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

Advertisements

Living Better Together

 

6VL6aaMeTVatyvTVh8LSLA

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

Kentucky Kitchen Table: Related, not Synonymous

By CarolineCaroline Camfield Kentucky Kitchen Table

San Diego, Switzerland, New Orleans, Charleston, Cincinnati, California, Louisville, Bowling Green: Out of everyone at my Kentucky Kitchen Table, at least two (if not three or four) had been to all of these places. Part of the reason, everyone (besides me that is) is at least related by marriage and can be tied into my jump rope coach, who hosted the dinner in her home; Julie, a 60-year-old mother of one, who after growing up in Louisville, KY and attending college at Western Kentucky University, spent several years travelling across the globe, utilizing her master’s degree in teaching to teach English as a Second Language in Europe. This is where her husband David is from (although they actually met at a hotel in California, and her sister Lynn was the one to meet him first.) David, a Swiss immigrant first came to the United States as an adult to travel and did not plan on actually moving here until he met Julie and they married. After Julie and he returned to her hometown of Louisville, David attended the University of Louisville’s Speed School of Engineering and currently works as an engineer. Julie’s sister Lynn, who is 5 years older than her sister, also grew up in Louisville and attended Western Kentucky University. After college, however, she worked in the field of social work until Julie convinced her to join her in some of her travels (which because her and her husband Paul don’t have any children they still spend a large amount of time travelling.) Currently, Lynn lives in Northern Kentucky and just recently retired from being a preschool teacher at a school in one of Cincinnati’s poorest neighborhoods. Paul grew up in California with “libertarian parents” who’s views did not necessarily align with his own; he worked in New Orleans as a cab driver for several years (before he moved to Northern Kentucky) and currently works as a substitute math teacher.  Then finally, there is Julie’s daughter, Murray, a 20-year-old college student who followed in her Aunt and Mother’s footsteps and attended Western Kentucky University and is currently a math and English double-major.

The dietary constraints at the meal were almost as diverse as the places everyone had travelled; from vegan to paleo to vegetarian, almost everyone had their own unique considerations when it came to choosing what foods to bring. However, since the two people following the vegan and paleo diets are somewhat relaxed in maintaining these diets, especially when desserts are involved, they weren’t taken into account for a few of the food choices. To the meal, I provided the first and last courses (even though not everyone ate them in that order); I brought a salad consisting of assorted greens, fresh cut corn, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, and peppers, and individual bread pudding cups topped with bourbon sauce for dessert. For our main dish, Julie baked a layered spinach and tomato pasta dish she makes frequently enough for her daughter that I’ve had it a few times before when I was at their house. Lynn and Paul both contributed fresh fruit, cubed pineapple and chocolate-covered strawberries, respectively. David provided asiago and cinnamon crunch bagels from Panera (since he receives a free bagel everyday this month, which is quite fitting since the majority of us at the table partake in as many opportunities to receive and utilize free-food offers as we can.) And finally, Murray contributed milk to the table and while not everyone drank it, it did lead to her telling the story of how she convinced a few young jumpers from the jump rope team in Trinidad and Tobago that since she drank milk at meals other than breakfast, she calls herself a milk girl. And this was how the majority of the dinner went; sometimes ideas and beliefs were stated explicitly but mostly they were woven into the conversations through stories.

This idea became especially clear when I asked he table what their ideal community would be, because, for the most part, they answered with locations they’ve previously lived instead of descriptions of the qualities of a community like I expected. This highlights how everyone, except for Murray and me, is very well traveled and their travels have all impacted their lives in some way. Julie was first one to answer this question and declared she wanted to live in a beach community (and later changed it to an alternative beach community/co-op once hearing everyone else’s ideas.) This was another theme throughout the meal, everyone was fairly willing to change their ideas of what they wanted after someone else had an idea they liked better. This ties back into the concept of the Elephant and the Rider, discussed in the except we read in class from Haidt’s Righteous Mind, since while everyone’s elephant initially led them in one direction, the elephant was sometimes very easily swayed to another when it thought that that could be a better option (leaving the rider to adjust the justifications accordingly.) As for everyone else, Paul wanted to move back down to New Orleans because of the unique atmosphere there and the diverse group of people he encountered while working as a taxi-driver. When first asked the question, Lynn described how she’d live in a diverse community, like Paul, enjoying the variety of perspectives that subsequently arise out of diverse backgrounds (but then after hearing the rest of the table’s responses, she changed hers to a beach community, which depending on the exact location can prove to be a diverse mixture many different demographics.)

