Pork, Potatoes, and Politics: My Kentucky Kitchen Table

IMG_5146

By Granite

On October 22, 2017, I hosted my Kentucky Kitchen Table in the rural town of Gamaliel, Kentucky.  Gamaliel is a small town located in Monroe County and boasts a population of around 500 inhabitants. A total of 10 adults and three children attended my Kentucky Kitchen Table. These included my father Grady, my mother Cindi, sister Zena, grandmother Faye, grandfather Garon, uncle Geoff, aunt LaDonna, cousin Grayson, cousin Gibson, and Gibson’s wife Tessa. Grady is an emergency room doctor and Cindi homeschools my sister Zena, who is a senior in high school. Faye and Garon are retired, with Garon formerly working as a mechanic and then as the founder of Gamaliel Shooting Supply, the family business. Geoff manages the Shooting Supply, and LaDonna is an interior designer. Grayson is a sales representative at the Shooting Supply, Gibson is the communications director, and Tessa stays at home with their adopted son, Gideon. The family members present represented four generations of Pares and brought unique and diverse perspectives to the figurative and literal table.

My family began the dinner with a prayer led by my uncle, and then I provided a general description of the purpose of the dinner and of the class. To begin our discussion, I asked the only required question for the dinner: “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” As different members of my family voiced their opinions, a common theme quickly became prevalent: each individual believed that citizenship meant having pride in your country and in how you treat your fellow citizens. I was specifically interested in how the different generations represented would view different social issues. However, the generation gap did not seem to play a large role in their responses. Rather, each individual member of my family stressed the importance of citizenship and its role in our society today. As the conversation shifted between topics, I noticed, not for the first time, but in a new way, how tight-knit, respectful, and appreciative my family is. Despite having differing opinions on some topics, no one spoke over another, no arguments developed, and the mood was consistently jovial. This made the conversation much easier and allowed for people to feel they could truly voice their opinion.

After first allowing the conversation to continue organically, I realized that people were getting off topic. Thus, I decided to proceed through the list of provided questions and have people answer the question directly. Once someone had answered the question, others would join in and agree or disagree or even provide a personal experience of their own. I found one of my favorite parts of the discussion occurred when someone would share a personal experience in relation to a question, and then an entire conversation would develop between that family member and another, resulting in multiple side conversations that were all related to the topic at hand.

One of the first questions I asked was for someone to share a time that they had a conversation or interaction with someone from a very different background. Gibson and Tessa immediately spoke up and detailed the interactions they had with native Taiwanese while they were adopting their son, Gideon. Several years ago, they attempted to adopt a child from an orphanage in the Republic of the Congo. When this fell through, they turned to Taiwan in order to find the next member of the Pare family. Throughout the adoption process, Gibson, Tessa, Geoff, and LaDonna visited Taiwan multiple times, and Tessa even spent several months straight there while going through the legal section of the adoption process. While she was there, she was  reliant on the generosity and assistance native people of Taiwan for everything in her daily life. Because Tessa is an adopted child, she demonstrates one important facet of being a citizen- the willingness to care and provide for others in order to help improve their quality of life. Tessa’s history and familiarity with the adoption process caused Gibson and her to want to adopt their children.

When I asked for other examples, Grady began discussing his time spent as a doctor in the E.R. and how he often interacted and treated patients from all walks of life. He referred to having seen the homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics, terminally ill, and even a member of the brutally violent gang MS-13. As a doctor, he was expected to view and care for each patient equally, regardless of race, gender, religion, or social status. Everyone in my family supported this statement, which led into a brief discussion on my group deliberation regarding the mental health of EMS providers, a category which Grady falls into.

I quickly affirmed my suspicion that one of the issues closest to my family’s heart was freedom. As the owners of a gun store, my family is often presented with arguments from those opposing freedoms provided by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. While we fully support the Second Amendment, we also believe that the many other freedoms provided by the Constitution are paramountly important to the meaning of citizenship. Gibson pointed out that the freedom of religion embodies part of what it means to be a citizen- coexisting in harmony with those who have any religion, or even no religion at all. However, as Christians, our religion comes with a caveat- one of the tenets of our faith is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This plays a large role in our citizenship; we become a better citizen by loving those around us and helping to provide a better way of life for those whom we have the opportunity to help. Geoff also brought up the point that, in the United States, we live with no immediate fear of war. The peaceful living situation provided to us as citizens of the United States opens the door to incredible opportunities to promote change, make the world a better place, or simply do nothing. Grayson agreed, saying that one of the best things about being a citizen in a free country is that we have no obligations. Our freedom was won in order to have the ability to participate and also the ability to not participate at all. While voting, paying taxes, and following laws are important aspects of being a citizen, the freedoms provided by the United States of America allows citizens to exercise all, some, or none of these fundamental rights.

