Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Chloe

IMG_2854The Kentucky Kitchen table project seemed like it would be just another thing to add my to-do list. However, once I actually allowed myself an open mind and started to speak with my lunch guests I slowly become fond of the project. I did not know a few of the members of our meal, but quickly came to realize they were great people. We were able to speak about things that wouldn’t usually be brought up in normal conversation which allowed me to learn things about everyone that I didn’t already know. Because everyone had different backgrounds and future plans, I was able to see new perspectives on issues I thought I already knew all about. I feel like even after one meal together I have started a friendship with those that I had never met. These types of conversations and meals are important to expose yourself and your families to regularly so that you are open to new perspectives on everyday topics.

The meal took place here in Bowling Green. We ate around the kitchen table in my close friend, Jessie’s, apartment. I brought along my roommate and Jessie invited her two roommates who I had never met to the meal. Jessie is a graphic design major from Kentucky. She is interested in any form of art and has a true passion for visuals. She is also a dedicated women’s soccer fan and dedicates her time toward sports. While from a conservative, southern family she tends to be on the more liberal sides of political views. My roommate, Madeline is a conservative, Southern Baptist young woman who works hard in pursuing her goals of working in the medical field. Ashley comes from a close-knit family Western Kentucky. She is a psychological sciences major who spends time working in a lab. She is a Kappa Delta alumnae and is working on her master’s degree. Brooke has just started the nursing program here at WKU and spends her free time invested in sports. She comes from a busy family in Mississippi. I, Chloe, am striving towards becoming a nurse practitioner while being involved at WKU as much as possible: including being a member of Alpha Delta Pi. I am from a small, close knit community in Western Kentucky and have equally conservative and liberal views on political issues.

We started our actual discussion with the required question: beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws what does citizenship mean to you? At first, none of us really knew how to answer this question. We are told all of our lives to be involved by voting, but that’s about it. Personally, I think that speaking up on and acting on issues you’re passionate about is a huge part of citizenship. We all agreed that, unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen as often as it should. It became obvious we all had the same main point: contribute to the air. Being someone and contributing meaningful things to your community and making changes for things you feel strongly about is something we all should do. Being the person who votes and follows laws but does nothing more than this isn’t truly a citizen at all, but really just a “filler”. The last thing we discussed about what it means to be a citizen is that it is important to leave something behind. Most of us agreed that as working people we strive to achieve great things and make change along the way. Without these marks and achievements left behind we would feel as though we hadn’t contributed our part to the world.

Eating dinner as a family was one of the biggest differences we had as a group. While myself, Brooke, and Madeline had never had the chance for uninterrupted nightly family dinners due to busy schedules, Ashley and Jessie always had dinner as a family. Ashley explained that this was often the one time that her whole family was together and able to catch up with the weekly events and how everything was going. She stressed that some of their best family moments came from these important, uninterrupted dinners and that she hopes to be able to do this with her family in the future. While the majority did not participate in family dinners, we engaged in family activities in other ways. Most of the family time we had was centered around sporting events or after school activities. These evets brought us closer as a family, but we lacked the undivided attention to each other that Jessie and Ashley got during their family meals.

One thing that most of us all had in common was our views on how to improve our lives with our neighbors. Jessie, Ashley, and Brooke often experience inconsiderate treatment form those that live near them and have taken these experiences to heart. Because of their constant frustration with their neighbors they constantly work to make sure they are the neighbors they want to be towards others. They have been unable to truly get to know their neighbors because of their differences but they felt like if they had a personal relationship with them things might be better. Madeline and I know the girls who live around us and have become friends rather quickly. We are all respectful of each other and consider their best interest because of this trusting friendship. The unanimous decision we made on how to live better alongside our neighbors is to treat others how we want to be treated. If their inconsiderate neighbors thought about this they would work harder to reduce disturbances and could then maybe spark a relationship with each other.

Through this discussion over a nice meal, I learned more than I realized. I learned that at the end of the day, regardless of where your come from or what your political views are, we all want the same thing. We all want to get along and get the most out of our lives in the best way possible. This is much easier said than done when dealing with busy family schedules and rude neighbors. I learned that when there is conflict between two groups of people, it cannot get any better without communication or the consideration of others situation. Jessie, Ashley, and Brookes neighbors will never change their behavior unless the other perspective. This could be fixed through a simple conversation explaining how this upsets them, but the conversation will never happen because of fear of confrontation. On another note, I learned what it is like to have a sit-down meal with friends. I was never able to have the experience of a discussion with family and friends over a meal and this experience has taught me how unique it is. It is more personal than a car ride with family or spending time with family at sporting events. I was able to see into each person’s life and what was important to them based on what they spoke about. Instantly we became closer because of sharing personal anecdotes and preferences and our hopes for the future. Not all of us agreed on everything, but that was okay. In a way, it made us more interesting and more real. We are all different but we work together so well to fit into the perfect puzzle.

The things I learned from this assignment fit perfectly into what I have learned in class. Many of the things I learned were about how to live well with others, one of our central class ideas. In class, we learn through discussion and readings that living with others isn’t all about you. We learn in “How We Talk Matters” that we often think that it’s “us versus them” but in reality, we are all us. This is often a forgotten concept; I myself forgot this concept. It came to us as such a clear solution to treat others how we wanted to be treated, so why can’t we do just that? It is hard to see both sides of a situation but it is one of the most important things we can do as citizens. Another central idea that this has related to is how we can have more say over our lives. To be a more involved citizen and make a change in our community is an active step in changing your own life for the better. To have more say over your life you must do more than simply vote and follow laws. Like we discussed during our meal, you have to actively work to achieve a goal or make a change. I learned plenty of things while eating dinner at a kitchen table and conversing with people who weren’t exactly like me. One of the most important things I learned was that I enjoyed myself and that keeping an open mind about people could open the door to new, great relationships down the road. Discussions and the exchanging of ideas and opinions in a respectful environment should be something that everyone has access to. This is something I have learned a lot form and that I hope I can continue throughout my life and introduce to others.

