Kentucky Kitchen Table: Birthday Edition

By Emma
For my Kentucky Kitchen Table project, I decided to host a post birthday dinner on October 12th in my hometown Union, Kentucky. It was a super great, rather than a potluck (since most of the people there live in dorms) we cooked the meal together which was a great way to get the conversation going. We talked over chorizo rice, taco meat, and trying to peel avocados. I invited my two friends Toney and Morgan and their two roommates who I didn’t know very well, Jordyn and Sarah. Then my family joined the meal a little later because they got home late and seemed pretty excited to chow down on some homemade Mexican. My family consists of my younger brother Carter, my mom Allison, and my dad Jason. To begin we sat around my kitchen table and had some casual conversation to get to know Sarah and Jordyn better. I learned that both Sarah and Jordyn grew up around the same area that Toney, Morgan, my brother, and I grew up in. We talked about what their lives were like at home growing up. Morgan’s parents worked alternate shifts at Fed Ex, so they weren’t together at home very often and kitchen table dinners were saved for the major holidays, if that worked out with their schedules. Toney spent a lot of her time with babysitters growing up because her mom was often away on business and she doesn’t see her dad, so their dinners weren’t around the kitchen table often. Jordyn spent time at both of her parents houses so she would have dinner with them, but as she got older and busier it was harder and harder to keep up with, so they eventually stopped. Sarah’s family dinners were very similar to mine, we would get home from school, do homework, have dinner with our family at the kitchen table, and then would play. That is, until we got older and busier and kitchen table dinners weren’t a priority. The same goes for my little brother. Finally, my parents told us a bit about their upbringing. My mom was raised on a farm where they had hogs and tobacco and my grandpa was a truck driver because of that she didn’t see him very often. My dad on the other hand grew up in a military family. He moved a few times throughout his childhood until settling in relatively poor part of northern Kentucky and his parents worked a lot to support them. Our homelives were very different growing up which was really interesting to see how each of us perceived a family dinner around a kitchen table. One big thing we touched on was how valuable that time is and truly special it is to really get to bond over good food and conversation.
When I asked the main question of the night, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” I received different answers, as the discussion moved on the ideas sort of merged together and we began to talk about the ideal citizen. The “good” citizen we created through this discussion was involved in their community, passionate for those who need assistance, and truly cared for the safety and well being of those around them. Another thing we came across was the need for conversation between citizens, not just to be cordial, but conversation that can lead to development of the community that they reside in. Then we talked about our current jobs (my parents) or our jobs that we want (everyone else at the table who was a student) and how our jobs to relate as roles of a citizen. Four people at the table are in health care or want to be in health care talked about how their job is to ensure the wellness of the people in our community, that it is their job as a citizen to have a “good head and a good heart”, as Morgan said, for the people in the community to help keep them happy and healthy which was really interesting and impactful. Jordyn wants to go into architecture and interior design, she felt that her job was to provide safe and beautiful architecture and decoration to the community to create a special feel to the place in which other citizens live and work. Honestly, it was really exciting to see what everyone wanted to do and how they truly want to help out their community. The third question that we discussed that night was asking what kind of person the people at the table wanted to be. We heard the obvious answers that we assume everyone wants us to be such as nice or giving. The biggest trait that we talked about was being genuine. To be the type of person who is real in whatever situation they’re placed in, to be honest and trusted. There are so many good traits that go along with that word and I feel that it can really encompass the traits of a good citizen or person. No selfish characteristics were said like I had expected. I was waiting to hear, rich or powerful or influential but I generally heard things that were for the betterment of those around us. These questions were a really great way to get to hear everyone’s thoughts and beliefs and I absolutely loved getting to absorb and consider their them.
Overall, I loved this project. I enjoyed getting to sit at the kitchen table I grew up around and have genuine conversation about real things. As the time passed the conversation drifted to the most random of topics, some were serious, and some were so funny I had tears in my eyes. That’s something I miss about being at home. But, through these conversations I learned that the world isn’t as dark as it is portrayed in the media. Most people want to be good, they want to help others, and they want to make a positive impact on their community. I also learned that there is a general desire to understand those around us, during dinner we didn’t just sit there and talk on and on or listen to one person do so. We interacted, asked questions, and sometimes debated statements just to better understand their perspective. One of my favorite questions was about the issue closest to everyone’s heart. What was interesting to see was that all of them whether they were education, the wage gap, international relations, mental health awareness, they were centered around everyone being treated equally. This was really eye opening because it showed that everyone wanted everyone in our society to have a chance to be themselves or to have the opportunity that someone else had no matter their circumstances. Mostly, I learned to listen more than talk because you get to see what really matters to everyone and how they perceive the world. Once you gain that understanding you have the opportunity to make change and answer the three central questions of the class.
This totally relates to our class because we talked about right and wrong, values, and what it means to be a good and proactive citizen. It really reminded me of our reading How We Talk Matters because what we say and how we say it really does impact how we view people and how we view ourselves. Good communication indeed transforms people and can transform the society we are living in. So, how can we live better together? Maybe it’s by sitting around a dinner table and talking. Maybe it’s just better conversation, better communication. We can live better together by understanding those that live around us, so we can make it better for everyone else, not just ourselves.

