he liked most about living in China, his answer was simple: food. He loves the traditional Chinese food. During the dinner, Peter mentioned how much he missed it, but he also enjoyed the food we ate in the United States.

Mike and Josh agreed that the one thing they love most about living in the United States is the freedom we are given. They are able to do what they want to do (legally, of course), and go where they want to go, when they want to. Religion is not persecuted in the United States, so they are also free to believe what they want to.

Mike and Kirstin both agreed that it is important as a society to get to know your neighbors. That way, a community can be built within the neighborhood. Within a strong community, people can communicate and help each other out. However, Josh’s point of view was quite different.

Josh believed that there was not a point to knowing his neighbors, as he wasn’t doing anything with them like talking to or working with them. In his words, “there’s no need for me to interact with them.”

Peter knew his neighbors from China because his father worked with them.

When we discussed how our jobs influence others, everyone agreed. No matter whether someone’s job is in a business or a teaching job, the way people interact with others matters. First impressions especially stand out. Many jobs require connections. Connections are made by creating a relationship between people, and most people would like that relationship to be a positive one.

Those in the dinner did not have much advice to give to the people running or office. This is because none of us are smart enough, have the experience, nor are planning to run for office in the future. Charlie, however, eventually gave a firm, well thought out advice that everyone could take into thought. Charlie did not participate in the discussion too much, but he finally had something to say. “Do what is meaningful, not what is expedient,” Charlie advised.

Religion can make an impact on how people treat other people, but it does not have to. Christianity, for example, tells believers to treat everyone with love and kindness, but someone does not have to be a Christian to have those traits. Religion may have certain guidelines for morals, but even those who are not religious do, too.

This conversation helped me learn more about how age can shape views. For example, the younger participants cared more about technology and money, whereas the older participants cared about the community and helping others. This may be caused by the increase of social media and technology, which the younger participants had grown up with. The older participants, however, were used to getting to know people in person and building relationships.

This connects to the class because we are learning about how we can work together as a community. Without community, problems cannot be solved very well. In order to solve issues together, the community needs to get along and understand where each other is coming from so that they can work together in a peaceful environment and avoid conflict as best as they can.

Growing up in different countries also changes perspectives. Peter, for example, comes from a persecuted family in China, whereas Josh comes from a privileged family in the United States. Peter focused on what he believes to be the temporary peace that is seemingly spread around the world, whereas Josh focused his part of the conversation in angling back to the advancement in technology.

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.

KKT picture

Living Better Together

 

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By Chad

My brother Chase and I had made a split decision to come home to Louisville that weekend just to have an opportunity to see our family and of course our loving dog, Buddy. I face-timed my mom and told her about our plans to come home, when I suddenly had the idea to have the Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner over the weekend. She seemed very excited and said she would invite her friends from college. On the drive home, I took in the newly forming spectacular fall colors that illuminated the trees, and formulated some questions that I could possibly inquire about at dinner. I had never done or even heard about an event similar to this so I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

As I walked into my house, I felt a sense of warmth and belonging that always comforts me. The heavenly scent of the bison roast emanating from the crock pot by the stove was making my mouth water and I was immediately thrilled to have the opportunity to converse about topics that I rarely discuss or even think about over my favorite meal. The mashed potatoes had already been prepared and were cooling in the refrigerator. The green beans were melding flavor with the bacon strips that lied below them in the slow-cooker. My mom gathered the entire family in the kitchen and asked us to help her prepare the salad for the dinner. By watching her make her famous lemon salad, and practicing countless times I felt I was ready to take on this responsibility. My dad can rarely come home before dinner time because of his strict work requirements so having him in the kitchen and sharing laughs that night really emphasized the importance of family time to me.