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Elena’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

My Kentucky Kitchen Table experience was both eye opening and heartwarming. It was an honest example of people coming together as members of society that care about where and how they live. Bringing to discussion the topics we’ve learned about in class, I was able to hear the voices of people outside of the classroom talk about the struggles they’ve faced in the real world, what has been important to them as citizens, and how they wish they could have more ability to apply these ideals in their daily lives. I believe these are the conversations America was built on, and I am encouraged to see that even in a generation that has strayed from this culture, we are still able to live out the deliberation our founding fathers imagined.

I hosted my Kentucky Kitchen Table at my home in Bloomington, Illinois. Around the table sat ten people consisting of mostly neighbors I have only spoken with briefly while walking my dog or getting the mail. A friend from high school and one of my mom’s coworkers also joined us. My mom and I cooked the main meal, but others brought wine, deserts, and appetizers to share. Going in order from left to right in the picture, first sat my parents Russ and Chris. Russ first started in the music industry and is now working sales for a company based out of Seattle, and Chris is in business improvement. Marilyn works in insurance at State Farm, Phil is Chris’s business partner at DuPont Pioneer, Karen has worked in Nursing since she graduated college in Bloomington, and her husband Tim retired from being the manager of a Nuclear Power Plant. Noi recently moved to town from Thailand and speaks limited English. She married George who is originally from India and has a doctorate in education. They spend the winters at his property back in India. Mike worked off and on in labor until becoming trained in Computer Science and is now retired from working in insurance. Finally, Quinn is a freshman nursing student at Illinois Wesleyan University and plays on the golf team. I chose this group because of the diverse stages in life, careers, and views on the world. Most of them did not know much about each other, so it created a space where we could speak as members of the same community and not as friends or family.

Our discussion started with the reasons why each person loved where they live. Bloomington is a small town in the sense that it is easy to recognize a friendly face at the movies or farmer’s market. There are events that bring people and families together downtown that show how the community values each other. Karen and Tim, who have lived here their whole lives, said they would never move to a big city. They would feel they had no impact over their environment and would have no sense of purpose in their community. This stress and fast pace is the opposite of the life they’ve built for themselves here. Having a voice that can be heard, seeing positive change happen where you live, and being a part of a community that means something to each other are common traits that the table found admirable. When there is a unified group like that which exists in Bloomington, each hand can be called on and people are given more power over what happens in their community.

Following this I asked what it means to be an active citizen. When I brought up this talking point there was an initial moment of silence. Marilyn shared that this was a question she hasn’t thought about in a long time. With going to work, spending time with family, and living out her daily responsibilities, being an active citizen is often left on the back burner. Others shared this same view and were struggling to define citizenship in their own lives. Russ said this is a result of the “I generation.” We live in an age where intellectual conversation is often avoided and people retreat to their phones, TV’s and computers instead of speaking to the people they encounter. Many admitted to living what they called a selfish life. It is easier to come home after a long day’s work and turn on a movie than it is to reach out to neighbors or participate actively in what’s going on in the community. This idea that citizenship is an activity that has become draining or caused a sense of guilt in many people is disheartening, but I believe it is a common way of life for many Americans. With each person specializing in their line of work, trusting that those higher up have it covered, people feel far away and separate from society. John McKnight wrote about specialization giving people less control over their lives. Working nine-to-five, and not seeing a direct impact takes the power from the citizen and puts it in someone else’s hands. Tim spoke about writing letters to the governor regarding Illinois becoming a sanctuary state. He was passionate about this issue, but felt there was nothing to do other than contact those above him. Others brought up how they wish they volunteered more but can’t find the time. Mike even said that if he had the choice he would live anywhere but Illinois because of the terrible financial state it is in, but he doesn’t feel like he has the power to change this, so he’s given up.

So how can people have more say over their lives and their influence in society? After talking about this for a while our table concluded that because Bloomington specifically is a wealthy town, housing two big colleges and State Farm headquarters, people are often inclined to just donate money to causes they remain distant from. By changing the mindset to a more hands on approach, we may feel more connected with society and therefore capable active citizens. They article, “Why Bother,” emphasizes the impact planting a garden can have on one’s feelings of independence and contribution. Active citizenship follows this same example. Encouraging young people in the community to pursue more trade labor jobs like construction and electrical work could bring people back in touch with their impact on the town. We could also take the time to pursue small issues that we have more control over, like Mike making some calls about the increase in trash pickup expenses that he believed were unfair. Lastly, we can come together more often and speak about issues or frustrations we are facing in the community. Almost everyone at the table told me after dinner how refreshing it was to have a space to discuss these issues and work together to come up with solutions. We’ve learned in class how important deliberation is, but I was surprised how much everyday people crave this form of interaction. It may not be that people don’t have the skills to deliberate, like Sternberg suggests in “Giving Employers What They Don’t Really Want,” but instead people are just not given the opportunity or environment to deliberate.

When it comes to what it means to be a citizen, George offered a much more heartwarming view. George spent some time working in London, and was exposed to a very hateful and racist culture. He was attacked on the street because of his race and was forced to live in fear of the people around him. He believes that he saw firsthand what citizenship means when he moved to Bloomington, Illinois. He told several stories that demonstrated the difference he saw in the people that lived here. One morning he grabbed the wrong coat on his way to work and realized he did not have his wallet when he pulled up to a gas station. The worker said it was no problem at all and told him to fill up his tank. George was overwhelmed with this man’s kindness and came back the next day to pay the man back. He insisted he keep his money and said, “I take care of my people.” George’s definition of citizenship is being a good neighbor. He came to America after being exposed to hate and violence and found a people that cared about each other. This is another important aspect of citizenship I think people often look over. Treating people with respect builds trust in a community and allows people to work better together.