 

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A Kentucky Kitchen Table…in Tennessee

By Kallyn

In my family, eating together at a table in the comfort of our home with homemade food is a norm. Almost all our larger family gatherings (birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) are potluck style and every household is responsible for bringing some sort of dish. This assignment felt just like any other large family gathering, just with a few extra guests and a required question. Everybody met at my dining room table at my house on October 12th, 2018 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

I must confess that due to the celebration at hand there were more than 10 people in the house of this table but less than 10 sat at the table that were actively participating in my project. The participating members are pictured below. The older man closest to the front is my grandfather, Rich. He’s 82 years old but has a young heart. My grandfather is one of the smartest and most hardworking people I know even in his old age. Then on his left is my grandmother, Frankie. She’s big on traditions and she loves her family fiercely. This dinner also doubled as a celebration of her 81st birthday, making her the longest person to live on either side of her family. Both my grandparents were born into poor families and were very poor for most of my mom and aunts’ childhoods. My grandfather worked as a mining engineer and worked diligently to earn the respect of his coworkers. My mom has told me many times how hard of a worker and how well respected my grandfather was when he was working at the mine in Carthage, Tennessee. Through frugal living and hard work, my grandparents made a fortune for themselves and they have been able to live beyond comfortably, travel the world, and spoil their daughters in their adulthood and grandchildren from their birth.

My aunt, Darise, is the oldest daughter on my mom’s side of the family. She’s a teacher at a local middle school and probably the most liberal individual in my family. Then there is my dad, Joel, who knows more about sports than ESPN. He played football at Vanderbilt University and has instilled a love for football in his children. He works as a salesman selling some sort of medical test. He was born and raised in a speck of a small town in rural Ohio but moved to Nashville for college where he met my mom who is the next woman in the picture. My mom, Amy, will, by the time I have posted this, have run her fifth half marathon. Both of my parents love the Lord and raised me to do the same. They are passionate about having their children know the history of this country as well as current events.

My aunt, Michelle, has two kids of her own who I am very close too. Her son and my cousin, Ben, is currently working as an English teacher to children in China. He Facetimed us during the meal and we all got to hear about a few funny stories he had so far. Ben confessed that although he doesn’t regret coming to China, he doesn’t enjoy it as much as he thought he would. According to him, the food isn’t that great and the people are very rude. He said that he has more of an appreciation for America and for his family. He doesn’t come home until August 2019 so he still has lots of time left in China. This will be our families first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter without our Benjamin.

The last two people at the table, and dare I say the most important for the sake of this assignment, are friends of my grandparents that they made when they lived in a retirement community called Fairfield Glade in Crossville, Tennessee. My grandparents lived out there with them for 11 years. I have very fond childhood memories of “the Glade” as a lot of our family gathering used to take place around my grandparent’s dining room table instead of my own. The woman’s name is Pat and her husband’s name is Jerry. What I learned about Jerry was that he not only graduated from West Point but did so without any help from his parents. His mom had in her mind that he was going be a minister and had no idea that he had even applied but Jerry defied her by going to West Point.I didn’t get to learn much about his wife, Pat, other than she lived in Detroit for a while and loves the NFL team, the Detroit Lions.

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I kicked off the conversation with the key question about citizenship. Michelle was the first to answer. For her, citizenship means being proud to be an American. She looks at living in America as a privilege but also a responsibility. My other aunt, Darise, expanded on that idea and said that she felt that as Americans we don’t just owe citizenship to one another but to other countries. She stressed that we need to prove that although sometimes flawed, America is still one of the best countries in the world to live in. My grandma continued saying America is meant to be a beacon of light to other countries and talked about how she’s been proud to be an American her whole life. My dad, who just came back from a trip to Washington D.C. with my little brother, said that he felt citizenship is the right to assemble and protest peacefully without fear of the consequences. Citizenship to my grandfather meant leaving the world better than you found it. Lastly, Jerry added that Americans have been given the gift of freedom through citizenship and that living here is a privilege. This privilege comes with a price as we need to give back to our country as it has given to us.

During the conversation, my cousin Josh passed through the room and although he was not technically a Kentucky Kitchen Table participant because he did not eat at the table my other participants absolutely insisted on knowing his definition of citizenship. He responded with a quick and simple definition of just where you were born and live. That’s all he thought of because he explained that I hadn’t mentioned America at all but I had just said simply “citizenship”. Before I continue, I think I should point out the diversity in age at my table. Josh is only just now in his 30s. Besides me, my international guest, Ben, is the youngest at 23. My dad, my mom, and both of my aunts are in their 50s and 60s. My grandparents are in their early 80s and their friends are in their mid 70s. Because of the stout age difference between most of the table and Josh, one might jump to the conclusion that Josh’s age was revealed in his response. I don’t know if that’s a fair assumption as I had an answer similar to the more complex and patriotic ones that everyone else was discussing. However, Josh did serve as a reminder of the importance of understanding that everybody may not feel as passionately about citizenship or process that it is more than paying taxes, voting and following the law.  Josh stresses the importance of making Americans aware of how blessed they are and informing them what being a citizen encompasses.

After the citizenship question, I decided just to let the conversation flow naturally. We started talking about David Price, the current pitcher of the major league baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. Darise taught David when he was in middle school and Josh played on the same baseball team as him when they were 10. Darise talked about not only what a stellar student David was but how he was very kind. David has not forgotten about Murfreesboro and has done a lot of good things for the community. His most recent and biggest project, a special baseball field and playground for children with physical disabilities. We started talking about how there are people in this world like David, who remain good people despite the temptation to be corrupted by money and fame. They remain their kind selves and the money and popularity only helps them be able to expand their kindness and generosity further. But, there are also people in this world who are corrupted by money and fame. Although these people have the capability to help make the world a better place, they don’t seize their opportunity as they should.