Since the overall dynamic at the table promoted the sharing of stories, which, as it oftentimes does, got off topic, preventing everyone from explicitly sharing their ideas of what they believe it means to be a citizen, the viewpoints that were shared surprisingly varied more than their answers to every other topic that was mentioned (although unsurprisingly their responses still fed off of one another quite a bit.) Lynn was the first to answer and described her belief that being a citizen gives you the right to peacefully protest, and thus influence how society is run. Paul almost directly opposed this by describing how he believed that while being a citizen gives you the ability to protest, he enjoys how you also have the ability and freedom to stay quiet if you are so inclined due to the freedom of speech. Furthermore, he emphasized how ideally, all freedoms would be granted and respected by society (which while it would eliminate the need for some protest it would depend on having an almost perfect society.) Murray then proceeded to explain that while she believes being a citizen does give you the ability to not voice your opinion if you don’t want to, she also believes speaking up for others with less privilege (and who aren’t able to do so) is an obligation. Her ideas fed off both her aunt and uncle’s, agreeing and disagreeing with ideas from both, which goes to show that while she grew up hearing their beliefs, she has still formed her own and not just conformed to the ones surrounding her. For the most part, everyone did have their own distinct beliefs concerning each topic we discussed, yet at times everyone was more than willing to adapt their ideas to someone else’s if a new idea was presented. This openness caught me by surprise a little since the dynamic in many families merely focuses on convincing others of your beliefs instead of actually listening to what everyone thought.

At this table especially, everyone brought a set of their own fairly unique experiences, which in turn influenced their opinions. When discussing social issues that were closest to our heart, Lynn mentioned that she witnessed racism occur between people of both the same race and of different ones while teaching at her school, even though the population there consisted almost entirely of African Americans. Yet through talking with other teachers and students, she was able to adapt her perspectives to accommodate their experiences that she sympathized with, yet would never truly experience. Likewise, Paul felt that education was important to him, stemming from his current job, and David said that the decreasing middle class was an issue needing to be addressed since he is a part of that demographic. Murray followed this trend by saying, somewhat indecisively, that animal rights and sustainability were both issues she felt connected to (especially animal rights since, as she explained, it was only after learning that animals were treated so poorly before they were processed into food for consumption that she eliminated the already minimal amount of meat from her diet.) She then followed up with the statement that while these two issues matter to her, she realizes they aren’t the most pressing issues faced by society; in addition, she also believes that LGBTQ rights and feminine equality are important, even though she may not be able to influence the causes as directly as she can with the other two. Out of everyone’s responses, Murray was the only one who mentioned an example of actually making an effort to combat the social issue they felt closest to, and although this could be because some of the other issues are broader and could be more intimidating to tackle, it may also signify a generational change, or a combination of both if young adults today are standing up not for the broader issues, but for more specific ones, and by doing so they feel more able to make an impact and thus are attempting to do so.

A Surprisingly Enlightening Pot Roast

By Chase

xWXCRIVFT96TPHddKLIHZw

As an unusually warm mid October day came to a close in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, I raced downstairs in my Western Kentucky University t-shirt to the sound of expectant knocking at the door. Thoughts of indifference and relative unease swirled through my head as I neared the hungry guests waiting patiently outside. With little excitement for the Kentucky Kitchen Table assignment facing me, I focused on the incredible smell of my mother’s famous pot roast emanating from the kitchen. Opening up our home, our two guests, Karen and Paul, stood before me at the entrance before eagerly coming into the sweet aroma of homemade cooking.

Hearing the sound of our guests, Jan, my mom, raced over to the hallway to exchange hugs with Karen, her old roommate from college at the University of Louisville, and her husband, both chemical engineers. After my dad, Nick, told some corny jokes, we all headed outside to enjoy summer’s last fling before the fall sun quickly disappeared below the horizon. As I sipped on my iced water with my brother, Chad, I silently dreaded the imminent awkwardness of asking family friends of their views on citizenship and society as a whole.

Bellies rumbling, we collectively decided to get ready for dinner as the natural light outside slowly faded into nothingness. As twins, Chad and I softly sighed realizing, even at dinner we would have to do some schoolwork.

Lighting the candle and dimming the lights in our cozy kitchen, I set the tone for an intimate and revealing conversation where everyone could talk freely. Diverse not in race or socioeconomic class, we all gathered around the table as friends of different religions, jobs, and, most importantly, perspectives on the world. Though largely of the same political mindset, I was thoroughly surprised at the difference of opinion that would ensue on issues of citizenship and society throughout the night.