Observing everyone at the table, I could see that this was an exercise that was making a difference, but needs to happen more often. There were some moments when we reached uncomfortable subjects, where people either crossed the line or played it too safe and couldn’t get to their point. “The Power of Patience” taught us that patience is a skill that must be practiced, and is necessary to listen and deliberate with other people. I also learned that citizenship has different meanings for different people. I can see how this would be important to define before trying to solve a problem or talk about an issue. Tim, who sees citizenship as doing your part to challenge the government and participate in political affairs, would probably go about an issue very differently than George, who sees it was caring for others in your community. I also feel closer to my home town. Hearing the voices of people with distinct roles and viewpoints widened my scope of what goes on in Bloomington. Carcasson talks about the value of having democratic focused conversations, but it isn’t until now that I realize what an impact this has on one’s connection with their community and their confidence in their ability to make change happen. This exercise in deliberation excites me to participate in more conversations like this and make a conscious effort to engage in my community.

 

KY Kitchen Table

Resized_20170406_200326By Hannah

We met up at Blake’s house, a two-story in a residential neighborhood of Bowling Green. It was a Thursday evening unlike any other… Well, it wasn’t all that crazy.
Days before, Blake, Andrew, and I had met up for a few minutes to work out details of our collaborative supper. We talked about who would bring what piece of the meal, and what was going to make this project go smooth and swift. I think our main goal was to get everything planned out so that later in the week our dinner would be a calm and welcome environment for discussion and understanding. Not a bad goal, I think. Ultimately, we learned each other’s faces and exchanged numbers, communicating something about a willingness to reach out when it came time to see each other once again.
Because of this positive, face-to-face pre-interaction, I think our dinner went better than it could have gone without the interaction. It created a connection between some members of the group so that we had a comfy start before we would all eventually be corralled into sharing heavier thoughts and opinions amongst the group – a daunting task, yet, the main point of the supper.
Thursday came, and I travelled with Camille, a bright, freshman girl whom I had met at the beginning of the school year in my dorm. She agreed to accompany me because she thought the dinner would be an interesting experience. On the drive over to Blake’s, we talked about our aspirations for the future, which was founded in the academic and social obstacles of the now. Camille had just decided to drop her pre-medicine track and go for an engineering major. She is still interested in service industries, such as healthcare, but is switching gears for a bit. So, Camille and I had our heads wrapped around education and careers before we even stepped foot into the beautiful home in which we were destined to spend a couple hours conversing around a kitchen table.
We arrived a bit early and were greeted by Blake and his mother, Stacy – a nurse practitioner with three young adult children. Throughout the meal, she was not shy about sharing her observations and did a great job contextualizing our conversation in a more “grown-up” way. Overall, she was the pragmatist, and helped guide the rest of the group’s theorizing back down to earth.
We each contributed to the meal: Blake with mac n’ cheese and apple pie, Camille with baked beans, Andrew with the most exciting food, fried chicken, and I with chocolate cake, which Andrew had heartily requested. It was a fine meal for college students who were used to neither creating meals nor eating foods outside of their dorm rooms and dining halls.
As we ate, we talked about the neighborhood we were in, and what it was like years before, as Blake and Stacy’s family had been situated there for 12 years. This spurred us into talking more deeply about each of our own neighborhoods and their demographic makeups. Later on, we discussed the concept of a neighbor, and how each of us interacted differently with the people living in our communities. This brought up the question, “Do we owe our neighbors anything? And if so, do we owe them more or less than the people who are not our neighbors?” We defined and redefined the term neighbor to exclude and then include people who were beyond a certain proximity of us and outside the communities with which we associated. Andrew brought up the point that we might feel a stronger bond with the people closest to us, but that we should not prioritize them any higher than the people who are living across the globe from us. We all had a slightly different opinion on how much we should be involved with the lives of those around us. It was nice to hear the extremes and the middle grounds all represented on this particular issue. Hearing these diverse perspectives made me see how much experiences can shift your stance on socially and politically charged issues.
Once we began thinking globally, I think all of our brains started awakening to the many possibilities of ways the discussion could continue because we all became at least somewhat more vocal.
Technological advances and growing communities were the next topics we discussed. With healthcare being central to and Stacy’s profession and Camille’s probable future, we spent a considerable amount of time thinking on the ways technology had been detrimental and beneficial to the many communities, including the overall global community.
Blake is a film major who seemed to be very involved with film/theatre projects taking place at Western Kentucky University. In the few hours I knew him, he seemed to me passionate about people and their inner workings. At least, he tended to talk about how individual’s problems fit into the wicked problems we were discussing.
Andrew is a math major. He plans to teach mathematics at the collegiate level. As you would expect, he liked thinking about the logistics of solutions and how they might not “add up” to solving all parts of the problem.
The largest portion of our discussion had to do with the educational industry and where it was headed. As college students and a mother who had two in college and one who would probably end up there soon, we had given thought to this topic and felt our opinions had weight because of our experience. It was also interesting that Camille and I had discussed education earlier in the evening. That probably helped us communicate our opinions more clearly over supper. Andrew enlightened us with statistics on the educational crisis in The United States, and he and I were able to compare our understanding of the academia in other countries.
We also talked a bit about the different cultures we were a part of or simply knew about because of second-hand experiences. A few of us had in common that we had gotten close with some exchange students (Blake’s family even hosting one) and all of us had some exposure to young adults like ourselves who were very obviously of another ethnic background. What everyone shared on this topic was fun to hear.
By the time we were cleaning up the table, we were quite comfortable with one another and had transitioned into telling funny memories of our grade-school teachers. I think we all left feeling jovial.
Although we didn’t solve any wicked problems, I think we all learned about a perspective on a topic that we had never heard proposed before. Our conversation was very relaxed, and so it was an easy space to share. At the very least, we grew in our empathy for people and in our knowledge of problematic circumstances. We each came out of the supper better equipped to contribute to humanity, and I think that is where this type of deliberation does the most good. This type of deliberation surely did not help much of anything about our world, but it did help us grow as individuals striving to be citizens and community members every day.
In class we read a lecture by a professor at UC Berkeley named Robert Hass. At the end of his lecture, “Green Fire, the Still Point, and an Oak Grove: Some Reflections on the Humanities and the Environment,” he included this quotation:

This is the world our students are inheriting. They are going to need a sense of urgency and patience and a sense of complexity and everything they can learn about the processes of the natural world, if we are going to protect what our science tells us is at the core of life, the richness and diversity of the gene pool. The task may be beyond us. Wildlife biologists these days often have meetings with titles like, “Which Species Can We Save” or “Which Species Are We Willing To Save.” But we have to act as if we can accomplish it. We have to act as if the soul gets to choose.

This quotation correctly appropriates an urgency to the significant, or wicked, problems that society has not been able to successfully address. Hass is focused here on a scientifically pronounced issue we are faced with, but that does not mean his observations cannot translate into how we are tackling other wicked problems. A central theme of my Kentucky kitchen table and the citizen and self class is that we are responsible for change needed to better society. During the meal, we had discussed what citizenship meant to each of us, and came up with the idea that it may be different for everyone, but is grounded in a sense of community welfare. Hass is similarly saying that we are the determining factor of the state of our world. But just our empathies will not spontaneously act outside of us; we must both allow them to work through us and believe that “the soul gets to choose” for what and whom we become impassioned. That change in us – our developing understanding of other people – will be what changes the communities in which we live.

Kentucky Fried Kitchen Table

By Andrew

20170406_200326

This past Thursday, I rang the doorbell of a stranger while holding a bucket of fried chicken. Before you stop reading, this isn’t as awkward as it sounds. It was the beginning of my Kentucky Kitchen Table, an interesting experience with some equally interesting people. I, along with Hannah and Camille, participated in a dinner hosted by Blake and his mother Stacy at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Sitting around the dining room table with my fried chicken and heaping helpings of mac-n-cheese, baked beans, corn, and chocolate cake, we began our dinner with some timid introductions. Blake is a film major at WKU with a great interest in film production, and his mother Stacy is a nurse practitioner. They have lived in the Bowling Green area for around 12 years, and Blake has a brother who also attends WKU. Hannah is a social psychology major with an interest in performing research, and her friend Camille recently transitioned to an engineering major. After some brief talk about where we are from, including the coincidental realization that Camille and I grew up in fairly close towns, we started our conversation with a big question: What does citizenship mean to you?

I decided to get the ball rolling by describing my friendly neighbor ideal of citizenship within a community, where each member of the community is active in helping improve the community and helping each other. I added that this also means letting others live their lives in peace, unless their actions are harmful to the community. Everybody else seemed to have a similar definition, and Stacy emphasized that what we believe is harmful to the community is subjective. We then discussed how this is often the cause of debate within a community, as debates are often about problems that don’t have clear cut solutions, which we call wicked problems in our class.

From here, we transitioned to a conversation about how well we knew our neighbors/members of our community. While all of us knew some of our neighbors, we all agreed that we didn’t know all of them, including some of the next door neighbors. However, for some of us this wasn’t always the case. For example, Stacy said that during her childhood on the family farm, she knew everyone from the surrounding farms very well, and either Hannah or Camille commented that they knew all of the kids their age that lived close by. Blake commented that now he didn’t see kids outside as much anymore, and that nobody seemed to be around the neighborhood, especially on weekends. We thought that perhaps this isolation among people was due to an increase in technology.

While speaking about other people in our community, we switched topics and talked about people we knew who had very different backgrounds from ourselves. I had a hard time thinking of somebody as I realized that I don’t surround myself with very diverse people. Hannah talked about an exchange student she knew from South America. She described how one of the most peculiar things about him was how intense his work ethic was for school work. He and those that he traveled with all seemed to have this strong desire to work really hard on their school work, showing how different education is portrayed in different cultures. Blake also mentioned a German exchange student from high school who somewhat lacked a sense of humor. Stacy then remembered a man from the Middle East who is still here in Bowling Green. He is a friend of Blake’s brother, and he was taking classes to become a translator at WKU, but when his country fell into war, he couldn’t continue to receive money from his parents. So now he lives with the Baptist Campus Ministry, while trying to learn to drive so he can get a job. However, even under such circumstances, he was very respectful, and at a meal at Stacy’s house, he would even stand up when an adult male walked in the room and introduce himself. We find this odd in our culture, but to him it is just a sign of respect.

After some more food, we continued our conversation with a question of my own. I wanted to know what everyone’s thoughts are on the increasing price of a college education. I pointed out how it has changed the way that colleges operate, as they act more like businesses than they used to, causing things like grade inflation.  I also mentioned how much harder it is to get a sustainable job without getting a college education. I continued to point out a couple characteristics of the problem, and then Stacy asked us if we knew the root cause of the issue. We didn’t have an answer, and we agreed that this is due to the wicked nature of the problem.

From there we changed topics to a conversation about obligation to those in our communities. The first aspect of the question was whether we have any obligation. Stemming off of the citizen conversation earlier in the meal, we all seemed to agree that we have some sort of obligation to help those within our communities live their lives peacefully. Then Blake asked if we felt the same obligation to somebody who wasn’t in your actual neighborhood or town, but halfway around the world. I felt that there was an obligation, depending on how close your relationship is to the person or community you are helping.  However, I also brought up that some people help those far away from them while ignoring those closest to them in need. Stacy asked us if we thought that was common, and we all seemed to agree that while everybody doesn’t do it, it can be easier to send money or aid to a distant place rather than spend your time helping locally. Hannah said she thought that in a capitalist culture like ours, that we would be greedier about our money, but Blake and Camille pointed out that often people would rather lose some money if they can be lazier.