At some point later in the evening, I learned that Pat and Jerry spent time living in Venezuela. This got the group talking about the cultures and differences from other countries to the United States. My whole family has done quite a bit of travel for vacations, work and as I mentioned early I have a cousin currently living in China and another living with her husband on a U.S. naval base in Spain. These are just a few of many international excursions my family and our guests have been on. We talked briefly about the tragedy of natural disasters in places such as Venezuela and Haiti. Though natural disasters have had devastating effects in America ( Hurricane Michael, wildfires in California, Hurricane Harvey etc.) countries like Haiti don’t have the economic or political stability to help people that need it. Haiti must depend almost entirely on individuals or other countries, like the U.S. to step in and help.

Overall, what I think I learned is that even though America has its flaws, it is a gift to live in the United States. This group is well-traveled and thus I feel safe concluding that the United States offers its citizens an opportunity for a wonderful, blessed life. In class, we toyed with the idea of whether Americans should use this opportunity to give back in the form of mission trips when we discussed “To Hell with Good Intentions”. The author argued that Americans should stick to tourism because when we try to help we do more harm than good. However, I think my table and I have concluded that in the terms of one of the key questions we deal with in Honors 251 that Americans can help others only have more say over their lives by representing America well. U.S. citizens can also improve the quality of other lives by donating their time, talent and treasure in helping their neighbors outside the United States. Just as people hope that athletes use their money and fame to make a difference, Americans, who have the resources and power to help people both domestically like David Price and abroad should do so.

I also learned is how lucky I am that I have a family that has sit-down, homemade meals often. I think the fast-paced, workaholic trend in America today pushes people away from both home-cooked meals and taking the time to fellowship with one another during meals. It occurred to me that this project may be one of a few times that some of my classmates have had dinner in this style. The community that one experiences from sharing a meal with other people is irreplaceable. And if nothing else, this project reminded me to be thankful for the country I live in and the family I’ve been given. Time is precious and these family dinners are going to end up being some of my most cherished family memories.

P.S. Here’s a picture of my grandma with her birthday cake and candles.

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Sean’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Sean

On Friday October the 12th I did my Kentucky kitchen table project in Crestwood, Kentucky, which is outside of Louisville, Kentucky. I did this in my childhood home. Including myself there was a total of seven of us, all were my parents’ friends that they have known from church. These people were different ages and did different things in life, so they had all different experiences. Even though I was a little nervous for the experience and the discussion, I was pleasantly surprised by everyone’s answer and had a great time discussing with all that participated.

The first person at the dinner is Cindy. A 52-year-old white female mother of 3 a widow in her second marriage, she has  BA in English, she has education degree and a Master of Arts and teaching. She is currently  a sales clerk and an invitation maker. She is an artist and a truly nice person. She is religious and goes to church on a regular basis.

Andrew, who is the significant other of Cindy, a 51-year-old white male, recently married, he has a degree in business in technology from the University of Kentucky and a bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University in business and behavioral science. He is a luthier, so that means he repairs string instruments he’s in a blues and jazz band and he plays guitar. While he was religious when he was growing up he does not currently go to church anymore.

Mark, a 56-year-old white male who is an engineer, with a master’s degree and MBA who went to the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. Mark is a very creative man who has a wood shop in his basement, and he helped me once create a case for my grandfather’s American flag from when he was buried, so he is a very helpful man and very kind. And like Andrew he is musically inclined and plays music regularly for church. He currently works in the health care service. He has always been a Christian person and goes to church regularly.

Laura, a 54-year-old white female, who is a mother of four. She is a registered nurse with a BSN from Vanderbilt University. She is a very nice person who is the wife of Mark, and like Mark she is also religious and goes to church regularly as well.

Terry, my father, a 53-year-old white male who works in health care for kindred health care. He got a communications degree from Vanderbilt University, and a sports management degree from The Ohio State University. He grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, which when he was growing up wasn’t a very big place at least compared to now. And he grew up in a religious household and continues to stay very religious to this day going to Middletown Christian Church.

Carrie, my mother and wife of terry, a 56-year-old white female, who is a retired fourth grade elementary school teacher of 33 years. She received a teaching degree from the University of Wisconsin at River falls and a master’s degree in education from the University of Louisville. She also grew up very Religious In Hudson, Wisconsin and still continues to go to church also at Middletown Christian Church.

And then there’s me, Sean, a freshman at Western Kentucky, I too grew up religiously and still go to church.

The first thing that I asked to my group of people was the required question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” I got mostly the same answer from everybody, that citizenship is really just always about helping your fellow man and respecting each and everybody that is around you in everyday life. This could be someone you know extremely well like your best friend or this could be someone who you’ve never even met before like someone who needs help taking groceries to their car at the store. We talked about being a good citizen who contributes to their society is just someone who makes the society they live in better. This goes along well with one our three essential questions, “How can people live better (or, at the least, less badly) together?” Because we discussed that a good citizen really does try to just live together better with everyone, not just the people they know and like. These answers could all be a result of the religion of the people who came to my dinner. Everyone who came was a Christian in one way or another, and one of the key values of Christianity is helping people, so this definitely influenced them to want to help others a citizen.

We talked about a lot of different questions from the list in the handout which led to other questions, but one of the first questions I asked as the leader of the discussion was, “Does your religious or spiritual identity relate to how you think we should treat other people? Does it relate to how you see yourself as a citizen?” Like I talked about before they talked a lot about how going to church and growing up in Christian household, influenced the way they treat other people and that it has had such an impact in all of their lives. They all talked about how to love to help people, because it’s the way they are now. But sometimes it really makes them guilty that they have all this stuff and a lot of people don’t really have anything. So, I told them about what we talked about in class. That a lot of times we feel guilty about people having a lot less than us and being less fortunate. While it’s okay to feel bad for those people, because that’s just basic human empathy, you shouldn’t feel guilty but instead thankful that you have all that you do. Because you shouldn’t feel guilty for working hard and being rewarded for that hard work.