Following this spirited discussion between Uncle Geoff and his sons, we took a break from debating citizenship to enjoy another aspect of citizenship: the ability to spend time with family and enjoy good food! The conversation shifted for several minutes to the delicious dishes provided by Cindi, LaDonna, Faye, and Tessa. After dining on pork loins, mashed potatoes, cauliflower salad, rolls, macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, and topping off dinner with Cindi’s delicious apple pie, the conversation turned back to citizenship. Before I even had the opportunity to present the question, Zena asked my grandfather Garon what social issue he was most interested in. While Garon thought about his answer, I asked other family members to chime in on the topic. Their responses were widespread and somewhat surprising to me. However, a common theme seemed to be earning what you make. Grady mentioned that he believed one of the greatest issues facing society was changing the mentality regarding people having a willingness to work versus having a willingness to receive unnecessary help from others. The rest of my family immediately agreed. Because my family has owned a small business since 1976, hard work has been one of the many values instilled in each generation of our family. During dinner there was a general appreciation of those who work for every dollar they earn. Nevertheless, this was not the only social issue brought to the table. Zena, who has earned a minor in American Sign Language through WKU despite only being a senior in high school, has a passion for educating the public of the fact that deafness is not a mental illness. She brought this up in response to her own question, and I was surprised to learn that many people view deafness as something that can prevent those who experience it from doing normal, everyday things. It was only after we had discussed all of these answers that I realized Garon never answered the question! However, I decided to pose another question to him. Upon asking him what kind of person he wants to be, he responded that he hopes to be someone who is peaceful, patient, and forgiving. This statement was echoed by Grayson and Gibson, who claimed that they are responsible for their own actions and ensuring that their actions are used to help others. As soon as they mentioned this, I immediately thought of If It Feels Right, an article by David Brooks. In this article, Brooks argues that many young adults in America believe moral choices are a matter of individual taste and that they only undergo actions that promote their own personal well being. As Grayson and Gibson spoke, I realized that these two young men were saying the complete opposite of what Brooks claims. They viewed the world through the the idea that it was their responsibility to be as good of a neighbor as possible and realized that their actions affected many more lives than just their own.  

Before we ended our dinner and discussion, I decided to pose one final question to my family. Because my family’s political views are fairly consistent throughout, I was interested to hear what advice they would offer to an incoming political candidate. From my sister to my granddad, everyone agreed that politicians who wish to be successful and invoke real change should strive with all their might to keep the promises they make on the campaign trail. Zena made the insightful comment that the first lie is the one that hurts the most. Once a politician has been labeled as a promise-breaker, they will never be trusted again. I thought this was very interesting in regards to the most recent presidential candidates. Both of our candidates in the last presidential election repeatedly made promises they were either unwilling or unable to keep, and this lowered their favorability in the eyes of the voters.

When I first read about this assignment, I thought it sounded very interesting and I knew I would enjoy having a thoughtful and intentional discussion with my family. The fact that my mother, aunt, and grandmother are excellent cooks was just a happy coincidence! After completing my meal, I realized that the experience lived up to my original expectations. The type of open, reasonable discussion that occurred around the dinner table is an excellent way to discuss difficult topics while respecting the opinions and ideas of others. Hopefully, the knowledge I gained from hosting my Kentucky Kitchen Table will allow me to be more attentive to the ways I speak to and interact with others and help me to become a better family member and citizen.

Advertisements

My Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Annalee

This past weekend I had the opportunity to eat a dinner around a table in my hometown, Louisville, and discuss the way the world is, and how our community interacts. Among the people I ate with was an “optimistic dreamer” who spends most of her time at the University of Louisville’s Office of Technology Transfer getting a first look at the new technology UofL has to explore, her name is Karen; a “quiet mom” who works passionately with GIS (geographic information system) looking at data and the maps in Louisville, her name is Lisa; the “hardworking” renaissance man I call dad, and of course, my “warm” Aunt Jenny who often used her experience working as a behavior specialist to add an authoritative response to the discussion. My Aunt Jenny was the first person to come to mind when thinking of who would allow me to host a dinner at their house, and she was thrilled to have an opportunity to bring out her china. Everyone brought their own dish to the dinner, and I supplied the dessert. The two woman, Karen and Lisa, that my Aunt Jenny invited where complete strangers to me when we began the meal, and throughout I noticed the difference in backgrounds and things that were closest to their hearts; I think that was one of the things that made the discussion that much more beneficial for us all.