To finish up the meal, we then talked about how often we sat down at meals like that with our families. Stacy told us how she was required to sit and eat dinner with her family at the same time every day, and how she tried to continue that with her family. She pointed out that with the scheduling of activities, it became hard to find a time that worked, and that practice slowly faded away. I talked about how I regretfully didn’t often eat with everyone in my family. While we all in the same area during meals, often the television was on, and the focus wasn’t on conversation. Blake mentioned how he wishes his family sat down and ate together more often, even though he didn’t like it when they still did it. He said that as he got older he started to appreciate that time together, and that sometimes he just wants that time back with his family.

After this, we decided that we needed to go, and we cleaned up and headed out. Thinking back on the meal, I find that I really enjoyed it. While I am not too socially anxious, I often don’t like to put myself in situations where I don’t know anybody, since I hate awkward conversation. However, I found that some prompted questions in addition to food helped get rid of those awkward silences, and created a meaningful conversation that helped me get to know everyone a little bit better. The idea behind the Kentucky Kitchen Table reminds me of Nussbaum’s article, “Socratic Pedagogy: The Importance of Argument.” While this wasn’t a Socratic town hall debate, the concept behind such a debate is reflected in the way we conversed at our meal. The ability to listen to respectfully hear the point of others in a constructive way and speak for yourself to obtain a constructive result (which happened to just be a thoughtful conversation) is central to our democracy, especially in local government. Meals like this are a great way to teach this core aspect of democracy, and I was amazed after leaving the meal at how natural it felt. Perhaps such meals need to happen more often in our communities. A central point of our class is how do we get along with each other, and such conversations are may be the key. The nature of the situation gets rid of that tension between people, and brings out a peaceful conversation that feels like it can resolve any conflict.

Williamsburg Kentucky Kitchen Table

KENTUCKY KITCHEN TABLE

By Ryan

Williamsburg is a very small town with little to no diversity in the population to speak of. This town is, for the large portion of my life, what I called home and today- hundreds of miles away- the town still impacts my perceptions of the world. Returning home after over a month of absence was, of course, a needed aid to the homesickness I can occasionally feel. However, much more rewarding than any remedy to my nostalgia, I returned with purpose and an assignment to complete- my Kentucky Kitchen Table.

Naturally, my mother- who must constantly be aware of the everyday workings of my family- was informed of the dinner and the purpose it would serve. Of course mother insisted that any thing she could do to help me ace an assignment should be done. So, believing that my homecoming could be even more exciting with close friends and family, she decided to invite around twelve people. As mother and I often do, we politely debated why this would not be an effective endeavor and I encouraged her to limit the number to ten people. Fortunately, the people that she had invited had prior engagements but we were still able to draw in what I would call (as it relates to Williamsburg) relative diversity. My mother was able to get my father and sister to participate in the dinner- a task that may sound simple but, in actuality, involves coordinating with a highly independent teenager and an insistently stubborn adult. Further, we were able to have my mother’s best friend, Stacy, and Stacy’s daughter, Macy, in attendance. So, in total, we had six people in attendance: Sheri (my mother), Alan (my father), Hailey (my sister), Stacy, Macy and, of course, myself (the outlier). I also wanted to encourage everyone to make something, despite my mother’s insistence that it would be rude to invite guests and then expect them to cook. However, Stacy and Macy did make homemade brownies for desert and I brought in rolls and drinks for the meal (a settlement that satisfied my mother as she got to cook the rest of the meal). I felt that I was able to collect a relatively diverse group of people even though there were only six people in attendance. I also felt that having perceptions from two generations would offer a mix of opinions while, at the same time, I would be able to get opinions from a variety of opinions from individuals of different career fields. My mother works in public administration in our local health department and my father is a history teacher at our county’s alternative school. With Stacy as a nurse, I felt we would have opinions from individuals with differing incomes and experiences.

Despite being raised in this town where very few people seek higher education and, I imagine, even fewer attempt to place themselves outside of the world that they are exposed to every day, I was pleasantly surprised at how productive my Kentucky Kitchen Table was. While deliberative engagement might not be a term that is tossed around frequently in Williamsburg, it is certainly a subject that I wanted to bring up during my dinner. Our class had a list of pre-selected questions that I chose to go through and then subsequently ask for answers to follow-up questions. While I was able to predict some of what the table said, I was not able to completely conjure up what every individual person would say. What did not surprise me was the frequency in which religion or, specifically, Christianity and its moral teachings were mentioned.

Williamsburg, centered in the bible belt and my family- centered around the bible- are both unsurprisingly insistent upon the application of scripture in every day life. However, despite this strong belief of the scripture’s varying applications, both my family and our guests admitted to knowing very little about scriptural teachings and instead presented that their foundations lay within only what they knew of the bible or what they inherently believed was moral. I am the outlier in my family because, as previously mentioned, I am not religious and I do not draw my morality from any scripture or religious doctrine. It seemed that my assertion that morality was largely dependent on the individual was followed by responses of various statements to contest the allegation. The primary argument was that we should draw all of our morality from the bible. I found the assertion interesting for a variety of reasons- the largest being that they had stated before that they knew very little about scriptural teachings and instead drew their morality from what they “felt” was right. I suggested again that morality was subjective and, again, was met with shows of disapproval, despite the fact that they had just said the same thing. Citing “feelings” as a source of morality seemed to be, not only acceptable, but widely believed. It seemed as though the group drew a distinction between a feeling and a subjective belief- though what that distinction is I am unsure. What I do know is that I was unsurprised. Not simply because of the circular reasoning or their unwillingness to use the word “subjective” directly, but more so because I knew that, at least in Williamsburg, the spiritual feelings that they were citing as their source of morality were shared by a large portion of the populous and therefore could be much more easily understood. While religion was certainly not what we focused on during the dinner, it plays a very obviously role in my community and therefore was necessary to discuss.