This relates to the reading by Ivan Illich, “To Hell With Good Intentions.” In this reading he talks all about how sometimes we feel so guilt ridden about the less fortunate that we try to go to those places with the less fortunate and help them out, but in the process,  we sometime impose ourselves too much on the cultures we are trying to help and end up doing more harm than good. So, our religion can be a good thing and help us know the right thing to do, other times it can cause us to do stupid and irresponsible things too.

We also discussed the questions, “How do you think your job relates to your role as a citizen?  Do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” They all had something to say for this. Both Mark and my dad, Terry, work for health care companies. While Mark works for a nonprofit, Norton Healthcare, and Terry works for a for-profit healthcare company, they both say that they feel like they really help people live better lives because they can live healthier lives. Laura who is a Registered Nurse gave a similar answer saying that she feels she lets people live longer and better lives than they would if she wasn’t there to help them. My mom, Carrie is a retired teacher, so she felt that since she got to help mold the minds of the future and help kids learn things that they might not learn if they didn’t go to school or have her as a teacher, so she felt like she helps to create the citizens of the future and instill her good values on them. Then there’s Cindy and she helps to create specialized cards for various events which might not seem like much, but if very special because she can help people realize their dreams, and celebrate them in a good fashion, like she can help people create very cool cards if they’re getting married. This is very special because she can make people’s special moments even more special. And lastly there’s Andrew who is a luthier, which means he is a creator or repairer of stringed instruments. This may just seem likes he fixes up guitars, but it’s a lot more than that. As he explained it, he helps people to repair family heirlooms, like if they had a guitar that was passed down from generation to generation that was very special to the family then he could help restore it. By doing this he helps people keep something that is very special to them and to their family. This show we all have something to bring to the table when helping the world.

And lastly, we talked about the question, “Do you know your neighbors? Why or why not?” And we talked about how a lot of us don’t really know our neighbors all that well unless we have something in common with them, like we had kids the same age or similar jobs, etc. I just thought that this was interesting that not a lot of us know our neighbors.

What I learned from this experience overall is that we all have something to contribute to the world whether it’s something big or small, no effort that can be given to the betterment of humanity is too small. I learned that every once and awhile it’s beneficial to work together and talk about bigger issues with people, because it can help us become better citizens in our own societies.

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Left to Right, Terry, Carrie, Andrew, Cindy, Laura, Mark, and I’m (Sean) on the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kentucky Kitchen Table- Charlie

By Charlie

This is the report of my Kentucky Kitchen Table project. My meal took place in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The total amount of participants in this dinner discussion is five, including myself. Their names are Tobi, Brandi, Avery, and Amelia. Tobi is a young adult who can be described as free-spirited, humorous, creative, and places a big emphasis on wanting people to be more understanding. Brandi is an accomplished single mom with three kids who can be described as hard-working, determined, and places an emphasis on sharing and teaching your talents with others to work together. Avery is a kid anyone would describe as lively, silly, and just plain excited about life. She puts an emphasis on being the best person you can be. Amelia is a kid you would describe as full of curiosity, playfulness, and joy. She puts an emphasis on being kind to others. Avery and Amelia are close sisters who work as a unit, so many ways to describe could be interchanged with the other. However, they have their differences, which should during our discussion during our meal together.

The first aspect of the conversation was everyone’s answer to the question, what does citizenship mean to you. This is where differences became apparent in personalities. Each member of the group had a different personal interpretation of what citizenship meant to them. This is an obvious example that citizenship is a fluid concept that can vary in meaning and is subjective. Some basic themes that were mentioned consisted of understanding, uniting, kindness, focusing on strengths, and providing a welcoming atmosphere no matter where you are. Obviously, everyone agreed that being a citizen is an inherently positive position that everyone is granted. These themes really represent what citizenship should mean to everyone, in my personal opinion. These are ideals that are ideal for any good, healthy community and are what every community should strive towards. This part of the conversation really opened my eyes to other descriptions of citizenship beyond just picking up litter and voting. It showed me how just having a good attitude to those around you, no matter who, and wherever you go can make citizenship be a much broader concept in my eyes. Moving on from individual citizens, I wanted to ask everyone what their opinion was of what citizens make up as a whole.

The next question that went around the room was what kind of community do you want to live in? These responses were pretty similar in nature, in that, they were all worded a bit differently, but all contributed to the same idealistic version of a good community and what it could look like. My general idea of what a good community would look like consists of people working together, not being afraid to ask for help, seeing the best in one another, and embracing everyone’s differences. The answers from everyone else around the table agreed with my ideas and added a few of their own. General themes that were passed around the table included friendliness, deliberation, acceptance to change, safety, prosperity, and togetherness. We all then discussed why these values allow a community to prosper compared to a community that might be somewhat lacking in them. We came together to agree that these qualities allow people to accept one another for who they are and provide help where they can, while communities who do not accept other’s differences and do not want to lend a helping hand are setting themselves up for failure due to an inherent lack of cooperation. I asked them if Bowling Green is a community that meets their standards for what is considered good. They all agreed that it is not perfect by any means due to not every citizen having good ideals, but that the people they interact with are good citizens in their eyes and it always potential to get better. I then wondered what type of citizen they all think themselves to be, either now or in the future.

The next question that I asked everyone was what kind of person do you want to be? This question also elicited varying responses from my participants. I noticed that when every person paused, thinking before they answered my question, it seemed to be like they were weighing all the different attributes they considered positive influences to have to see which ones they wanted to describe their future self. I mentioned humility and the other adjectives they used consisted of friendly, courtesy, kind, helpful, welcoming, disciplined, organized, likeable, and loved. We all agreed that these were great attributes for anyone to have or wish for. I specifically was interested in any differences between Brandi, Avery, and Amelia’s answers due to the age difference between them all. Brandi wanted her future self to be more understanding, helpful, and works well with other people. Avery and Amelia focused more on the career of their future self and wanted that to be an avenue for them to help other people, using words like kind, loving, and role model to describe the hope of their future selves. The transition I wanted next is to other citizens.