Our guests arrived just in time to watch the sunset from our screened-in porch. The deep pink and orange lit up the sky as we all snacked on cheese and crackers talking about the latest sports news with the University of Louisville and the race that Paul, had run that morning. We moved in from the cooler night air into the kitchen where the warming scent of pumpkin and vanilla candles greeted us. We spread out the food and we all took our places around the round kitchen table. As soon as we sat down, my mom exclaimed that “This is a dinner like my mom used to have every Sunday evening.” This is a statement I would revisit in a later conversation that evening. Once everyone was settled, I inquired about the meaning of citizenship beyond paying taxes, voting, and following laws. The first to speak was my mom’s best friend and former college roommate, Karen, who sat to the left of me. She explained that contributing to one’s community, to one’s family, and one’s country was the meaning of citizenship to her. She elaborated that while society offers us so much and it is a responsibility to nurture it through social, political, educational, and economical participation. Also Karen told us how going to ball games establishes an important connection between the university and the city. After Karen answered, my dad, Nick, interjected with his thought that being a citizen means discussing ideas about politics and other important issues with friends and family. I thought his response was particularly interesting because of its simplicity. Paul mulled over the question for a while and finally said that having open businesses that provide jobs for families was what being a citizen signified. I thought that everyone’s first response very nicely addressed one of our central questions for our course which is, “How do we live well together?” All of the answers that I received were related to the interactions between the general public and the greater community as a whole whether it be universities, foundations, or directly with the government.

I then asked my guests, “What is your ideal community?” Paul, who was sitting next to Nick, said he wishes more than anything that people could trust each other but more importantly, trust our government. This trust issue was a heavy point of emphasis for Paul and the rest of the guests throughout the night. Paul then referenced his and his wife, Karen’s trip to Denmark where they frequently saw people leave their purses and wallets in plain sight at their tables in public places when they went to use the bathroom. They said that these people had no fear of anyone stealing their valuables because there was an inherent trust in each other. For me this was quite a shocking story because I can’t imagine just leaving my phone or wallet at my table while I was occupied somewhere else. Unfortunately, this fear of theft begins with people in this country not being able to trust one another and this issue manifests itself in other ways. Everyone at the table agreed that people in the United States aren’t able to place trust in their government because politicians are too concerned with personal gain and winning for their particular parties. This issue was also a recurring theme throughout our conversation. This lead into my next question which was, “What are the worst things in our current government?” Nick said that commoners and people in office should share the same benefits of laws that are passed instead of politicians receiving monetary and power gains through their own work. Karen added that our government is too partisan and politicians only desire to win for their parties and not to better their communities.

When we were discussing the best things about our country, Karen mentioned something that I believe is crucial to growth for our community. She said that even through all the fighting between parties and all the polarizing figures in politics, our country is still a family. She referenced Hurricane Harvey and said that people banded together to save their fellow humans. Her statements made me think of a reading we have done, “Occupy Sandy: A Movement Moves to Relief.” This reading talks of how the government largely failed to provide assistance to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, however; people who witnessed the tragedy worked tirelessly to get the victims food, water, and shelter. Karen’s words reinforced that we are no matter our identity, or our position in life, we are all human beings. And when we discussed if everyone knew their neighbors, Nick and Jan said that they are great friends with their neighbors because they are retired and they desire to help take care of my parents. Everyone then agreed that more gatherings just like the one we were currently having was a good way of improving the sense of community amongst people.

The theme of trust in government was revisited in our conversation about advice for politicians. Nick, without hesitation said that they need to “Tell the truth.” My mom, Jan, rather energetically exclaimed that they must stand up for what is right, and not lose sight of the goal which is the betterment of the community.

Another lesson from a reading sparked in my brain when my guests talked about if Americans had an obligation to people in other countries. Nick said that we first need to make ourselves the best we can be, then and only then can we extend a helping hand to people in dire situations in other countries. However, he made it a point to say that we don’t owe subsidies or any other forms of monetary aid to them. I think Ivan Ilich was smiling somewhere because in his speech we read by him, “To Hell with Good Intentions” he lays out the reasons that American volunteering in developing countries is simply out of self-gain and not for the improvement of the less-fortunate. Jan chimed in that we do need to stand up for basic human rights for everyone, which means stopping chemical warfare and the use of mustard gas from radical governments against their own people. This ties into the point Karen made that we are still human beings.

