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.



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.


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.

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Ashley

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in my home in the small town of Leitchfield, Kentucky. Leitchfield is in Grayson County and is about an hour drive away from Bowling Green. My dinner took place on April 15, 2018 after church. There were six people at my kitchen table not including myself. The names of the people around my table are (from left to right of me in the green dress): Henry Thomas (first and middle name), Steve, Mac, Bob, and Claire and my mother, Lisa, who chose not to be in the picture. I asked these individuals to my table because I had grown up being friends with Claire and had always gone to church with her family, but thought that this would be a great opportunity to get to know them better. First and foremost, my name is Ashley. I am pre-medicine and majoring in chemistry and minoring in biology. While I currently have enough college credit hours to be almost a junior status, it is my first year attending Western Kentucky University. Henry Thomas, known as “H.T.” to everyone, is a 93-year-old veteran who served in World War II and received a purple heart for getting shot in the arm while serving in Germany. Steve is a retired farmer who has three beautiful grandchildren that he loves with all of his heart. Mac is also a farmer who although had a stroke a while back, still does everything that he can to ensure that his farm stays functioning. Bob is the father of Claire; he is currently working at a law office, but also worked part time at the fire department in the past. Claire is a second-year medical school student at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and is currently thinking of specializing in a field rather than becoming a family physician. Lastly, my mother, Lisa, is a high school social studies teacher at the only high school in the county, Grayson County High School.

For our meal, my mother helped me make chicken, vegetables, and bread. Claire’s family brought a chocolate cake for us to have for dessert. Overall, while everyone at the table grew up either on a farm or around a farm and shared similar beliefs, they all shared unique perspectives on each topic brought up during the dinner. When asked what citizenship meant to them, the reply of Henry Thomas stood out the most to me mostly because of his respectable military past. Henry Thomas said, “To me citizenship is more than just abiding by the law and voting in yearly elections; it is showing that you are devoted enough to the privilege of freedom that you are willing to take time to do something for someone else. Whether it be a huge commitment like serving your country, or simply helping someone through community service, practicing citizenship is the concept of serving others before yourself.” Claire also agreed to the statement made by her grandfather adding that the concept of helping others is what drove her towards wanting to become a physician. It was never the thought that she may be financially well off, she wanted to spend her life making a difference in other people’s lives. My mother added that ever since she was a little girl she knew that she wanted to choose a career in which she could help others, so when she told her family that she was choosing to be a teacher, it was no surprise to them. Moreover, like his father Henry Thomas, Bob also had experience risking his life to ensure the safety of others by fighting fires, but he made the point to add that more individuals should contribute to local organizations that help the county run like the fire department.

Furthermore, when I asked the table what social issue is closest to their heart and why, each individual provided me with unique sides to each issue. My mother, Lisa, said that children going hungry and without love were two of the biggest things that bothered her each year as a teacher. My mother is unique in the fact that at the start of each week she asks students about their weekends each Monday through their bellwork and she always takes the time to read through each response and write at least a paragraph back. She said that we could not even begin to imagine the things that students had admitted to enduring over the two short days that they weren’t in school. She said the really sad thing is that students readily told her what their situations were, but no one else gave them that opportunity so often times those stories stayed bottled up. Over the course of her years she has been able to help many children, but she knows that there are always far more that she never gets to reach. Whenever Henry Thomas answered the question he related it to veterans and how they are treated when they come back from war. Living it first hand, whenever Henry Thomas came back from World War II, he struggled to be himself again for a long time and did not even think about seeking mental help. He believes now that there is factual evidence that post dramatic stress disorder is something that veterans suffer from, that each individual who served no matter how old, should have free access to services because even at 93 years old he still has flashbacks. When Claire answered the question about which social issue was close to her heart she answered that parents vaccinating their children was one that constantly bothered her. Since entering the medical field, Claire has seen first-hand the effects of what has happened since parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children. Diseases that were once thought eradicated have been coming back and it all due to the fact that some parents are choosing against getting vaccinations that would protect their children and others. Claire believes that the choice should be taken out of the parents’ hands and that all children should be vaccinated in order to not only protect the health of the individual child, but everyone else’s child as well.

Overall what I learned from the dinner was that even if individuals grow up with the same background such as Claire’s family, they can all hold different opinions and values on issues. I had known that Henry Thomas had served in World War II, but after hearing some of the things that he endured and seeing that he still turned out to be the person that he is today, I respected him immensely. I also strive to have a husband that loves me as much as he loves his late wife, Betty Jo. They were married for 65 years, and although she has been gone for over two years now due to Alzheimer’s Disease, he still talks about her like she is the best thing that ever happened to him.  I also was not aware that Bob served as a volunteer fire fighter. Hearing some of the stories about how he barely made it out of burning homes also gave me a new-found respect for him. Moreover, although I have grown up hearing my mother’s stories all of my life I felt so proud to call her my mother hearing her talk about how passionate she was about helping the youth of our community.