As we passed the lemon salad, pot roast, macaroni and cheese, green beans, and mashed potatoes around the table we made small talk about the delicious feast that lay before us. Though we did not pray before eating we each implicitly went around the table and told something we were thankful for in an almost Thanksgiving-like manner, mostly commenting on the importance of family and friends and the beautiful spread on our many plates. With six people squeezed around a table for four, we dug into our food with relish as I prepared my first question in my head.

And so it began with the first shaky question out of my mouth: “Besides for paying taxes, and voting, what does it mean to be a citizen?” Through the ramble of clanking dishes and chewing mouths, without hesitation Karen chimed in that citizenship was truly about contributing to society. Though interrupted by Nick’s slight tangent on the issue of not being able to contribute to society’s political discourse because of the staunch politically correct culture that embodies American culture at the moment, Jan largely finished Karen’s thought that we may all contribute through supporting the economy through our purchases, and helping others in need.

Karen continued her point about contribution as she cited her own personal endowment to the local community. After the horribly upsetting news about the UofL men’s basketball program the in the past month, she typed and sent a letter to the University of Louisville Board of Trustees to speak her mind about the corruption and ineffectiveness of the athletic program as an avid fan and season ticket holder. Though she recognized her letter probably received little attention at the meeting, Karen expressed just how much better she felt as she properly expressed her opinion through the undeniable right of free speech in American society.

The normally quiet and reserved Paul related that in providing a safe, reliable, and rewarding workplace to his employees at his chemical engineering firm he was doing his own part in providing to society. As more and more comments flooded in about economic security in our communities, Jan’s comment of the necessity of feeling as if we all support ourselves and the society harmoniously struck me as she continued that it proves imperative that we all have a stake in our communities, whether it be through our work and services we offer to other citizens, taxes we pay to help keep the economy, and our society as a whole afloat, or simply working to be a productive member for our own families and by default contributing to the wellbeing of the population of Louisville and Kentucky.

Through continued remarks of just how delicious the pot roast was and probing questions into the location of the butter, we moved on to the idea of “ideal communities” as I began to appreciate this assignment more and more. With her boisterous views, Jan immediately talked of the ideal community in which everyone was working towards the greater good for their families and consequently working towards the greater good for the community as a whole. Recognizing that unemployment was a real issue that plagued many Americans she didn’t mind the idea of welfare and government help to get people back on their feet, but held that everyone should contribute in any way they must while unemployed whether it be through helping the local daycare where their child attends, or actively searching for a way to a better life through persistence and will to not be “a bump on a log”.

With a variety of agreeable comments and the occasional “teach a man to fish” parables, family and friends held firm in their prescription to fix the ailments of society through each individual’s hard working contribution. Though interesting, by far the most resonating idea came from Paul who related his experiences of living in Denmark to the ideal community. I know personally that Paul would never subscribe to the principles of a socialistic government like they have in the very liberal Scandinavia, but even through these convictions he greatly praised the incredible trust the Danish people have in each other and their government giving examples of the government run child-care system and people leaving their babies unattended in their strollers out on street corners while in stores due to such deep confidence in their lack of harm.

Hearing this, I was incredulous at the thought of complete faith in and reliance on the workings of the government and the everyday person as the ever-so polarized American political system exposes and perpetuates American citizens inability to get along with one another and work towards the common goal of happiness and success for all. It seems to me that we are so focused on our political and ideological convictions in this country with two incredibly opposed political points of view, that we forget that most of us really do wish for the betterment of society. Through our lack of understanding one another, both liberals and conservatives alike, we find ourselves facing a wicked problem of our own creation: the ineffectiveness of communication across arbitrary political, racial, theological, and socio-economic divides in our equally as wicked battle in identity politics.

As the conversation ensued, I was constantly reminded of the numerous selections we read in class and their application to real people’s experiences and frames of mind. When we arrived on the topic of global citizenship and its meaning to each of us, quotes and memories of seminar discussions about the necessity for us to make ourselves look at the world from the standpoint of our global effect on one another came flooding back into the forefront of my mind. Though views ranged from never subsidizing and supporting monetarily other countries to our absolute need to make sure other countries do not fail their own people, we all came to the unconditional conviction that we must stand up and speak out for the defense of basic human rights across the world.

I found it quite interesting that at a largely conservative-minded table that stereotypes the focus on the individual and the patriotism of America, everyone saw it imperative to protect and serve our fellow human beings around the world when their humanity was threatened.