I then asked them all what advice they would give to our neighbors? They asked me to explain what I meant by that question and I summarized it as what tips you would give someone moving to your community to be as easily integrated as possible. The consensus that everyone reached was advice such as being friendly, talk to other people, and try to help out where you can. From there, we discussed how we socialized with the neighbors we have in our communities. Brandi mentioned that here friends were trying to show and teach each other different skills that they each have such as cooking or gardening. Avery, Amelia, and Tobi mentioned that they are social with other people their age whether it be at school or meeting up to get coffee. I mentioned that I am involved in a club on campus that I use to meet and talk with people.

What I learned from this experience was different takes on community and self from varying ages and life perspectives. Brandi could give a view as an adult with life experience, Tobi and I as young adults figuring out where our paths in life will take us and which to choose, and Avery and Amelia as young kids who are still taking in life and learning new things every day. I also learned a more concrete view of citizens and how they make, form, and build a community. As well as how people can improve themselves and their community together. What I really think that ill take away from this dinner discussion is that, regardless of age, every person wants to see things in a positive light and help things improve. Everyone wants to be involved in their community, help one another succeed, and find what it is that they can contribute because that is how we grow as people but also as a collective unit. This dinner was an awakening that this should happen more often. Instead of everyone glancing at their phones or just discussing their day, people should make an effort to really discuss how they view their surroundings including the problems that they face. By actively communicating on a daily basis with your family unit, you open yourselves up to helping one another find solutions. Multiple heads are always better than one.

This project and its experience relates to what I’ve learned in class in multiple ways. For one, it reminds me of “How We Talk Matters” by Keith Melville. As stated above, I believe in the power of deliberation. Who would disagree that discussing things in a sit-down, casual or formal wouldn’t help solve problems? When was talking out things ever not helped? This is not a foreign concept to me and it is not lost with the younger generation. I, for one, will make sure that people my age will discuss problems, solutions, and varying opinions not only now but as we get older as well. How we talk does matter and matters a hell of a lot more than people think but I have hope that that can change. This project also relates to one of our central ideas of our class. The central question of “how can we live better together?” is directly effected by how we as citizens improve ourselves, our community, and the frequency in which we discuss with one another. We can live better together, and it starts with open dialogue about problems that we face. It starts with listening to different opinions than your own and finding out why you have your opinion and why someone else has theirs. It starts with deliberation and not just every now and then but every month, week, and day. I want to live better together with other people and if we all actually put in the effort, I know we can. Here’s hoping we can.

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Unexpected Common Ground

By Jessica

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in Bowling Green, Kentucky, at my parent’s home. Present were my parents, my three siblings, and a young couple from the community.

My parents are both nurses, studied at a community college, and come from a conservative background. My siblings, Kenneth, Jeffry, and Candice are all in high school. Candice is very social and reads a ridiculous number of books each week; Jeffry loves history and math, he absorbs facts like a sponge; Kenneth is graduating this spring and will be studying chemistry with a minor in biophysics at WKU.

None of my siblings have solidified their viewpoints yet, but they provided an intellectualism and curiosity that drove the conversation forward. Generally, they favored opinions like my parents, but they demonstrated a heightened awareness of certain social issues, like religious discrimination.

The young couple I invited were Andrew and Lin. Andrew is from Baltimore, MD and Lin from Todd County, KY. These two brought a strong line of diversity into the discussion, as they proved to have very different perspectives and political views. Their ideas tended to be more liberal than my parent’s ideals, and they were more aware of social prejudice and activism.

Otherwise, the group was homogenous. My parents and Andrew all had a bachelor’s degree education. I am working towards my bachelors, and my siblings are all working through high school with plans to go to college. All people present identified as Baptist but went to different churches within the denomination.

Finally, there was of course me. I am a freshman in college, pursing a degree in biochemistry. I would rather talk about science than politics or philosophy, and I generally feel very uncomfortable in discussions like these. I straddle the lines between many ideological divides, so my are a tend to be a strange mix of liberal and conservative, old and new. Like many young people, I dislike both the existing powers in our nation, and their opponents. What I want in a society is peace, not extremism. Ultimately though, my values are grounded in my faith, the most important force in my life.

As Lin and Andrew would be coming straight from a previous appointment, it was agreed that my mom and I would make the food for the meal. It was a team effort; I went grocery shopping and made the salad, my mom made barbecue chicken, brownies, and macaroni and cheese. The table was barely large enough to fit everyone, plus the food, but we crowded around.

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From the bottom left corner, counterclockwise: my dad, my mom, Candice, me, Jeffry, Andrew, and Lin (Kenneth not pictured).

After giving everyone several minutes to get to know one another, I posed the first question: beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you? I didn’t get much of a response other than “wow, that’s a big question,” so I developed the question further. First, I asked how they felt their job related to their role as a citizen. The first unanimous response was that working helped the economy. My mom said that as a nurse, she improves the healthcare of the community. Andrew said he both pays taxes through his work and has relied on financial support in times of unemployment. Thus, he has both relied on and supported society.

“Do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” I asked. There was a moment of silence, then my dad said, “yes, ultimately.” Everyone else agreed. It did not so much matter what kind of job they worked, was the consensus, it was the fact that they were working, serving, and being served in their various positions.