My dinner relates to what we learned in our class because we often talked about whether or not we have a duty to help others, and each of the individuals at my table believed that yes; we do have a duty to help others when we have the means. Whenever talking to both my mother and Claire and her family, I was reminded of Jane Addams writings. In her writings, Jane expressed  how she, like the individuals at my table, believed that people should stop coming up with excuses and start serving others. Furthermore, my dinner also related to one of the central themes of the class: how can we live better together (or at least less worse together)? This was seen as every single one of the individuals at my table was/is able to make a difference in the world by working to not just benefit themselves, but others. Whether it be through serving their community or country, providing food for their family and others, teaching the next generation, or helping to improve the health of others, everyone makes the world a little more colorful by adding their splash of uniqueness.

In conclusion, I thought that this was a very interesting assignment in the sense that not only did I get to enjoy a delicious meal and dessert, but I also got to get to know a wonderful family who have each made it their mission in life to help serve others. I hope in the future I can do this again, not for the purpose of an assignment, but to get to know the stories of more and more individuals that I otherwise would not have the opportunity to do so.Photo 1 (2)

Kentucky Kitchen Table: Citizenship Consensus

By Rylee









We could not get everyone in one shot, so Bonita is missing from the top picture and Michael is missing from the bottom one. Therefore, we took two photos to make sure they were at least each in one.

