Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Harlee Pennington

My Kentucky Kitchen Table project took place in my hometown- Paintsville, Kentucky. Even though it is a long drive back home (5 hours at the least), I knew I wanted to involve my family in this project from the very beginning. I don’t go home much, so I knew finding a time that would work for both myself and the people I wanted to include would be difficult. I went home a total of two times before I actually got the dinner to happen. I was sort of worried and stressed out at the time of the dinner, but as soon as we settled down into conversation I knew I had made the right choice of choosing to do this with my family.

There were five people in attendance, myself included. My mom, Julie, is a very conservative veterinarian who is not afraid to voice her opinion in any way, so you can imagine how interesting she made the conversation. One of my mother’s friends, Ruth and her husband, Jim, also attended. We went to church with them for years, but when we moved to Paintsville that all changed. They have quite similar, yet very different views on most things, so I thought they would make an interesting addition to our dinner. Ruth is a friendly phlebotomist who has an insane amount of compassion for others. Jim is a retired school bus driver turned farmer, who values church above most things. The last person that joined us, besides myself, was one of my childhood friends, Brittany. Brittany is a social worker that loves children in a way only someone with a special heart can; she is very quiet and open-minded, which is quite different from the other personalities we had at our table.

In true Pennington fashion, my mother refused to let anyone bring anything for dinner. She said that if we were the ones hosting that we should be the ones to provide the food; I didn’t argue. We had chicken, with a choice of fries or onion rings. By the end of the dinner, there was not a piece of food left, so I would say we had a pretty good time. Before diving straight into the questions, I wanted to just talk with them. I didn’t want our dinner to feel like a project, so I just started off the conversation with some light-hearted questions. We mainly talked about college, which is when I started asking the questions that will form this blogpost.

Like I expected, we all shared similar beliefs in what citizenship meant to us besides voting and paying taxes. Most of the responses I heard were along the lines of enjoying the freedom we have the privilege of having and honoring our country in ways like volunteer services and taking care of the land that we live in. Some of the questions I asked had little diversity, but the most interesting conversation we had was regarding the question of whether we have an obligation to help people in our country and our community. For a little while everyone was quiet. Julie, the outspoken person she is, decided to speak up. Since she is my mom and I know her pretty well, I had a good idea of what she was going to say, which I also knew would stir up some conversation with Ruth. Julie said that it was not an obligation, but more of a choice. She doesn’t think that people are entitled to help others, but that it is a choice we have to make. Ruth was quick to respond after this. Ruth, dislike my mother, was very adamant that we do have an obligation to help others- it says so in the bible, was her argument. Although there was a disagreement, they were able to see each other’s points and respectfully disagree after I explained to them that bickering was never going to come up with a solution- something I had come to learn very well throughout my Citizen and Self class. They appreciated me stepping in and telling them that it was okay to have different opinions while still respecting someone else’s views. After this conversation, when there was disagreement, it was resolved pretty fast.

Although there were many disagreements about things like what advice should be given to people running for office and what social issues were important, there were some really common themes I noticed that we all continued to point out. Everyone at the table really thought that fellowshipping with others was a good way to kick start problem solving. We all agreed that there was no way that anything, even small problems with easy solutions, could be solved if we didn’t know how to talk and interact kindly with one another. This conversation kick started our conversation about the type of people we wanted to be. My response was open. My mom laughed at this (I wasn’t surprised), but I quickly reminded her that we had just talked about fellowship; she apologized. My mom said she wanted to be authentic. Everyone agreed. We discussed how being true to yourself and your beliefs was an important thing to learn before trying to respect other people’s ideas. I brought up the idea that people tend to be defensive instead of receptive when they aren’t secure in themselves and their beliefs. Another interesting point that was brought up was the dinners around a table concept. Since I was little, I have had very few dinners around a table. My mom agreed; Ruth, Jim, and Brittany were shocked. They explained how much they valued the time they got to spend with their families around the dinner table. Since I rarely had the experience, it was fun listening to their stories about how they believed it had brought their family closer together. It almost made me wish that my mom and I had more chances to sit down and eat together, but I also knew there were specific reasons why that couldn’t happen. Overall, I was really happy with not only the diversity in our answers, but also the things we could come together and agree on. Part of me was scared that our opinions would be so different that it would be hard to find common ground, but after explaining the things and giving tips on how to talk with someone who has different opinions than yourself, we were able to come together and talk about common themes and ideas.

Surprisingly I learned a lot from our conversations. Honestly, coming into this dinner I thought it was just going to be mass chaos of voices with no real substance, but I was pleasantly surprised at how wrong they proved me. Not only did I learn new things about people that I have loved my whole life, I learned new things about myself and new ways to view the world. I told them about my favorite reading from the class, “The Snare of Preparation,” by Jane Adaams and asked them what they thought of it before telling them that it was my favorite. They had mixed ideas, but overall, they agreed with the idea that we can become too prepared to know what to actually do when a situation arises. My mom used the example of war to explain her point that we can think we know what to do when a situation arises, but you never really know until you are put into that position, and even then, it is often too late to be wrong. I learned that you can wrong about people, and that you should never judge someone without getting to know them and their intentions first. I loved sitting around with these people and learning more about them in a deliberative way.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this project. Spending time with people I love is already fun, but when you add debate AND food to the mix, there’s really no room for disappointment. If the situation ever arises for me to have a deliberative engagement over dinner with my family, or with people I don’t know, I would definitely do this again. It’s a really interesting way to get to know people, and a good way to further develop your knowledge on issues you may not be familiar with. Not only was it an awesome opportunity to spend time with my family, but it also gave me a chance to work on my deliberation skills. After this dinner, I feel way more comfortable sharing my ideas with people who may not agree. I also learned a great deal about how to help people see other people’s points of view, and also how to help other people respect others to keep peace in a tense situation. In all honestly, I really did not think this project would turn out as well as it did, so I am extremely glad that I learned something and that I could pass along the helpful knowledge I have learned in class to people I love.