Next, I asked the group if their religion or spiritual identity relates to how they treat others and act as citizens. Andrew laughed, “would anyone say no to that?” The group seemed to agree that spiritual identity is absolutely fundamental to who we are and how we act. There was a positive bias towards religious identity. One of my siblings briefly mentioned extreme religious beliefs that lead to violence. Thus, religion’s profound influence can also have dangerous effects. Instead of helping us live better, it takes the freedom of others.

The conversation lagged, so I asked, “what are some issues close to your heart?” This provoked some quick and strong responses. Lin immediately said school shootings, and all of the parents in the group chimed in with agreement. My dad brought up drugs and related some of his experiences as a nurse caring for addicts. He was a fierce advocate for harsh penalties, but my mom opposed him. She advocated rehabilitation, citing her experiences with drug abuse within her extended family. Thus, they represented two of the options presented by German Lopez in his article “How to Stop the Deadliest Drug Overdose Crisis in American History.” Finally, they agreed that it is too complicated an issue to solve with either option alone, unknowingly identifying it as a wicked problem.

The conversation turned to racism, and Andrew expressed a desire to live in a diverse society that was a safe space for different identities. The whole group related their various experiences with racism, mostly stories of observed racism. My dad mentioned that much of the racism he heard was not from people being purposefully malevolent. “People just want to be funny,” he said, “and what comes out is unacceptable, whether they realize it or not.”

I asked the group if they had dinners with friends and family when they were young. They all said yes, it had been a common occurrence in their childhood. Lin said it had always been an exciting event, a chance to meet new and interesting people. It made me think of my dad’s stories, that as a child, he would attend farm event dinners with his father and was mind-blown at the many people he experienced. Especially for children, it is incredibly important that people are exposed to new people groups. It is not always an unpleasant experience, as we tend to stereotype it.

As we dug into brownies and ice cream, I posed the final question: “What kind of person do you want to be?” I heard a lot of adjectives: selfless, caring, free, safe. I believe these relate back to the first question, what it means to be a citizen. Being a citizen, at least according to the people gathered at my kitchen table, means striving to be the best version of ourselves and both living in and providing an environment for others to do so as well.

The evening was thought-provoking for me. Looking back over the conversation, I was surprised that there had not been more conflict. From what little I knew of the attendees’ political views, I had expected argument. Instead, they were unified in the face of the problems they discussed, and the held the same basic values. This taught me something new about citizenship. Citizenship is not about politics or even about the social issues that plague us. Citizenship is about relationships, how we are bound with the common goal of being better. It is not a singular effort, but rather the simultaneous effort of everyone in the community.

Within this simultaneous effort, there are hundreds of tiny exchanges that occur every day. My parents, nurses, willingly provide healthcare for the community. In exchange, they expect a salary with which to support their family. Andrew relied briefly on unemployment from the government. He now works, provides a service to the community, and pays taxes. We give police officers power over our community, and in exchange we expect safety. I offer an intimate glimpse into my thoughts and ideas and expect that the reader will respond with thought and at least a minimal level of respect. This social trading is what holds together our society, so it makes sense that when the exchanges become unfair, or unreciprocated, problems arise. Being a citizen then, means making fair and noble exchanges, demanding what we must, and compromising when we can.

In the discussion, Lin mentioned how hard it is to solve problems in America because in our world everyone has vastly different opinions of what must be done. So, in the end, nothing is done. For us to answer the question of how we can solve problems, we must first answer the question of how we can live together better.

The second lesson I learned hails back to the reading “Green Fire, the Still Point, and an Oak Grove.” This reading left an imprint on me because it teaches the importance of knowing the whole story before passing judgement on an issue. I tried to apply this concept in the discussion. Rather than responding immediately to a statement with my own opinion, I attempted to hear the whole story by asking questions and learning the background of the speaker.

This helped shape the discussion and I saw my dad soften towards some of Andrew and Lin’s ideas that I knew he disagreed with. Knowing his life story explained why he felt strongly about representation of minorities.

This was an evening that formed some of my fundamental beliefs about citizenship. I hope to become a better citizen, and I think it begins with dinners like these.

Seth’s KKT: The Answer’s Problems

By Seth

I conducted my Kentucky Kitchen Table on April 14th in Bowling Green kentucky with five other people. Carter is a junior at South Warren High School and is involved in the school’s FFA chapter, the bowling team, and the music/ marching band program. Pauline and William are from Tompkinsville Kentucky where William is running for major. They spend a lot of their time interacting with the community and are well known in the town. Keely, my little sister, is currently a middle school student that has played three years of recreational soccer and has an interest in being a psychologist when she is older. Chris, my father, has been a high school drafting teacher at the new vocational in Logan Kentucky for nineteen years. The largest diversity among the group lies in the difference of age; each person at the table represents a different generation which is extremely valuable for discussion because it includes the opinions and experiences of each generation. Interestingly, the three oldest members also differ in their political party affiliation; William is registered as a democrat while Chris is a libertarian and Pauline is a republican. This is also a great opportunity for the discussion as it is interesting how the three main political parties’ values are represented in each person’s comments and how they might differ from the other two parties.

After the introduction of each person I opened the discussion by asking the question “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”. The majority of the responses were not surprising as most everyone responded with answers such as being there for their fellow citizens when they struggle and having the mentality of reaching your full potential for the sake of the society. Carter mentioned something insightful about knowing where you fit into the community; the main idea being that the most you can do as a citizen is to find where you are most needed and do everything in your power to do the best in that position knowing you owe that to your community. The most surprising response to that question was from William who stated that much of being a citizen is the ability to move forward despite the hardship that the government will put on you. This was a shocking comment mainly because William is running for major in Tompkinsville, therefore, led me to believe that this was precisely the reason to run in the first place; he wants to try to reduce the strain that authority puts on his fellow citizens by being that authority himself. In his situation and response to the question, William represents what many of us strive to be as citizens and I am very proud to know him.  