My KKT involved eight people, including myself, who met at my home in Bowling Green, KY. The first person there was my mother, Holly. She is 49 years old and is originally from Morgantown, KY. She teaches eighth grade English for a living at Butler County Middle School. She is passionate about her job and those she teaches, and is currently rallying for teachers’ rights in Kentucky. She makes a difference in as a citizen in this way. Second was my stepdad, Michael. Michael grew up in Brownsville, KY, better known as Edmonson County. As a young boy and teenager, he did a lot of farm work to help his family. At age 47, he is currently principal of Bluegrass Middle School in Elizabethtown, KY. He truly started at the bottom and was able to achieve much through his intelligence in order to get where he is in his career today. The last member of my family who was there was my grandmother, Bonita. She is Michael’s mother and is 73 years old. She lived in Edmonson County her entire life until moving in with Holly and Michael six months ago. She has a strong Christian faith and although she suffers from polio, she does not let it get her down as she maintains a spunky attitude. She offered another perspective to our group since she is two generations older than most of us.
The next people to be described are people who attend school at WKU. Kinsley came and assisted me in hosting the dinner because we have Honors 251 together. She is a freshman from White House, TN and was raised by military parents. As an honors student, she is a hard worker and considers college to be a full-time job. She is also an avid member of CRU, a Christian group on campus. Her strong faith and kindness cause her to radiate light. Another friend of mine who came is Nichole. She grew up near Florence, KY but later moved to White House, TN. She has done a lot of traveling in her life and gains perspective from other cultures in this way. She enjoys helping others and plans to do so through her career path as a nursing major. The last two people in attendance were Katelyn and Taylor. I had met them a couple times before, but do not know them as well as Kinsley and Nichole. This opportunity allowed me to learn more about them. Katelyn is sophomore honors student studying journalism and tends to be more soft spoken. Her boyfriend, Taylor, is a junior honors student majoring in computer science. He mentioned that he enjoys talking and proved this by adding much to our discussion, typically asserting his conservative values.
Getting into our discussion, we started by discussing the required question: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” The main consensus was that as citizens, we should be polite to those around us. Holly and Michael also mentioned that part of being a citizen is standing up for how you believe life should be in this country, not only through voting, but through freedom of speech, petition, and press. Considering the fact that they both work in education, this is particularly relevant to them at this time as they have attended rallies and protests to support teachers when the Kentucky state government is cutting funds for their pensions. They also believe a citizen should be well informed when participating in protests such as these. Essentially, we came to the conclusion that citizens should be polite, work together, and contribute to society by utilizing American rights.
The next question we discussed was what kind of community we would like to live in. As residents of southern states, most everyone reiterated that it’s nice to live in a community where people are generally nicer to each other than the stereotypical rudeness of northern states. Bonita pointed out that this is something she has noticed in her lifetime. Taylor also brought up that he believes people should be armed to protect themselves, but that extensive background checks should possibly be made on people who purchase guns. After some deliberation, we agreed we are okay with having a gun locked away safely in people’s houses for the purpose of defense and hunting animals, but that no one should have a military grade weapon. I think what was most important to us all is that we live in a nice and safe community.
Some good responses were made to the question about how each of our jobs relates to our roles as citizens. Holly feels that all citizens should be educated and as a teacher, she does a good job of ensuring that they are. Additionally, I used to work at a Boys and Girls Club where I felt that I was being a good citizen by tutoring young children who may have not had the best home environments. I currently work in retail, where I enjoy interacting with others and helping them find what they need. Nichole also described how she worked in a grocery store and would help people take groceries out to their cars, which is part of being a polite citizen. Overall, we just do our best to help people in our occupations.
Following that, we asked how our religious identities influence how we treat other people. All of us firmly answered yes. Although we may be involved in different denominations of Christianity, we are all Christians. As Christians, we believe that people should treat others the way they would want to be treated. Kinsley mentioned that she thinks of how Jesus would act towards others and how he loved everyone. She is influenced by this and tries to show kindness towards others in her daily interactions. We all agreed that this is how we want to live our lives as well. Tying into that, we discussed our obligations to other people in our country and community. Our religious identities have a huge effect on this. Christians believe that you should serve your fellow beings. This allowed Kinsley and I to refer back to our class discussion about moral obligations and the video we watched of the young Chinese girl who was hit by a car. We decided that we believe we should be like the good samaritan that is described in the bible and help those we have the ability to help. That is our obligation.
These are not all the topics that were discussed that night, but I feel that these were the ones worth mentioning because they all have running themes of our consensus on citizenship. We basically answered the first central question of our class: how do we live better together? Everyone agreed that citizens should be polite, serve others, and be well informed in order to contribute to a nice, safe community. Citizens should not only vote and pay taxes, but stand for what they believe in and engage in solving social issues through the use of their basic rights. This leads to living better together.
Some of our conversation also reminded me of readings we have done in our class. Early on, Holly and Michael mentioned how citizens should be informed about politics and situations they may be advocating for or protesting. This relates back to our class reading of “Green Fire, the Still Point, and an Oak Grove.” In this reading, the college students protested the removal of the oak grove when they thought the trees were wild and had grown there ages ago. In fact, the grove was merely a garden. The students’ ignorance led to blind protests and they were simply seen as egrets fishing through their smeared reflections.
I also thought back to our reading, “If It Feels Right,” when talking about our obligations to others in our community and country. The author, David Brooks, claims that young people no longer have a shared moral framework and may lack moral reasoning abilities. However, I drew from our discussion that the millennials at our table do in fact seem to have shared moral standards. I believe this goes back to everyone’s religious identity because Christians have certain moral obligations in serving and helping others. Thus, not all young people can be said to only do things “if they feel right”. Many millennials were taught core moral values as children and keep them in their hearts, such as the ones in this group.
In conclusion, this experience allowed me to interact with intelligent individuals about the proper way to be a citizen. I was also able to engage with others who have different values than me. For instance, I am a democrat while most of the college students there had conservative views. It was a nice opportunity to deliberate with various people and reach a decision about what citizenship truly entails.

Kentucky Kitchen Table


From left to right: Steve, Brenda, Lynda, Les, Anna Jo, Carly, Jim

By Will

My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in Cynthiana, Kentucky. Cynthiana is a small town halfway between Lexington, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio. Those who took part in the dinner were Lynda, Les, Anna Jo, Brenda, Steve, Carly, Jim, and myself. I am a freshman physics major at Western Kentucky University. Lynda is a mother of four who works as a secretary at a school. Les is retired from the Marine Corps and works at the Post Office in Paris. He has traveled to over 20 countries around the world. Les and Lynda have lived in Cynthiana for over 20 years. Anna Jo was an inspector for the EPA out of Frankfort. She made sure that coal companies in Eastern Kentucky were up to code. Jim is a retired Sergeant Major from the Army. Anna Jo and Jim raise their granddaughter, Carly, who is a junior in high school. They have lived in Cynthiana for over 10 years. Brenda works in public records at the local hospital and Steve works at a factory in Georgetown. Brenda has lived in Cynthiana her entire life and Steve has lived in Cynthiana for 20 years. Steve moved to Cynthiana from Eastern Kentucky and was raised around coal mining. For dinner, everyone brought an assortment of different soups and sandwiches. For dessert, we had brownies and cookies.