What did surprise me were some of their responses on citizenship and the roles that we need to play in our local and global communities. Because Williamsburg is indeed such a small town, I erroneously assumed the groups limited experiences with cultures prominent outside of our town would, in turn, create perceptions that were very culturally insensitive. To be perfectly clear, there were some instances where this was indeed the case; such as when Stacy claimed that she had to give an injection to the child of “an illegal.” While I recognized that some of what was said was, indeed, culturally insensitive, I also recognized that their prevue of understanding was largely limited to what they were faced with daily in Williamsburg. Despite the side-comment about the “illegal”, Stacy also made a few points that I thought were very uncharacteristic for most people in Williamsburg. Citing the current situation with the United State’s Syrian refugees- individuals that are often met with scrutiny by a good portion of citizens in my small town- Stacy claimed that it was not only a Christian’s duty to help the less fortunate, but also our duty as global citizens to help one another through difficult situations. For the most part, everyone at the table agreed that in the situation of refugees, it was our duty to help in whatever way we possibly could. My mother cited our experience in Haiti as her reasoning for aiding those across the globe who demonstrate true need. I was honestly very surprised that the subject of refugees not only came up with very little debate, but also with a very clear desire to help the population of another country so foreign to most in my town. I will never forget the day in Honors 251, when we were going over the various beliefs and they were largely affected by what we saw every day. For example, Professor Gish stated that, while her family was mostly opposed to the United States accepting refugees, they would certainly accept one into their home and do as much as they could for them. Up until this dinner, I felt that my family would feel the same. Perhaps my family and our friends made this realization as well and therefore are now able to express a firm belief that the US should do what it can- just as individuals should.

I will reiterate that we talked about many more topics over the course of this dinner, however, they all were intentionally focused around our identity as citizens and how we came to develop these outlooks on our world. I believe that in just a few topics alone, I was able to discern more about my family and our friends’ outlooks on life. I believe that what I learned relates very closely to one of the central themes in our class: “How do we live well together.” I think that by understanding our identities and how they can relate to our perceptions of the world around us, we are better able to think about or adjust our biases accordingly. While the vast majority of people in Williamsburg draw their identity from conservative values, they do not all necessarily agree with every every aspect of the political philosophy. I believe that this held true with my very conservative family expressing that we should be doing more to help the refugees rather than simply turn them away. If our mission is to live well together, putting on someone else’s shoes and choosing to walk a mile in them is a magnificent way to start that process.

Ultimately, I took away from the dinner that perhaps I had taken my family and my town for granted when it came to their opinions. In suggesting that my parents and our friends had never tried to see the world from someone else’s perspective, I neglected to think that, perhaps, I was not trying to understand why they believed how they do. I believe that the most important lessons I learned from my Kentucky kitchen Table are as follows: because you are familiar with a person’s beliefs does not mean that you fully understand why they believe what they do; further, only by understanding our identities and attempting to understand the identities of those around us can we reach that ultimate goal of living together harmoniously.

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Peyton

This Kentucky Kitchen Table was a very new and interesting learning experience. It took place in Somerset, Kentucky at a local Mexican restaurant. The dinner consisted of a variety of people, all of which brought great insight to the project and conversation as a whole. My step dad, Wes, was there. He is a local photographer who loves working with and around other people. He was also the reason we were all gathered together, it was his 40th birthday. My mother, Chrissa, was there as well. She is 38 years old and a CPA who also works in the stock market; she is very much a “numbers” person and enjoys figuring out patterns and probelms. My grandmother, Rita, was also present at the dinner. She has recently turned 65 and although I very rarely get to see her, I greatly admire the fact that she is a jack-of-all-trades. She has been hired to do several jobs such as work at the courthouse, law offices, insurance agencies, and many more things. My boyfriend Randy was there as well. Randy is 19 years old and is majoring in construction management. He is also one of the easiest people to get along with and enjoyed engaging this conversation. My little sister, Maddie, also joined us. Maddie is 13, however if you ask her she will make it very clear that she is 13 and three quarters. She’s a very sweet girl who doesn’t know what she wants to do when she grows up, but she wants to try and help as many people as possible. And last, but not least, my younger brother, Blake, was there as well. He is 15 and tends to keep to himself, but he loves technology and hopes to learn how to build computers.

Through out this dinner, we talked about a wide variety of things. We started out by having everyone answer the required question of “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Some of the answers I got for this question were incredibly inspiring. Maddie told me that she believed citizenship meant doing the right thing and helping people in your community when you can. Blake told me that it was being nice to everyone. He stated, “When you have citizenship, you are part of a community. So you need to care about and be nice to the people close to you. Everyone needs each other, so just be nice.” Randy said that he believed citizenship was “working together to build not only a better future, but a better today as well.” However, Rita’s answer was probably the most entertaining. She said that “citizenship is when you’re surrounded by people you love. You don’t have to like them, but it makes life a whole lot easier if you at least love them.”

Some other aspects of our conversation included things such as broad questions about the world we live in as a whole and then much more personalized questions such as which social aspects we all care about as individuals. It was also very interesting to see the differences in the types of communities everyone wanted to live in. It seemed as if there is a major generation gap with the answers to this question. For example, Rita wanted a very close nit community, one in which everyone knows each other very well and on a deep, personal level. However, my mother and step dad wanted much more privacy. They did not care whether or not they knew everyone in their community; they just wanted to keep to themselves. But Blake, Maddie, and Randy’s answers all provided a wide variety of options. Blake wanted some anonymity, but still wanted to know at least some people in his town, such as his neighbors. However, Maddie and Randy wanted much more deep and personal connections with the people they lived near. They wanted a much more personal sense of community in which everyone was very involved and caring towards each other. I thought it was very interesting to see how the oldest generation present wanted no anonymity, the middle generation wanted all of it, and the youngest generation seemed to have a split between the two. These differences added to the diversity of the conversation and everyone seemed very happy to hear how the others felt about it.

