Last night I hosted a dinner for ten people at my home in Utica, Kentucky, a small rural community about ten minutes south of Owensboro. Since the project is Kentucky’s Kitchen Table, I wanted the dinner to feel like a traditional, homey meal, and for this reason I chose to serve pot roast with homemade mashed potatoes, broccoli casserole, carrots, and the most delicious rolls in the world. It is a meal that is a staple in my family, and so it is the one I most closely associate with home. I have never been one to cook, and I barely know my way around a kitchen, but, I decided that I wanted to cook for this dinner. My mother taught me how to prepare the roast just like my grandmother taught her, and my great grandmother taught my grandmother.
The attendees were William, Dylan, Catherine, Kim, Charles, Jody, Betty, Jim, Terri, and myself. We really had a full table. The group was diverse in age, political views, occupations, and upbringings.
First, there was me, Rachel. I am 18 and a student studying middle grades education at WKU. I have lived my entire life in Utica, but am of course now living in Bowling Green while I am at school. I define myself as a liberal, especially with social issues.
William is 21 and a student at Georgetown College. He will be graduating this December with a degree in religion, and he will be attending seminary next fall to continue his studies. He grew up in Utica as well, but now lives in Georgetown, Kentucky. He defines his political views as progressive.
Dylan is 21 and a student at the University of Kentucky with the goal to become a chemical engineer when he graduates next Spring. He is originally from Owensboro but now lives in Lexington. Politically, he identifies as conservative but does not affiliate himself with the Republican party.
Catherine is 17 and a high school student. She grew up and lives in Utica. She is not typically interested in politics, and hates the polarization it causes among people she cares about. She is a talented violinist and is interested in the ability of music and other arts to unify people.
Kim is a 50-year-old elementary school teacher who is very moderate in her political views. She is the daughter of a pastor, and moved around often while growing up.
Charles is 51-year-old pastor of a small country church who is progressive in his political views. He is the son of missionaries and grew up in multiple other countries, mostly in Southeast Asia, but he has lived in the U.S. since he was eighteen, when he came to Kentucky for college. When he and Kim married, they lived in Louisville for many years, and then relocated to Utica when Charles was offered a job.
Jody is 49 and has a background in accounting. She currently resides in Texas, but lived in Lexington for many years. Politically, she is conservative, but more libertarian than republican.
Terri is 58. She recently retired from a career of teaching French and Spanish at the high school level. She typically makes political decisions based on feelings for others and those in need.
Jim is 75 and is a retired pastor. He is conservative and a registered republican. His wife Betty is 74 and a retired respiratory therapist. She is also a conservative republican. Jim and Betty both grew up in small towns in the mountains in Eastern Kentucky. At one point, Jim described that the road he grew up on was nicknamed for his family, because his many family members occupied almost every house on the street. After Jim and Betty were married, Jim joined the armed forces and later became a pastor, causing them to move around fairly often. They settled in Lexington for many years, but recently moved to Owensboro.
Our conversation centered mainly around the theme of citizenship, and for the most part, everyone agreed that the biggest part of citizenship is service. The most important thing we can do is help other people as best we can. One common thing among the ten of us is the Christian faith, and this faith plays a huge part in dictating what values we hold. It was stated that, as Christians, we are called to help and serve others, thus linking citizenship with religious values. However, one thing that is hard about this call to service is the fact that we do not want to be taken advantage of. Jim and Betty, having lived in Lexington for a long time, gave the example of people asking for money on the side of the road. It was a large problem in Lexington for a while, and, often, monetary aid was not used in the way that the giver expected, but rather for things like drugs or alcohol. Though they want to help people, they do not want to give money if it will not be used in a way they think is appropriate. Jody provided a well-known metaphor: “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Though she wants to help people in her community, she would rather “teach a man to fish” than to “give a man a fish.” We talked a lot about how we can help people, and even about whether or not we should help them at all. This part of the conversation really reminded me of our in-class discussion about morality and whether we have an obligation toward our fellow man. We also talked about how one way to help people is simply being aware that problems exist, even if you can’t directly help them by donating food, money, etc. It was said that good citizenship means not being apathetic and ignorant. We need to learn what is going on in the world around us and we need to care about what is going on in the world around us. If we fail to do this, then we also fail to make change.
The conversation soon turned into a discussion about progress. A couple of people around the table label themselves as progressives, and it was during this part of the conversation when they really had a lot to say. Charles said he thinks all societies in the world are moving in a progressive direction toward a goal of social justice and equality. Some groups are moving at faster paces than others, but he believes, eventually, every person will be treated equally anywhere in the world. Charles gave the example of athletes kneeling during the national anthem recently. These athletes are breaking the social norm of standing at attention during the anthem because they are trying to make a statement about the issues they care about. Jim said that, as a veteran, he finds the kneeling to be disrespectful. However, he also says that even though he thinks it is disrespectful, the athletes have the right to do it. He wishes there were another way to protest, but he can at least respect that the athletes are taking advantage of the rights he fought for them to have. Jody said she did not have any problem with people protesting peacefully, but she thinks that, once laws are broken, that is when it has gone too far. Charles disagrees. He says that rules need to be broken if they are unjust. He gave the example of Rosa Parks. She broke the law when she refused to give up her seat, but she did it because that law was unjust. Now, we look back with pride when thinking about Ms. Parks’ actions, but at the time, many people were just as upset about it as they are now about athlete’s kneeling. Someday, Charles says, people will look back at today’s protests in the same way.
By this time, we had finished the main course and were started on dessert, apple pie, and we changed the subject to something a little sweeter as well: what are the best things about the world we live in? Catherine said that, in her opinion, music is the best thing in the world. Music is universal. Every culture has it, and it is a great way to express emotion and ideas. On top of this, it is a wonderful unifier. Kim and Terri think that one of the best things about the world today is the fact that we are able to connect with people and truly be global citizens thanks to technology. Now more than ever we are able to know what is going on in the world, and we are able to communicate and befriend people from all over the globe. Technology does have drawbacks, but the benefits of it are extraordinary. Jody said that, for her, the best thing is to see how people come together in times of hardship. She gave the example of the recent hurricanes. So many people have worked together to help our fellow men when they were in need. Though it sometimes feels like we are all just selfish, and that there is no hope for us, unfortunate events like these prove that we do care about each other. Dylan said one of the best things in the world to him is being able to sit around a kitchen table together having meaningful conversation and lots of fun with good people. I agreed with him.
During this project, I have learned how important it is to me to be able to talk with my friends and family so openly, without fear of judgement and without fear of starting an argument. Often, we get swept up into the emotions behind our opinions on problems, and we want to argue and offend those who disagree with us. We get so absorbed by wanting to be right and wanting to “win” that we forget that the most important thing is maintaining relationships with people we care about. Everyone at my table had different ideas, interests, and opinions, but we are all the same in that we are all people who, ultimately, just want the world to be a better place for everyone in it.