The conversation started with me asking the question, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” As I went around the table, the general answer was along the lines of helping our neighbors and the people around us as best we can. We have to live our own lives, but when people are in obvious need, we have the obligation to help. The ways in which each of us help our neighbors did change though. When I am home in the winter and summer, I shovel snow, mow yards, and take the trash to the street for my elderly neighbors. My parents, Les and Lynda, check up on people on our street to make sure they are doing alright. Lynda also regularly talks to her mother and brings her food to keep her company. Since Anna Jo, Carly, and Jim live out in a more rural area, they have a more unique way of helping their neighbors. They watch out for their neighbors’ houses when they are away and shoot groundhogs that are in their yard from their front porch. At this point (and quite a few others), the conversation took a side track. Les started to talk about a recent episode of Alaska: The Last Frontier he watched in which muskrats were being trapped and their fur sold for coats. Jim had also seen a show similar to that and talked about how many skins went into making a coat along with their costs.

For Brenda, the social issue closest to her heart was food stamps. She does not like that she and Steve both work full-time jobs and has a harder time paying for groceries than people on food stamps. When she goes to the grocery store, she buys off brand food just to pay the bills. She finds it unsettling when the person in front of her has a full cart of name brand food and steak, then pays with food stamps. She believes that people are becoming too dependent on the government and people who actually work without government assistance have a harder time paying bills. We all agreed that with many programs, people abuse the system because they do not want to work. Les talked about some people he has worked with that did not want to work and avoided working when possible.

When the conversation shifted to politics and the government, there were quite a few negative opinions. Jim believes that the representatives citizens elect should do what is best for their constituents, but they continue to do what benefit themselves. There was a general consensus that government officials need to do focus on making the right moral decisions in legislation. Legislators do what people want right before elections to get reelected then do what they want the rest of the time they are in office. People help out each other in their communities but the government does not. The government has been helping other countries more than its own citizens. Les said you know a politician is lying if his mouth is moving. Overall, we are all skeptical of the government’s ability to do things correctly.

When I asked what everyone loved most about where they lived, almost no one had the same answer. Brenda liked that she lived close to where she worked; she lives less than a mile away from the hospital. Anna Jo liked that she lived out on a farm away from people, but was still very close to town. Les and Lynda liked that they live in the same area as their parents and are close to their family. Les, Lynda and I live on the east side of town, just within city limits; Brenda and Steve live a few miles further in town; and Jim, Anna Jo, and Carly live on the west side of town just outside city limits.

The dinner concluded after I asked, “Have you ever had a conversation with someone from a really different background than yourself?” Les grew up on military bases, then joined the Marine Corps and Jim retired from the Army. In the military, they encountered a very diverse spectrum of people. Having moved from base to base, Les got to talk to people from all over the United States. Both Les and Jim were able to talk to people in other countries when they were deployed. Steve works in a factory so he sees a few diverse people. The rest of us never really talk to people of extremely different backgrounds because we have all lived in the same general area for most of our lives.

Overall, everyone agreed that we already do what we can for our neighbors. A few thought that if they tried to help people too much, others could be irritated with their interference. Some people want to live their lives without help from others, whether it be from our neighbors or the government. Those at the dinner do what they can for the people around them without being overbearing. We respect the differences in people but realize that we are more similar than we are different. The main reason society is the way it is today is because people do not listen to each other or respect other people’s opinions. If we would listen to what people need and see things from their view, society would be a much better place.

I learned a lot from this activity about different people’s perception of good citizenship. Some of us believe that we should go out in the community and help others, while some help those close to us. The few that I ate dinner with thought that the government has a negative impact on citizenship. When people in communities rely more on the government, they rely less on each other and those around them. I also learned that people live in different areas for different reasons. People choose where to live according to their work, families, or communities. Also, when you live in a small town, there is not very much diversity in people.

My discussion over dinner reminded me a lot of Ivan Illich and good intentions. Ivan Illich believed that good intentions mean nothing when overall it does more harm than good. We all help people around us when they are in need, but we only help at the proper time and certain situations. There are circumstances where it is a personal problem and people do not like others meddling in their business. Everyone needs to be aware of what is needed and not jump at every opportunity they think they may have. Many people value their privacy and do not like others “helping” them to make themselves feel good. Those at the dinner recognized that there are limitations to how much they can help others. Helping in the wrong place is no longer helping, it is hindering.

One of the central questions of Citizen and Self is “How can we have more of a say over our lives – and contribute to others having more of a say over their lives?” From the dinner and discussion, we can have more say over our lives when others help us when we need help. We, as good citizens, then reciprocate and help others that are in need later. If everyone respects each other, we would have much more of a say over our lives. Even though we live in America and have more freedom than any other country in the world, people for some reason do not respect others’ opinions. If we are kind to others, it will be easier for them to have more say over their lives because people will be encouraging them instead of being discouraging.