After we discussed the required question we moved on to more specific issues such as gun control, the opioid epidemic, and the death penalty. While we were discussing these issues I noticed the main theme in regards as to why these problems are so difficult to solve was believed to be that the majority of the people are not directly connected to the problem and that when they are it is extremely polar to one side which can get in the way of solving the problem from both sides. Chris mentioned for example that the reason that the opioid epidemic is such a powerful problem comes from the fact that not enough people are invested through genuine knowledge and experience to the problem and therefore do not work to solve it. The table seemed to agree that the big obstacle in trying to solve these problems comes from the ignorance of the people about the entirety of the problem.

I mentioned the issue of trying to solve problems when information is incomplete and people are misinformed due to lack of exposure to the problem and asked them to balance the benefit of immediate action and drawback of haste with the benefit of deeper investigation and drawback of delayed action to these problems such as gun control and the opioid epidemic. The consensus of the table seemed to be conditional based on the social issue at hand which reflected the main ideas of wicked problems; there are characteristics that define a wicked problem and many social issues are categorized as wicked problems but ultimately wicked problems are unique to each other. This is the most formidable characteristic of wicked problems making the answer to one of the three main questions of the class, how do we solve problems, indefinite. The answer to that question is frustrating because it is conditional and as humans seeking answers to similar yet unique problems we hate it when we cannot generalize.

Due to the diversity of the table regarding age, I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss our thoughts about how our generations have become connected. I was curious about what we thought about each other and wanted to see the degree at which society in general has changed through the point of view of Pauline and William. I started off by asking about the  amount major issues in this generation’s society and how they might compare to the amount of social issues seen in the older generations. I was not surprised to see that Pauline and William thought that, with time, the amount of major social issues within the nation has increased substantially. When we discussed why more problems arise in this generation it was interesting what Chris noted. He claimed that it might not be that this generation has more problems but instead it might actually be that with the advancements in technology, transportation, and various communication methods that we are simply more aware of the many social issues facing our nation. So with this I thought that maybe our country is much more united and informed than the older generation. We discussed this a little further and I found that the degree of unity probably has not changed in amount but rather in form. The older generations seemed to be more unified in the sense of local community while the younger generations gradually became more detached from their local society and more unified with the bigger more general aspects of society. When I asked why, William responded by crediting this to the advancement in technology and medicine. He claimed that with all these advancements, the individual can do more for themself and will not have to rely on the diversity of their local community for as much help.

With everything that was discussed, the project was a fun opportunity to get connected with people in the community and discuss the way in which we see our community’s characteristics and issues. It was a great chance to become a bigger part in each other’s lives thus unifying the community even more. I was able to take away many themes from the conversations, not the least of which was how we tend to believe that we have too many differences to overcome a shared problem and how this cannot be further from the truth. I noticed this because before the dinner I was under the notion that much of the discussion would be saturated with debate and differences due to three distinctly different political parties being present along with such a polar generation gradient. My initial judgement was quickly extinguished when we found each other agreeing on many actions that could be taken to solve social issues such as gun control and the opioid epidemic. I was thoroughly surprised with the conversation and came up with the idea that, in the face of extreme social issues, in order to come up with any plan of action, we must overcome our differences in opinion to come up with a solution. While the dinner table is not the way large scale society functions, it did give a small scale example about how we must interact with one another to advance in the right direction.

The focus I had in this Kentucky Kitchen Table was based upon wicked problems; I was curious to see how other people viewed wicked problems and attempted to dissect them. Much of the conversation reflected exactly what we learned in class about wicked problems; we could not attempt to solve them without drawbacks, there was a struggle to find a solution for every side of the problem, and actions could not be expected to work without trying to change the opinions of others which also reflected what we learned about communicating with each other. Throughout the discussion the three main questions of the course were starting to be answered when I looked at the effects the project had on the table. The answer, while it may be incomplete, was very clear once the project had concluded and was surprisingly simple. The answer is rooted in what the project was; the answer is communication, deliberation, discussion, and participation. When we apply these things to something larger than the dinner table we will start to see progress. The progress that is made once we do this on large scale is progress that involves everyone. The experience, ideas, beliefs, and knowledge of everyone afflicted by a social issue is able to be presented and utilized once we participate together. With this in mind, the answer to the three main questions of this course results in the most complicated wicked problem I have encountered. How do we get everyone involved in society through communication, deliberation, discussion, and participation? Once we answer this wicked problem, progress will result beyond the kitchen table. KKT

Cut the Small Talk

By Callie

My name is Callie and my Kentucky’s Kitchen Table project took place in Bowling Green, Kentucky on April 14, 2018. There were six people present at the dinner including myself. Because my immediate family lives in three separate states, I decided to do my project with two of my closest friends who are like family to me, and three other people I had never met before. All of us come from different families and different cities. We have roots in five different states.

Ramon is 20 years old and is a nutritionist for the Army. He lives on base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky but is from Williamsburg, Virginia. He is African American but was raised by both a white family, who adopted him, and his black family. As a kid, he grew up in poverty until his best friend’s family took him in at age fifteen and provided him financial stability. Now that he has a stable career, he is able to send money back home to his siblings who live with his grandparents.

Michael is 22 and he is also a nutritionist in the Army and lives on base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Last year, he served nine months in Kuwait. In a few weeks, his contract will be up and he will switch from active duty to reserves. He is moving back home to Chicago, Illinois to study to become a nurse practitioner. He would prefer a practical career that will earn him a lot of money, rather than one that he feels passionate about.