The first thing I noticed when beginning the dinner was that the individuals around the table had never had an experience like this one before, and after answering their many questions about what my class is like I noticed how much they were all looking forward to it.

We started with my aunt’s homemade chili and a caesar salad that Lisa brought, and throughout the meal I saw a connection between how little these people had experiences like this and how they reacted to the questions I was asking; they often times had to think a little and a few times their response began with “I had never really thought of that, but…” I can definitely relate to this; many of the articles we have read in Citizen and Self have opened my eyes to options I never would have thought extensively about. We spent the first bit of the dinner discussing citizenship and what it meant to them, and Karen said that she thinks being able to be the person that you are is what citizenship is all about, and mentioned religion as an example. There was an overall agreement that those things were often taken for granted, and as the night went on their opinion on that slightly changed as they discussed social issues and how there are so many people in the world with a fear of being the person they are. I thought that it was interesting to see their slight shift in opinion, and while I think their opinions were very optimistic and hopeful, I think they were expected and represent a large part of how we think today. We believe something to be true until the moment the truth is contradicted and we either end up feeling inferior to the opposing argument, or fight back, when instead we should think for ourselves and have a reason behind a change of heart. While they were discussing which social issues are dearest to their hearts, I noticed that they were bringing up things that they felt a lot of empathy for, whether that was the kids from Maryhurst Alternative School in Louisville, who need escape from abuse, or something more widely known such as abortion. A lot of the discussion surrounding these social issues came from a more personal discussion about home lives. Because my dad and my aunt were both at the table, they had similar perspectives of their childhood: growing up around a dinner table where they had the same meals every week and could not leave the table until every bit of the meal was finished. My dad said, “I mean I can look back at it now and think of it fondly, but at the time I really hated it.” Karen thought of the girls in Maryhurst and how they definitely did not have safe home lives, and made the comment that so much of what she knows, from manners to social problems, comes from her household and how she was raised. A lot of the conversations that we have with our families are what shape the core of who our family is, and I think that can definitely relate to what we talk a lot about in class; what we are commonly exposed to, the media for example, is where we get the base of our arguments.

My Aunt Jenny spent the second half of her career working as a behavior specialist for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, and during this dinner she mentioned how she feels as though she has an obligation to help families and children find their way in life. It meant so much to her to first-hand see the improvement in the student and the way they interact with their family. I think it is common for individuals in society to really resonate within their career path and think of it as their way to contribute to the community. It is a personal obligation, where she, and many others, feel the desire to see something happen. Later, when speaking about which social issue is closest to her heart she spoke about how she has a lot of empathy for the families she works with that need food stamps, but then struggles when she sees those parents with a laziness towards getting a job. That is another example where the people at the dinner noticed the contradiction in their own lives, which is something we talk a lot about in Citizen and Self; there being a disconnect not between how we feel, but how we explain how we feel. I was curious to see if anyone else around the table has something that they do because they believe that it is the morally right thing to do. Lisa talked about how she always felt the need to help the homeless by giving them money, although she often felt uncomfortable doing so. She eventually came up with a plan to take them out for a meal with her rather than just handing them the money and not seeing the use they put towards it. This situation reminds me of our discussion of Haidt’s article Righteous Mind, specifically about the elephant and the rider and I think it is a perfect example of a person’s rider taking a little control to explain a more logical approach to the elephant’s actions.

As dinner continued and we had the choice between Karen’s chess pie and my brownies, my dad was still thinking about the question about obligations to the other people in our country/community. He kept bringing up the point that “honesty is so important, regardless of the situation,” and went on to share his opinions on doing what is good versus what is right. His comment made me think about a time when a person in my life had lied to me about something that, had I found out about at the time would have really hurt me, and they did it to ‘protect’ my feelings. I learned from finding out the truth later that that experience was one where I would have much preferred the person have done what was right, instead of what was good; honesty is so important to me. I remember talking a lot about the battle between good versus right while discussing Ivan Illich’s speech, “To Hell with Good Intentions,” in class, and this moment at the dinner table was one where I felt I could really put the readings I had studied from class into the real world because someone I know from home was speaking about the same thing, it was quite frankly pretty cool.

