I had my Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner in my hometown of Russell Springs, Kentucky. It was hosted at my house, where my dad insisted on making dinner himself (he absolutely loves to cook). On the menu that evening was smoked salmon, steamed rice, broccoli casserole, and corn on the cob. There were seven people who were able to come my table for dinner that evening: Tim, Tami, Sara, Loren, Carol, myself, and Logan (my little brother who didn’t contribute but loves to eat fish). Tim, my dad, is 39 years old and the manager at a car dealership in town. He is a registered independent voter and has lived in or around Russell Springs his whole life. Tami, my mom, is 37 years old and a stay at home mom. She is a registered republican. Sara, my sister, is 14 years old and is a freshman in high school, where she is a member of her school’s chapter of YMCA. Loren, my boyfriend, is 18 and attending Western Kentucky University to pursue a double major in history and social studies. He is a registered democrat. I also invited my neighbor a few houses down, Carol. I’d never really talked to her much besides a greeting as I walked by her house, but she seemed liked such a nice lady and her political views and background are much different than my parents’. Carol is 62, a registered democrat, has lived in a variety of small and big towns in Kentucky, and worked at a job servicing agency for the state for 30 years before retiring. The people at my table were very diverse in experience, political identity, and age; thus, a wide array of opinions was brought to the table and a great conversation ensued.
After we all filled up our plates, we sat down around the table and made small talk. After that, the first question I presented to the table was “Besides the usual voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does it mean to you to be a citizen?” Not to my surprise, the table fell silent. After some more prodding on my part, Carol began to talk about what being a citizen means to her. She talked about how being a citizen means being an individual with freedoms – freedoms to speak and express our feelings. We all agreed, and Sara added something I thought was particularly interesting. She described that even though we have freedoms as citizens, we have duties, too, like helping others and being part of a community. Being a citizen means that we hold an obligation to our neighbors and our country to be active in the community. That led me to ask them the question of if they thought we have any obligations to other people in our country or community. Almost everyone quickly agreed, with Carol telling a story about how she was brought up to believe in the golden rule of treating everyone like you want to be treated, and treating everyone like family. Tami added that she has always believed that she should help others whenever she can. A great discussion of obligation and how it was basic human decency to help others. It was at this point that Loren spoke up and said he disagreed completely. He talked about how he believed it was all up to each person to decide what they want to do. If they want to help, sure, but he doesn’t believe anyone should have to. Everyone went back and forth for a bit, with neither side really budging. I sensed the conversation was at a standstill, so I sought to provoke a different discussion.
I asked the table what kind of community they would like to live in. Tim quickly jumped on this, near ranting about how he was tired of political banter and lying, and wished he could live somewhere without the political junk and with honesty. Carol added that she values safety, and wishes she could live somewhere that locking your doors was a myth and you never had to worry about trust. We talked about how that would be amazing, and Tami added that having a community where everyone was equals would be great, too. Sara added perhaps the most innocent and sweet comment of the evening when she said that she would like to live somewhere where everyone loves each other and everyone genuinely cared about each other. The older people got a little sad at that, and you could tell we all wished we could tell her that was real.
After that, I followed up by asking everyone what social issue was closest to their hearts. Tami said that for her, it was gender equality. She shared a touching story about how, when she was in high school, she dreamed to be a police officer and eventually a detective. She enrolled in college to study criminal justice, and was so excited for the future. But she faced so much persecution for it – being told it was a man’s profession and that she would never make it in the field – that she abandoned her dream. Everyone was visibly touched at the story, and we all agreed gender roles is an issue that needs attention. After this, Sara began to talk about racism and its impacts. Russell Springs is a small, predominantly white town. Sara’s best friend is African American, and she told us about how often her friend gets teased in school about being a different race. Carol brought up the recent issue of standing/kneeling for the American flag. We had conflicting views on the issue; some of us believed that you should stand for your country’s flag no matter what, while some of us believed that it is important to take a stand against the country’s injustices. This led us to discuss how far patriotism is required of citizens, and if there is a point to where it isn’t. We all came to the consensus that there is a point to which our country could not deserve patriotism, if injustice was high enough. Some believed we were at that point, others did not think we were yet.
We finished our meal, said our goodbyes to Loren and Carol, and enjoyed the rest of our evening. Reflecting on this dinner, I’m astonished at how much our conversation related to those we’ve had in class. The long discussion we had about obligations as citizens almost mirrored discussions we had in class centering the reading “If It Feels Right…”. This article discussed how much the idea of moral obligations has changed over time, especially in recent years. Nearly gone in the youth of today is the feeling that there is a simple right or wrong. People today have more of the mindset of – like the title of the article – if it feels right to someone, who are we to judge or tell them it’s wrong? Based on this, it is fitting that the millennially aged at our table felt this way. Older generations believed in an obligation to help our fellow citizens, and had been raised to think that way. The generation of young/rising adults has been raised in a time afraid of causing anyone offense, and thus feel it is up to the individual to choose what they believe.
Our class talks a lot about the importance of deliberation, referenced in the article “How We Talk Matters”. The article discusses the importance of changing how we talk to each other, referencing the importance of careful listening. It also talks about how while conflict is hard to overcome, it is actually very critical and necessary in deliberation. I reference this to be able to further express how impressed I was with our table talk. Without ever studying deliberation, everyone talked together extremely well and respectfully. When we talked about kneeling for the flag, everyone had differing and conflicting opinions; yet, everyone listened to the opposing side respectfully and everyone compromised at least some of their view.
Both of these points relate to central ideas of our class. A major question in our class is that of where in the middle of “anything goes” and “hard absolutism” does democracy fit? This relates to our talk on obligations, if they are a set in stone or each their own. Our class is all about discussing this fine balance. Another major topic in our class is deliberation and the importance of it when addressing “wicked problems” – a problem with no right or wrong solution, only better or worse. A few examples of wicked problems include poverty, environmental issues, and famine. The importance of deliberation in addressing these is to be able to converse deeply about these issues and better understand them; allowing for more informed, well-rounded decisions to be made and for all sides of the problems to be heard.
My Kentucky kitchen table allowed me to see things I’ve learned in class unfold in real life – not only the issues we discussed but the way they were discussed. In class, it is easy to agree that deliberation is great and that the things we talk about actually are true, but it is more important to discover it for yourself.