Kayshla is from Texas and goes to WKU. She is mixed, Puerto Rican and Caucasian. She is 22 and has one more year of college. She is studying Communication and Leadership with hopes of working with the Special Olympics. She has a passion for helping people and making a difference in the lives of others. Kayshla is also a strong Christian and strives to model that in the way she treats others.

Chelsea is 25. She wants to work with children with intellectual disabilities and learn how to improve their learning processes in the most effective ways. She wants to help these children improve their skills in order for them to perform efficiently. Chelsea has a big heart and strives to help others in any way possible.

Lindsey is 21 and is from Somerset, Kentucky. She attends WKU where she is majoring in Electrical Engineering and Meteorology and minoring in Systems Engineering and Mathematics. She wants to be a satellite or radar engineer.

Finally, I am 19 years old and studying Exercise Science and Entrepreneurship. I am originally from Spartanburg, South Carolina but now call both Louisville, Kentucky and Norfolk, Virginia home. I am working to create and own my own gym and am currently studying to get my personal training certification. I believe very strongly in creating a life you love and never settling for a job and lifestyle that do not make you excited to get out of bed every morning.

To begin the night, we all gathered in the kitchen. Instead of all bringing separate dishes, we decided to cook together and combine the dinner with a game night. Kayshla and Lindsey made lasagna with veggies while Ramon and Chelsea made pizza because they didn’t want lasagna. Michael and I made cookie brownies for dessert.

I started the conversation by asking the required question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Everyone had pretty similar answers for this question with a focus on putting others above ourselves and helping out those in need. This was one of the biggest themes of our conversation.

I was really excited to talk to Ramon and Michael because I was curious about the effects of the Army on their viewpoints. To dig into this, I asked, “How does being in the army affect the way you view the world today?” They looked at each other with wide eyes and the conversation seemed to shift away from the light-hearted mood we had before. Michael said that the current president in office has a lot of the men and women serving our country on their toes. He said that with the recent Syria bombing, while most regular citizens take the topic a little lighter, everyone in the military immediately grew fearful of being deployed. Ramon who plans to get out of the Army as soon as his contract is up, cut in and said, “If World War III were to happen, we’d be gone,” suggesting that the military would deploy everyone. He also said that many people are indifferent about decisions involving the nation’s military and fail to realize that every number is a soldier’s life and every soldier has friends and family whose lives would also be drastically affected if they were deployed.

Michael added that he feels like the president is looking at a map and deciding a location to bomb without considering the fact that there are innocent families living there. He said that to the president, it’s entirely political and he seems to care so little about the aftermath. Michael said, “I hate that I’m technically apart of that and associated with the death of innocent kids.”

When they brought this issue up, it reminded me of “Green Fire, the Still Point, and an Oak Grove,” by Robert Hass. I took a minute to explain this reading to everyone at the table. All of us agreed that people tend to speak on issues without knowing all of the facts. In the case of the bombing of Syria, Michael and Ramon felt that some people were quick to support the president’s decision without taking in consideration the effects that it could have on innocent Syrian families and the United States Military.

Next I asked everyone what kind of person they wanted to be. I was afraid everyone at the table would say similar things, such as “I want to be kind to others,” but this question ended up sparking the most moving response of the conversation. I asked everyone to go in a circle and respond. When it was Ramon’s turn, he said that he wanted to be a person who lived every second of his life to the fullest. At age nine, Ramon lost his 26 year old mom to a severe heart condition. It made him realize that every day he is alive is precious because he is getting closer and closer to the age his mom lost her life. He was also born with heart issues which can sometimes scare him because he knows the next day is never promised. He then said that even saying this aloud made him want to get out of his routine because his biggest fear is living an average life.

The last question I asked was which social issue is most important to everyone. This question was super important to me because we as individuals cannot give our all to resolving each and every social issue but we can pick one or two and make it our passion to change it.

Ramon started by saying that the most important issue to him is racial inequality, and more specifically, police brutality. He said he cares so much about it because he feels like we as a country are not making progress with race issues. He said something to the effect of, “No one should be treated like that, it’s not righteous at all. I am scared because that could be my little sister or brother.”

Chelsea agreed with Ramon and said that she believes while we as a country have gotten better in many ways, she thinks it has been 3 steps forward and 2 steps back. She also brought up gun violence which has been so prevalent in our society recently. She said she thinks there are a lot of things we need to change.

Kayshla added that she believes change starts with teaching our children right from wrong. She believes that loving each other more and helping out those who need it will help us unite as a country.

Michael said that while he agrees that we need more love in the world, he also thinks there are more practical steps to making change. He said that we as a society need to continue bringing social issues to light and speak out when we don’t agree with something.

I agreed with Michael and added that many people are unwilling to understand other people’s point of view and need to practice the act of listening. I emphasized the importance of deliberation to finding common ground with wicked problems.

Lindsey was the last person to speak on the issue and said that she has never been asked this question and it made her realize that although she cares a lot about certain issues, she is doing nothing to change or improve them. She didn’t know exactly what was the most important issue to her.

Lindsey’s realization reminded us of the importance of making meaningful conversation with the people around us. Too often, we hardly scratch the surface even with the people we are closest with. Many times, they are willing to share the hardships they’ve experienced if we just get the courage to ask.

This project gave me the opportunity to not only meet new people but also grow as a person. I have many family members who have experienced interesting things, like war, poverty, divorce, disease, etc. that I am always hesitant to ask about, as they might be sensitive subjects. However, this project made me realize that I can learn a lot very quickly about people and the world if I am simply willing to ask questions and listen. This project inspired me to cut the small talk with my family and friends and dig deeper into what makes them the way they are today.