I wanted to end the dinner on a more positive note, so I asked the question about the best things in our world today and each person had immediate responses. They were shouting out words like “people,” “love,” “family,” “relationships,” all of the things in the world that we can have strong connections with if we really try. Lisa’s response was one that I really loved, and it stuck with me throughout the night: she said, “the best thing is being able to help others in a crisis, it is about humanity and humility.” I think that if everyone took the time to talk with their neighbors and their families about the issues they hold dearest to their hearts, that it would start a chain reaction and broaden to positively changing the way democracy works today. We also talked a little about democracy during the dinner, and my Aunt Jenny spoke about how although we have so much freedom in the U.S., people still take things like religion and race and judge others with a righteous and almighty mindset; one that will have the opposite effect for an improving democracy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this experience. The reactions I got before the dinner had even begun were ones that would definitely inspire me to implement discussions like this into my daily life more. This was the first time that I had ever gone into a conversation about the world and about democracy that I had a different approach to, and it definitely had an impact on me, and hopefully the others around the dinner table. I learned that while my dad and my Aunt grew up in the exact same home environment, their adult lives had shaped them into seemingly very different people. Karen and Lisa both said that they never would have thought to taking the first step in befriending their neighbors, and I honestly cannot remember that being a normalcy in my childhood home, either. This semester we have been talking all about community involvement and actually getting out and talking with people about the topics that are depicting so much of our lives, and this night felt like a really good start.

KKT picture

Unfamiliar Faces

By Cristina

Unfamiliar faces surround me in a wicked world consumed by materialism and technology. Society buries its burdens and layers them with meaningless conclusions. Long-term solutions wither in despair. The roots of our community are parched and famished from no conversation. What once was a community is now a graveyard of lost democracy, identity, and empathy. All that surround me are faces. Faces that were once familiar, founded upon living flesh, but have now dried to cracked, brittle bones.

These cracked brittle bones form the skeleton of our society. The spine supports our foundation. Yet, our foundation lacks the flesh necessary to form a community. In the modern age, it is difficult to establish this community, as the second hand on the clock begins to tick faster and our minds begin to scatter. Numbers become blurred images and faces become placeless, losing their identity.

Gathered around the kitchen table, we could once find this sense of community. This historical event is marked in history books as being the bridge between where society is and where society wants to be. Under the bridge are the waters. If we cross the bridge and sit at the table, the waters will flood our bones and begin to bridge the divide between the citizen and the self.

To bridge the divide, I set up a Kentucky Kitchen Table, a gathering of people—friends, family, neighbors, and the like—around a meal at a kitchen table where ideas of citizenship and community are discussed. Around the table in Bowling Green Kentucky, cracked, brittle bones had individual identities. 7 diverse identities belonged to those, not including myself, named: Liz, Sarah, Jack, Dwayne, Ernie, Jess, and Melanie. Around the table, those identities were dissolved.

Liz is the daughter of Ernie and Melanie. Liz is a character like no other, devoting her time by volunteering at Curbside Ministries. Curbside Ministries is a Christian based organization that goes to underprivileged parts of Bowling Green, Kentucky with the mission of representing and showing Jesus’s love. Through volunteering at Curbside Ministries, Liz plays games and spends time with underprivileged children to establish bonds and show love. As she continues her volunteering through Curbside Ministries, Liz wants to further develop Bowling Green as a community that extends roots of empathy and compassion to all citizens no matter what demographic.

Sarah is a college freshman majoring in civil engineering. With her degree, she strives to work for the state and a private firm, and eventually continue her dad’s legacy by taking over his business. She is an individual who derives her character from her faith, Christianity. Through her faith in God, she develops and refines her morals and values. As a result, her religious identity positively grows her thoughts and her treatment of others around her.

Jack is a freshman at Western Kentucky University. He is majoring in wildlife biology. After obtaining his degree, he hopes to pursue his dream job as a park and recreation research biologist in order to better understand the environment and how society impacts it. If Jack could give one piece of advice to his neighbors, it would be to consider the impact our choices and decision not only have on our environment but also on other individuals; for, we have the ability to strengthen or weaken the fibers of the relationships we have with people around us.

Dwayne is an individual who is outgoing, determined, caring, and charitable. Dwayne recently changed his major to biochemistry. After obtaining his degree, Dwayne desires to go to medical school and become a pediatrician. Dwayne is charitable and has sympathy. Aiding children as a doctor reflects this quality. Dwayne strives to be the individual who is willing to lend a helping hand.