When the guests were asked what issue was closest to their hearts, they had varying answers. Paul said that society should stop glorifying sports stars. He was frustrated with the fact that professional sports stars earned salaries higher than our doctors and educators. He referenced the fact that in South Korea, “the scientists are the rockstars.” Other cultures make education/family a priority. Karen was more concerned of the dangers of social media and how that people treat each other nowadays. She mentioned that kids don’t respect their parents, and this translates into them not respecting their teachers and elders, and therefore not respecting the president. The degradation of the family unit once again was highlighted as Jan said that parents need to raise their child in such a way that enforces the importance of going to school and receiving a quality education. Also, she said that we can’t blame others for our children’s failures. At the end of this debate, everyone came to the conclusion that trust in society is crucial and the family unit needs to be emphasized and revitalized.

By the end of the night, all my guests had shared thoughts which they probably don’t have the opportunity to express very often. I could tell there was an enhanced feeling of community among our group because we all revealed our true feelings about serious topics. It was clear to me that unfortunately people in this country don’t have a large amount of respect or trust in each other or our government. Also, the quality time spent with family has decreased and the family unit as a whole has diminished into a shell of what it used to be. I believe that having meals with one’s family is one of the most important steps one can take in improving these issues. Simply by eating with family, you can discuss topics and have a better understanding of another’s perspectives while having a better respect for your family members. In my opinion, stressing the importance of family and education to young children is the best way to combat the aforementioned problems. I thoroughly enjoyed the Kentucky Kitchen Table experience and I firmly believe that more events like this need to occur.  