Finishing our scrumptious home-cooked meal in the comfort of friends and family, we relished in our gratefulness for one another and our friendship that we shared. Taking the last morsel of mac and cheese on my fork I came to the slow but enlightening conclusion of the importance of this assignment in its ability to start a conversation towards solutions of everyday problems in our local communities and larger society. This idea of proper, intimate, and friendly conversation struck a chord with me in an American society that seems to idealize the polarization of our differences to such a degree that we cannot seem to progress as a unified people. As we focus more on white and black, Christian and Muslim, conservative and liberal, and straight and gay, we lose sight of our shared experiences, and more importantly, our shared humanity. Though it may be hard to believe, most all citizens desire to find betterment not only for themselves but for others in our society and world. If we ever truly want to pioneer a more accepting, trusting, and loving world where everyone works toward society’s advancement, we must learn to communicate not for our differences, but despite them.

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Kaylynn

Saying I am from Louisville is technically accurate, but it is not that simple. I am from Valley Station, a neighborhood in the South End. We are part of Louisville Metro because of the city-county merger, but our little neighborhood has nothing on the vibrancy of downtown Louisville.

Our Kentucky Kitchen Table was held in Valley Station, at my family home. Donna – my mother – hosted the dinner. She is very particular about hosting, so she insisted the two of us preparing all the food. She is in her 50s, and she was raised Southern Baptist. When she married my dad, she converted to Catholicism, and now she works at their church. My dad, Michael, was at the dinner as well. He is a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. Susan is a childhood friend of my mom, but since she has a very busy schedule and lives on the other side of the city, I have only met her a couple of times. She is a single woman, quite affluent, and she is a Church of Christ member. Dianne and Joe are members of my parents’ Catholic Church. Dianne described herself as, “30, blonde, and skinny,” then laughed and added, “I have one kid, and I’m an accountant.” To round out the table, I am a 19-year-old Biology student at WKU.

First we talked about what citizenship meant. The consensus seemed to be that it was a sense of belonging. Being a citizen is something that brings Americans together, even if we were born in different places or have different cultures. Citizenship is an intention. We intend to make America better, but we all have different ideas on what “better” is. This is why the more instrumental parts of citizenship like voting are so important. They are the methods by which we bring our ideas of “better” together and work to get there.

Everyone at the table was from a different part of Louisville: my family is from Valley Station, Susan is from Middletown, and Dianne and Joe are from Pleasure Ridge Park. So everyone had a unique perspective on the good things about living in Louisville. Dad – who wants to live in the country someday – huffed and said he liked that the crazy weather means there is plenty of job security for meteorologists. Mom mentioned that Louisville is central: “You can get to other places around the country in a reasonable amount of time.” There was some dissonance in the group here, because the other people around the table thought more positively about Louisville. Dianne works downtown, so she appreciates that they get “big city benefits” while closer to home there is more of a “small town feel.” That is, people generally seem friendlier than those in other large cities. I tied this dissonance a little to one of the class’s main questions: “How can we have more of a say over our own lives?” The people who liked the city felt more of a control over their own lives. They lived where they wanted to. However, those who were more “settling” for Louisville and would rather live elsewhere felt less of a control over their lives. Where we live changes how we feel about life as a whole.

When we discussed the things we like about the world today, the generation gap showed itself. They talked for a long time about how much more accessible information is these days. It was observed that because kids have access to the Internet, they know so much more about the world and current events than kids of earlier generations ever did. This was an uncomfortable thought for them because the Internet is so new. There are no tried and true guidelines for how to expose kids to the Internet, so you must make the rules up as you go along and hope for the best. As a member of the generation of kids they were talking about, this was eye-opening. That was a challenge of parenting I had never thought about before. Dianne came back to the question for a final thought: “To me, the best thing about living now is love. When my parents were young, you couldn’t love someone who’s another race. But now you can, and I’m proud of the present for that.”

We talked a lot about neighbors: what it meant to be a neighbor, who could be considered a neighbor, how we feel about our neighbors. Dianne had a lot to say about this. “I’ve met my neighbors and I see them around sometimes. But I wouldn’t get a cup of sugar from them. And I’m ashamed of that. I would like to have more of a relationship with them, but I never have.” Joe, on the other hand, said that instead of only being friends with people living close by, now people separate more according to interests. Susan suggested that people you consider your neighbors may not be “next-door neighbors,” and the people you are closest with may not be the people who are nearest to you. She referenced how she and my mom have remained friends for decades despite my family living in Missouri and Florida for a while before coming back to Kentucky. No one at the table was close to their neighbors because they had friends from work or from church who they felt they had more in common with. However, my dad mentioned how during the ice storm in 2009, people walked around the neighborhood more, and interacted more with each other. Then, when the house across the street caught fire a few years ago, people in the area came running to help. Even if we are not as close to our neighbors as we were before, we will still help out if we can.