Another component of the conversation that I think is worth mentioning is the different types of ways that people answered the question “what kind of person do you want to be?” Everyone seemed to be on the same page of “I want to be a good person.” But after hearing this generic response we all dove into what being a “good person” meant for each person that was present. After much discussion, we came to the conclusion that being a good person is a very broadly defined concept and almost everyone changed his or her answers after this conversation. They were changed to things such as “I want to be a more understanding person,” “I want to be a kind person,” and “I want to be a trustworthy person.” These are all things that everyone thought a good person and a good citizen should be in order to be better help serve and take part in the community as a whole as well as improve their own personal lives.

An important aspect of the KKT was when the question “is there anything you can think to do that might make things better for you or your neighbors where you live?” everyone seemed to displayed different thought processes and responses to this question, but it is very important to note that everyone did want to do something to help better the community around them. Some people at the table seemed to go towards a more personalized approach, such as going around and doing nice things for each of their neighbors one at a time such as raking their yards or offering to help them with individual tasks. While others wanted a more broad approach, such as starting a community garden or starting a neighborhood watch program. However, everyone seemed to focus on what they could do to help others, instead of themselves, and I thought this was very aw-inspiring.

What I learned from this was that everyone has their own ways of viewing not only the world, but the community around them as well. The diversity in generations, genders, and where and how people were raised seemed to play a factor in how they perceived citizenship. However, there were some similarities that I think helped bring everyone together such as the over all theme of “be a good person/citizen” and “help others.” But I also think it is very important to not only recognize, but celebrate the differences that we all have as well. Everyone seemed to place emphasis on different aspects of the conversation; for example Maddie had a lot to say about what social issue she cared about (bullying) while Rita really cared about advice she would give to people running for office. I believe that this diversity helped to further the conversation and help enrich not only this conversation, but the entirety of our lives as well.

I believe that this relates to our class in a variety of ways. For example, this conversation reminded me of our weekly deliberations very much so. In our class deliberations, typically everyone participates and contributes to the conversation. We also are presented with several different views on the same subject material. Also, our deliberations take place in a “safe place” where people could freely express their opinions on different subjects. This is very similar to how my KKT went. Everyone that was present took place and added several different, but valuable contributions to the discussion and shared the way they truly felt. The deliberation type style helps to contribute to how smoothly the conversation went and I also think that this setting helped everyone feel as if they could freely say how they felt about each issue.

This also relates to the honors 251 course because both our class and this KKT shared the commonality that it covered citizenship and individualism. In both of these contexts, a bridge was discussed as well. We often talk about where we are and how we will get to where we want to be. By improving our individual selves and working together as a community, we will be able to get across the bridge and not only improve our citizenship skills but improved the world in which we live at the same time.

I am very appreciative of this experience. It was a wonderful way to get to see how people in my community felt about different issues that impact their daily lives. It was incredibly eye opening and helped me become more open minded, this is also something that this course as a whole has done for me. I am pleased to say that this KKT went very well and I am happy that it was a requirement for this course.

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(I am very sorry my photograph is upside down, I do not know how to fix this.)

By Ryan P.

On Friday, April 7, 2017, I along with five others attended our Kentuckys Kitchen Table assignment. Our group had dinner at WKU’s campus Chili’s in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The people in our group included Anne and her friend Jill. Anne is an environmental health sciences and philosophy double major from Frankfurt Kentucky. She wants to work with water quality in the future. Jill is a recreation administration major from Louisville, Kentucky, who plans on working for the national park system. Hannah invited her friend Thomas to join her for the dinner. Hannah is a chemistry and biology double major from Madisonville, KY. She plans on going to dental school. Thomas is from Brandenburg, KY. He is majoring in exercise science and plans on becoming a clinical exercise physiologist. Mahesan, who is the friend I brought with me, is a biology major and chemistry minor. His parents both work in the healthcare profession, which has had an impact on him wanting to become a doctor. I am a senior accounting major and I plan on becoming a CPA for a public accounting firm. My family lives in Owensboro, KY, but we are originally from St. Louis, MO. While each of us at the table was a member of the Honor’s College we all had diverse backgrounds that helped to make a memorable conversation.

Our conversation started with us introducing ourselves and speaking a little bit about ourselves. At around this time the server came to the table and we learned that Anne is vegetarian and Jill is vegan. We then had an interesting and informative conversation on dietary choices and lifestyles, how people should work with dietary restrictions, and even other dietary choices and food allergies. After speaking about dietary choices, we talked about the required question of what citizenship means to us. One of the main themes in our conversation was that citizenship is about our personal choices to help those around us and working daily to be an individual who is concerned about what is happening around them. The point was made that most people have a desire to think of themselves, but also a need to connect with others. This could help make a case for deliberation and town hall forums. These settings are a more personal form of being involved in citizenship than say voting. They have the potential to allow others of differing viewpoints to connect and learn from each other. If we can put a face to a cause or viewpoint we can sometimes bring our walls down to see from other perspectives. I brought up that I believed most people are naturally good or have good intentions. One rebuttal to this was that humans are very self-interested and as an infant our minds are naturally a blank slate that is written upon by our upbringing and experiences. This makes the case that people’s good intentions may vary greatly depending on their experiences.