A College Kid Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Ruth

My meal took place in the city I was born and raised in: Louisville, Kentucky. I hosted my dinner at my sister’s apartment downtown, and we invited many of her friends. Everyone at the dinner attends the University of Louisville, and most of the guys were part of a fraternity. Although everyone who attended was approximately the same age, there was still an array of diversity, from sexuality to religion to upbringing.
Starting from the far left of my photo is Allison. Allison is one of my sister’s roommates and the only other person at the dinner that I knew besides my sister. Allison grew up in Bowling Green in a very conservative household with strict parents. She claims that her parents are extremely strict on some matters, such as boys and clothing, but lenient on others, such as alcohol and marijuana. Second is Joe #1. Joe #1 was extremely quiet the whole dinner, and when I asked him about himself, he said his life is “normal.” I never learned much about Joe #1 except that he is a sophomore and in the Lambda Qi fraternity at the University of Louisville. Next is Foster. Foster is a freshman, a Lambda Qi associate member. Throughout the course of the dinner, Foster was almost as quiet as Joe #1, although he did laugh a lot. I do not know much about Joe #1 or Foster, except that they smoke a lot of weed and were too high that night to give much input. Next up is Kyle, the sweetest, most respectful college-aged boy I have ever met. Kyle has very strong values and had tons of good input. After Kyle is his best friend Adam. Adam’s family grew up impoverished in downtown Louisville. He is very outgoing around people, but seemed shy when answering questions.
Next is Sophie, my older sister. Like me, Sophie grew up a preacher’s daughter, and has since, also like me, drifted away from her faith. Our parents are very conservative, but Sophie is very adventurous and independent. On the far end of the couch is Kayla. Both of Kayla’s parents came out as gay after Kayla was born. Her mother remarried a woman, and Kayla lives with them. Kayla doesn’t see or speak to her father anymore. Kayla was also very quiet the whole evening. Next to Kayla is Joe #2. Joe #2 is from Louisville; he grew up Catholic but now identifies as agnostic. Joe #2 seemed to be a very wise, in-tune person. Next is Rachel. Rachel is Allison’s cousin and is also from Bowling Green. Rachel is also a freshman, and she is openly gay. Lastly is Alex. Alex talked the most, and about a lot of things, however I never got much out of anything he said. He is from Louisville and lives at home with his parents. He grew up religious but is not so much anymore.
I started the dinner by having everyone share a little bit about themselves, and I asked follow-up questions to get to know each person better. We spent a decent amount of time doing this because I wanted everyone to get to know each other and be comfortable talking. Most everyone seemed at ease and willing to share, although some did take a slight bit of prodding. I asked the mandatory question of course, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” I think people were a little stumped by this question and couldn’t really think of much. I got a couple answers about being there for people and supporting one another. We ended up talking about community, and being involved. The group agreed that being a part of a community is important when it comes to citizenship. I tried not to dwell on this question too much because, even though it was our one required question, it didn’t spark much conversation.
I asked a handful of the optional questions, ones that I thought would get some decent discussion. With almost every question, the conversation tended to veer back towards the idea of community. With one question, “What do you think are the best things about our world today,” Kyle said the internet. His point was how close it has made us. It has developed its own community that would otherwise not be possible. I asked if there were any downsides to the internet, and the group agreed that there is, but the benefits outweigh the negatives. They all seemed to just want to be good, loving, kind people. When I asked them if they thought they had an obligation to their community, they all immediately agreed that we all do. I found that interesting because in our class discussion on obligation, it took a while for us to decide. In class, we spent more time thinking and deliberating; we did not act upon our gut reaction.
Everyone who attended my dinner was very receptive and willing, but most of them were shy. Alex and Kyle would jump to give me a response, with the occasional initial answer from Joe #2. Once somebody answered, however, the rest of the group was more willing to give their opinion. It took a little longer to get the conversation going than I anticipated. I had to help mediate and include a few people here and there, but overall, I had a very good group.
My group was large, which I liked because it allowed for more personal side conversations. It seems strange, but I felt like everyone felt more at ease knowing they could occasionally gather in a smaller group they felt more comfortable in. It made the larger group discussions more impactful, and allowed me to listen in on the smaller discussions, getting to know everybody better. People would talk a little in a smaller group, and then come to the larger group and share their opinions. The smaller groups gave everyone a more comfortable atmosphere to come up with ideas. This reminds me of our class. We are given some time in the beginning to discuss in a pair or small group. We can gather our thoughts and then feel comfortable sharing our organized thoughts with the larger group.
If I am to be completely honest, I did not really learn much from this activity. Going into it, I had high hopes and expectations; I thought it was a cool activity and I would get a lot out of it. I know most people are the opposite, thinking this project is dumb and pointless. They then host the dinner and find that is was helpful and interesting. I, on the other hand, did not get much out of my dinner. I thought I did it correctly, and I thought we had pretty good discussion, but it just didn’t do much for me. I think I was stressing about the project too much that I didn’t allow myself to enjoy the dinner. I was worried about cooking and inviting and making sure everyone was happy when they arrived. I do, however, think the project is a good idea. Although I did not learn anything tangible, it gave me the opportunity to meet new people and hear thoughts from a diverse group.
This Kentucky Kitchen Table related to the central question of the class, “How do we live well together?” The whole discussion was geared toward the idea of community and how we can be there for those around us. A reading that closely relates is “The Empathy Exams Essays” by Leslie Jamison. This reading is about how humans want to feel cared for. We all have feelings, and we want our feelings to be validated by other people. It can be difficult to empathize with somebody, especially if you have not been through what they are going through and you do not understand their pain. We all deal with stuff, and we all expect someone to care. Caring for a struggling person can be hard when you are struggling yourself. We all must realize that we can live well together and support each other, but we cannot have unreasonable expectations of others.
The book “Citizen” by Claudia Rankine is another class reading that relates to the question “How do we live well together?” This book is all about an African American woman living in a mostly white world. She is explaining her experiences with racism and discrimination. My dinner group would say that the people in her community have an obligation to stand up to her. They should treat her equally and with respect, and should defend her in a time of need. This book is all about community and working together to improve our world.
Overall, this Kentucky Kitchen Table experience was mediocre. It was a very interesting project, and I have never done anything like it. I am grateful that I had the chance to experience something like this. It was more fun and exciting than a paper; it was a real, hands on project. It was a good thing to do and I think it benefits most people. IMG_8451