The conversation about neighbors reminded me of our deliberation on police, specifically the option that involved community policing and neighborhood watch groups. One of the difficulties of putting such a program in action would be the problem highlighted by the people at the dinner: people do not interact with their next-door neighbors. If a crime were to happen, would someone in my neighborhood be outside to witness it? Would they do anything about it? In my neighborhood, I think a watch would be beneficial and not too different from life as it is now. When the weather is nice, there is usually somebody out on a walk. Just like when the woman’s house caught on fire, I think people still have the compassion to help during bad times. But what about better times? I feel the important question now is how we can bring neighborhoods together. I think there are many options that would serve dual purposes. Take community gardens. They are ways of promoting healthier eating, and they are also good for the environment. But they also require cooperation, so neighbors learn how to interact better. Growing something together creates pride in the community and respect for those around you.

The last thing we talked about was the social issues most important to us. Everyone’s answers were vastly different, and this speaks to the fact that our experiences shape our opinions and values. Dianne was most concerned about LGBT rights because of her daughter, who is an actor with many LGBT friends. There was conflict between the Catholic Church’s teachings and her daughter’s more accepting attitude. Her struggle reminded me a bit of the empathy readings, particularly “Devil’s Bait.” I think, to her, being LGBT is an experience so alien that it is almost like it is not even real (sort of like Morgellons to a non-sufferer). She struggled with whether or not she should accept LGBT people, because what if it is a choice? But her conclusion seemed to be that she will never know what the best thing to do is, and so she tries to be supportive. Listening to her talk about this was difficult, as I never had to struggle to accept LGBT people. Because of the Internet, I knew that people could be LGBT much earlier than Dianne’s generation did, and I listened to people’s stories about coming out and whether they were accepted or rejected by those they told. My culture in that way is so much different from Dianne’s and I can respect where she is coming from.

In doing this project, I learned a lot about how people’s experiences shape the way they think and what they do. My parents have not had very good experiences with living in cities, and so their view of Louisville is more negative than others’. For everyone else at the table besides me, the Internet was still relatively new, so they were much more skeptical of it. My mom’s and Susan’s experiences as long-distance friends made them believe that distance is not what decides who is your neighbor. And Dianne’s Catholic background caused her to struggle over LGBT people. These are all experiences I have not had, but listening to them talk helped me be on the same level as them. We do not have to agree with everything, but if we listen to others’ stories, we can live better together.

kkt

From left: Michael, Donna, Susan, Dianne, Joe (photo taken by Kaylynn)

When We Come Together

By: Elise

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to host a Kentucky Kitchen Table at my house in Louisville, Kentucky. I must give a great thank you to my old youth minister who helped me get a diverse group of people together while I was in school in a different city. He was able to contact people for me that came to my meal that I never would have gotten to talk to without his help; and I think this diversity embodies the idea of this project.

There were nine people who attended my project dinner, each one with their own unique perspective. And, as I had requested, they all brought one of their favorite side dishes to accompany the main course and dessert my family provided. There was Larry, an outreach minister at a church, Janet, a self-employed consultant, Iris, a writer for Anthem, Heavenleah, and instructor for students with autism, and Felix, a 5th grader at a local elementary school. Also, a few of my family members attended; there was, Jackie, a children’s minister, David, a director at a marketing agency, and Amanda, an instructor for students with autism. They have asked that I refrain from getting too detailed with their specific descriptions but, our group’s ages ranged across 60 years. There were varying political parties, orientations, economic classes, and races represented; and many people there were not born in Louisville. And, with all of these differences between people, I had anticipated some awkward moments. However, the dinner ran very smoothly. Everyone was excited to participate and eager to hear other opinions. They were all very respectful and willing to speak up.  It was a really cool thing to witness.

