The meal took place in my hometown, Shepherdsville, Kentucky, which is located about 20 minutes south of Louisville. Right on the outskirts of the biggest city in Kentucky, the similarities mostly end after proximity is accounted for. Louisville is a hub of racial, ethnical, political, and ideological diversity, while Shepherdsville is not. To put everything in perspective, it made headlines in our local paper when my old high school hired its first non-white faculty member during my sophomore year. Even when my brother and sister went to school there less than 10 years ago, you could count the number of non-white students on one hand, even though our school had over 1,200 students. However, progress has been made. My dad was a band teacher at our local middle school up for 30 years until he retired two years ago. When he first started working there, his students would bring in pictures of their dads in KKK uniforms and hand him pamphlets inviting him to join. Now, the most offensive behavior I have witnessed was a parade of 20 or so trucks sporting confederate flags parked in front of our school and driving around Shepherdsville for a week or so and the occasional racist comment. I hate that I reference these actions in such a dismissive way when others are deeply offended by these actions, but I like to think that they stem from ignorance, not true hatred. It’s difficult discussing these matters and hard to find the balance between optimism of the improvements that have been made and the reality that every act of racism is horrible. I say all of this to give the setting for this dinner, and describe what me, my brother, and sister grew up around.
For this dinner, my brother, Ben insisted on cooking everything for the simple reason that he loves to cook. While he usually likes to try making some fancy new dish, he decided to be more reserved and make something he expected everyone would like- Mexican. At the dinner was my mother Angie, my father Kirby, my aunt Lois, my uncle Bob, my sister Lauren, my brother Ben, a friend of my brother named Tess, and me, Kelsin. Angie and Kirby are both devout Christians who aren’t very political, but happen to identify as Republicans for social reasons. While they both are ideologically on the same page today, they grew up with different backgrounds. Kirby grew up in a part of Louisville called the Highlands in a liberal, Catholic household along with 6 other kids. He ended up going to EKU where he met Angie and then became a middle school band teacher, which he just retired from. Angie grew up in Eastern Kentucky living a seemingly simpler life with what could be called religiously extreme parents that didn’t allow the celebration of any holidays or for her to cut her hair. She grew up to become a computer programmer and then substitute teacher after having kids. Lois grew up with the exact same background since they are sisters only separated by a year of age, however she has diverged even further from her parent’s beliefs than my mother has. She now attends what she calls a progressive church and leans further left than Angie. She became a preschool teacher and also just retired from that. Her husband, Bob, grew up in Hopkinsville, considers himself to be a libertarian, an atheist, and works in management at Humana. Lauren is recently married, works as a high school German teacher in Hardin county even though she lives in Louisville. She is very conservative and identifies as republican. Ben on the other hand is harder to define. He had always identified as republican, however after the past election he said he was going to switch to democrat, however, I am unsure if he ever did. He works at a public relations company in Louisville, but would rather be off writing short stories. I never got to meat Tess until he brought her to this dinner but she is also from Louisville, attended U of L for an art degree, currently works at Heine brothers, makes leather bound books on the side, and is a vocal feminist. This dinner was filled with diversity in background, age, and ideology which led to a very good discussion.
After a few months of eating fast food almost daily, I really appreciated being home, having a home cooked meal, and getting to talk with people from my hometown. When starting our conversation, I tried really hard to start the conversation off well and set the tone because I didn’t want to make these people feel like it was some sort of interview. To do this I described to them the purpose of the class by going through our three central questions and talking about the bridge that takes us from where we are to where we want to be. I also mentioned some of our readings that emphasized the importance of deliberation and talking through issues so that they could better understand the purpose of the class and assignment.
When inviting people to come eat dinner and help me with a class project it always came out that I was going to ask what citizenship meant to them, so everyone was very prepared for this which meant I got a lot of answers. Angie was quick to point out that citizenship unfortunately does not have as significant of a meaning as it should because there are so many people taking advantage of our country and getting the perks of citizenship without taking on any responsibility or costs that come along with it. While many didn’t agree with the severity of this issue they agreed with the structure of there being benefits and costs, but some saw costs more in the light of what a person is able to give back. Bob felt like a civilly productive member of society since he had just finished serving jury duty the week before, but felt that he gave even more than that back. He really embraced the idea that you get just as much out of citizenship as you put in because his citizenship allows him to benefit by having the security clearance he does which then allows him to help every US citizen by assisting the military in their effort to defend us. Lois however, felt that service was the key to citizenship: doing as much good for others as you can. Ben, who has traveled across four different continents, attended GSA and GSP, and loves to debate, questioned her on this though. If you measure how good of a citizen you are by your service, how do you know if your service is good. Ben graduated with a double major in Chemistry and Spanish and seriously considered joining the Peace Corps until he questioned if his motives were to make himself feel good about himself or if it was truly to help others and if this was even actually helping these people. An all too giddy me jumped at the opportunity to share how perfectly this aligned with a whole week of our readings in class. This is almost the exact same message that Illich presents in, “To Hell With Good Intentions,” when he talks about the dangers of jumping in to help solve a problem without fully considering the potential consequences and repercussions that could come about from these actions.
ess then combatted this by arguing that following this train of thought is what is making our government so stagnant and doesn’t allow it to actually solve problems and what makes our democracy ineffective. Bob jumped on the bandwagon to bash our democracy’s ineffectiveness but justified it by having two sides that just don’t listen to the other. He said that people inherit their belief systems from their parents and will do anything in their power to justify what they think is true. This just proves what we learned in class as the importance of critical thinking as well as deliberation, however, it also relates very closely to the reading, “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail.” In this reading the author talked about how people are guided mostly by their emotions, but mostly use their logical side to try and justify their intuitions. This has the ability to lead to a political disconnect like Bob was saying because it proves the difficulty for most people to be persuaded through facts and logic which then makes having political conversations more difficult to have and then polarizes our country. Ben then disagreed with the thought that democracy wasn’t working and thought that having two sides is good. He said that having the ability to express your own opinion is exactly what makes our nation great. What he would find alarming is if everyone felt the same way about something and the implications it would imply.
This last comment is what stuck with me most from the entire discussion because whenever I think about disputes and disagreements I automatically correlate this discomfort with a lack of progress. I never really considered the importance of divergent thinking which a reading said was the key first step in starting to solve a problem. This entire dinner gave me a unique opportunity to see people with vastly different opinions and backgrounds come together and discuss very big ideas civilly and come to agreements. In this assignment I learned everyone has a unique perspective and that I want to hear it.