The next question we asked was what we think are the best things in the world, or what is good in the world today. I mentioned that in my economics class we had been viewing overall rates of poverty worldwide and per these statistics recently the global standard of living has been on the rise with less people in poverty. The rebuttal to this was how do we truly know that the statistics are accurate and that globally there have been many social justice and human rights violations. These human rights violations can be evidenced by Syrian chemical weapons attacks or many country’s oppressive treatment of women and persecution of the LGBT communities. This theme relates closely to the wicked problems readings, which consisted of the wicked problems handout and Carcasson’s article on dealing with wicked problems through deliberative engagement. We talked about how these human rights violations are wicked problems since they are difficult to end, but we can seek to minimize them to the best of our abilities. Like the bridge metaphor, the shape of the world (our side of the bridge) is rather dangerous. We do not want to be here with the atrocities happening worldwide. We want to be on the other side of the bridge where people’s human rights are protected and the world is a safer place. One way is for countries to openly talk about these issues and work together to help alleviate them. Not only should representatives of countries deliberate, but it is important for people to deliberate and help alleviate these problems locally. Working together on both fronts may help drive the metaphorical car (us) across the bridge.

A key social justice and human rights issue we talked about was sex trafficking and the prevalence of sex trafficking in Bowling Green. We talked about the factors that go into this complex problem. Due to Bowling Green’s large number of refugee populations, its location near a busy interstate, and lack of resources to fight this issue it has become more prevalent. We discussed how there are organizations that are seeking to help people escape and recover from sex trafficking experiences.

Another key theme we discussed was the role of rapidly advancing technology in the wicked problems of society and our lack of deliberative engagement. We talked about how it was normal in previous generations for families to eat together for dinner daily. We were a more familial and less individualistic society and would discuss life with each other. It seems that nowadays we are always on the move. Our smartphones, tablets, wireless headsets and other mobile technology have enabled us to just grab a quick bite to eat then to spend time to enjoy our meals. Even when people enjoy meals together they are tempted to have their cell phone’s out on the table. It’s almost as if we need to be prepared for when someone may text or call, instead of just enjoying the company of a friend or peer. Humans are social beings, but we are turning to text based, online, and even online video technology to fill these needs. This reliance on technology is not necessarily a negative thing, as technological advances have also benefited society. For the purposes of this class we agreed that text-based and other communications cannot fully substitute face-to-face deliberative engagement. For example, there is still an awkwardness factor on skype conference calls. It is also easier to misinterpret textual communication, especially when trying to express multiple viewpoints. In this situation, face-to-face communication allows for necessary social ques, tones of voice, and inflections. There is also a personal sense of being in the presence of others in face-to-face communication. These factors contribute to effective deliberations.

Related to the rapid evolution of technology and individualism is the treatment of the elderly in society. Thomas shared some of his experiences of working with the elderly. He mentioned that oftentimes those in elderly living communities are put into these care facilities after having just lost a spouse or loved one. Many are also placed into care because they are becoming unable to take care of themselves.  What they need most during these times is the love and support of family members. Many times, though, these elderly individuals rarely receive family visitors. We discussed the emotional and physical toll that loneliness and stress has on the elderly. While it is heartbreaking to hear of the neglect that the elderly often experience, there are countries and programs that seek to help the elderly stay connected. One such program in Finland seeks to offer young adults reduced rent at a senior home. In this way, the younger generation can spend time with the older generation. The experience of an elderly individual spending time with a younger person alleviates their loneliness. It also allows the younger generation to draw on the knowledge of the previous generations.

I learned many important things from our Kentucky Kitchen Table. I learned the importance of seeing the world in a human perspective. I am very used to viewing the world in my limited knowledge through statistical trends. When many people are involved I tend to think in a way that distances myself from the situation. I learned that whether the world is less in poverty than years ago, there are still large amounts of human rights violations occurring worldwide. Many countries are still struggling and dealing with wicked problems. Often countries or foreign aid go into a country, but do not reach their intended destination and attempts to help other countries can end in worse results socially and economically. I started to realize the prevalence of wicked problems in our world. The point we had made in class and the readings about wicked problems being caused by those who intend to remedy them started to resonate with me. Oftentimes a new politician comes along and vows to remedy America’s problems, but does not realize the unintended policy consequences that worsen the issue. In these types of situations if our representatives could reason through deliberation instead of polarization, we could come up with better plans to help alleviate societies problems.

I also learned from our conversation of the treatment of the elderly. It never occurred to me the stress that many elderly in elderly living homes are going through even before they come into the facilities. I learned to empathize with their situation and put myself in their shoes. Thomas brought up the point of how people would feel if they were 90, recently lost their spouses, and were put into a home where there is a chance their familys will not visit them often or at all. In the class and readings on empathy we had talked about having the correct balance of empathy to understand that each other’s points of view are valid without making someone’s situation our own. I feel like empathy is useful when deliberating, because deliberation requires listening to opposing viewpoints. Listening to opposing viewpoints often requires empathy.

To sum up our conversation themes, we first touched on dietary choices, lifestyles, and food allergies and being empathetic in regards to that topic. We then talked about citizenship as the individual ways we seek to help the world around us and how deliberation seeks to solve local and global problems and help the world around us. Relating deliberation to citizenship is an important aspect of the class. The next topic we touched on was the state of the world as it relates to wicked problems of human rights violations. One such human rights issue is sex trafficking, which is a more local issue than many are aware. There was some debate on if human beings are naturally good and the rapid advancement of technology was discussed. We ended with a discussion on elderly people being neglected by family and the importance of empathy and sympathy for them at that stage of their lives. To sum up what I learned from the dinner, I learned about the prevalence of wicked problems in our society and the difficulty there is due to polarization to talk about these problems. I also learned the importance of empathy in the context of wicked problems and the need for it to truly listen when deliberating. Overall, I enjoyed our Kentucky Kitchen Table meal. I found it energizing to have a meaningful discussion around the dinner table and realized that I should try to have memorable meals with my loved ones and friends more often.

KKT Chilis