I began the conversation by explaining a little bit to my guests about what the class is and reminding them of the purpose. After that, I really let my guests run the conversation, and they needed very little prompting from me. With the exception of my changing the question or adding a comment here and there, I had very little to do with the direction of the conversation. They had lots of good answers, and even questions of their own. And, everyone listened to what the others had to say. This conversation really embodied Keith Melville’s thoughts in How We Talk Matters. In this article, Melville defines deliberation as an approach to public decision making; and, he emphasizes the importance of intentional conversation and listening. And, during this conversation I was able to see the amazing things that can happen when this practice is actually used. People came together and actually heard what the others were saying, despite their difference in political party or economic class. And while they might not have had their minds changed about certain topics, they heard other opinions that seemed to broaden their view of the subject, and make them more open to other ideas.

The first question I asked was the required one, what does citizenship mean to you? Overwhelmingly, the answer I heard was being a citizen meant being a part of a community. The idea of citizens being a team or a family.  Each person has a different job, but we need all of those jobs done in order to be successful. Iris was reminded of jury duty—of how one person can’t be the only decision maker, but it requires a team of people actively participating to get the job done. Similarly, Felix said that a community reminded him of a grandfather clock in which the people were like the gears that kept the clock running. Even though he is young, he had some interesting insights throughout the night.

They also discussed how you can be a “citizen” of many different communities. Of course, we were all citizens of the United States, of Kentucky, and of Louisville. But we are also citizens of churches, schools, sports teams, clubs, etc. Some of these things we choose, while others we must be a part of. So, it is important to be a good citizen in all areas of our life.

Then I asked the question, what is the thing you love most about living where you do? I opened up the question so that people could talk about Louisville, but also compare it to places they had lived in the past and what they liked about that, too.  I felt that this was important to talk about because it recognizes the fact that we did not all come from the same place, though we were there together in that moment. At first, people focused on Louisville.  They love that everyone there is so friendly, and that they may not know everyone’s name, but they know their story. They said that this made the big city seem more connected, and more like a small town. They like the reputation Louisville has of being kind and generous, and this reputation is embodied by celebrities from there that they mentioned such as Muhammad Ali and Jennifer Lawrence. They seemed to all agree that an ideal place to live had these qualities that they liked about Louisville.

After we spent time talking about what we liked, I asked about what improvements they thought should be made to the area. Without missing a beat, Amanda brought up how we needed more homeless shelters in the city. We have a few in the downtown area, but in the part of town that most of us live, we do not have anything substantial. We also discussed how our prison system needed to be reformed; both in the prison and in the transition out of it. We have many people in the city who have served their time, but still seemed to be punished because they can’t get hired anywhere. Others brought up the fact that our area needs to improve on its awareness and treatment of those with mental illness or addiction. Many people noted how they knew people who had been turned away for help in these areas because the doctors were unsure how to help, or the insurance didn’t cover it.

While I prompted this question with improvements they thought should be made in Louisville, it seemed to me that all of these problems they noticed applied across the country. And, most of them had to do with the larger systems in place. They all seemed helpless when discussing these topics because they were unsure how to get around the large systems, but they saw a clear problem in the way they were run. It made me think about a discussion we had briefly in class once about how large systems that were put in place, like the prison system or the foster care system, are put in place to fix one problem, but it can cause other problems. That what makes issues like these Wicked. You cannot foresee the consequences, and once you put the system in place it is time-consuming and costly to change or replace them.

The last thing I asked them was what advice they would give to people running for office in our country. I thought this would be an interesting topic to cover because of recent political divisions across the country. I wanted to see if the group could discuss something that could be politically charged in a calm and efficient manner. Luckily for me, they did. And I loved their answers. A main point that they all agreed on was they wanted a politician who would focus on what unites the country, and not what divides it. They want politicians who do not use Us vs. Them tactics, but who will be honest with their opinions and be true to what they think is best rather than what the Party wants. The table also advised that politicians should know that they can’t please everyone, but they should still try to make everyone feel like they are heard. A common theme of this discussion was that people felt alienated because no one was listening to them. The group thought that if leaders made an effort to listen, people would be more understanding of their actions, even if they weren’t the outcome they had hoped for.

I did not realize until it was over how great of an experience this project was. It is not often that I get to sit and talk with a diverse group of people about issues that actually matter. And, it is not that I dislike these types of conversations; I just get so caught up in my own life that things like this don’t happen. But, I now realize the value of this type of conversation. In this class we talk about the importance of deliberation, and I can see now just how effective it can be. If people were to openly discuss topics like these more often, I feel our communities would be stronger. Most people came to this table strangers, but I feel we left a connected group. If citizens would take more opportunities like these, they might feel more connected to their communities.