Ernie is reserved and down to earth. He has traditional values and values social reform. He is a General Manager at Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). As a worker for TVA, Ernie supports their mission of providing regional environmental stewardship, reliable power, and economic development across seven states, specifically in Kentucky. Through employment at TVA, Ernie believes he is able to fulfill his role as a citizen, aiding others by the means of providing resources. Thus, his job relates to his role as a citizen.

Jess is also the daughter of Ernie and Melanie. Jess is a 7th grader who dedicates her time and effort to her favorite sport, basketball. Jess has a fireball of a personality. Jess is defined by the stamina and determination she puts forth during games and practices. Jess values teamwork on and off the court, from carrying out a basketball play with her teammates to working together with her family. The value of teamwork is Jess’s favorite thing about her community as it has no geographical domain and can be found anywhere she is present.

Melanie is a “blessing,” according to Liz.  Melanie has an outgoing personality and loves the company of others. As a mom, Melanie not only provides nurture and love for her kids, she also volunteers as a CASA. CASA works to prevent child victims of abuse, neglect, and dependency from being abused both in and out of their family of origin. In addition, Melanie volunteers at Hope House in Bowling Green, Kentucky; Hope House is an organization with the mission to alleviate physical and spiritual poverty through gospel restoration. There, she teaches classes to teenagers with kids. By preventing abuse and alleviating poverty through her job, Melanie can serve a greater purpose—providing children and adolescents with an open door of hope.

At the kitchen table, 7 diverse identities cooked in a melting pot to form ideas about community and citizenship. In order to develop these ideas, a series of questions were asked. The central question during the dinner asked what citizenship meant to each person. Specifically, what citizenship means, beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws. This question presented obstacles as there is no concrete definition of the word citizenship. Rather, citizenship is a word constructed upon a white pillar of values: the collective group, freedom, and respect. These ideas were discussed at the table.

Citizenship is not about the self; rather, it is about the individual working towards not only the betterment of society but also towards the betterment of individuals within that society. Citizenship is “you before me,”—the individual making the safety of others a priority over theirs. Citizenship means forming a collective group. When natural or manmade disasters strike the stone walls of our existence, it is the duty of citizens to form a group and provide aid and relief to victims of despair. However, citizenship means forming a collective group even when convenience is amiss.  When wicked problems are at a great distance from our foundation or when our journey begins in arduous terrain, it continues to be the duty of citizens to form a group. Ease is a deficit that weakens the group; with this, shortcuts to solutions become poisonous thorns. Individuals must learn that when thunder strikes and sets fire to the rain, the group must act.

As a citizen, one has an array of freedoms, such as the freedom of speech. These freedoms are what society affirms as their natural rights as citizens. Citizens have the natural right to articulate their values and morals. However, the freedom of speech may become inundated with hostility. At the dinner table, most individuals agreed that society is filled with hostility people have towards others. When an individual hears another’s person’s opinions they have three options: ignore, accept, or refute. Most individuals respectfully carry out these options; however, there remain a fraction of people who carry out these options through hostility. Hence, a lack of respect resonates. This further develops the definition of citizenship—the quality of being respectful, rather than hostile through discussion. Once, a person learns to respect another person’s opinions, people will begin to work together as a community to solve society’s wicked problems.

Gathered around the kitchen table, we have now found the lost sense of community. No longer is society buried under a thousand screams. Rather it is delivered as a thousand praises placing society where it had strived to be. We have taken up the oar of our ancestors to rediscover citizenship and traversed the waters under the bridge. We have crossed the bridge and sat at the table; the waters have flooded our bones and begun to bridge the divide between the citizen and the self.

I, as a citizen of society, have learned that citizenship is more than its dictionary denotation. Citizenship possesses a connotation that differentiates it from other words. Citizenship is formed from a collective group that consists of diverse identities, morals, and values. Citizenship is molded as a cast of freedom and respect for the very values on which it protects. We pick up the shovels and dig a grave for hostility. The tombstone is inscribed with a farewell to relics of old memories.

If we examine the word citizenship and redefine what it means to be a citizen within a community, we will have addressed a probing question, “How can we solve our problems?”  As Martha Nussbaum proclaims in her chapter, “Citizens of the World,” in Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities: “The problems we need to solve—economic, environmental, religious, and political—are global in their scope. They have no hope of being solved unless people once distant come together and cooperate in ways they have not before.” It is imperative to regard Nussbaum’s words as words of wisdom and truth. When we examine the word citizenship, we have learned it is more than tangible voting, paying taxes, and following laws. Citizenship is intangible at its core. It is a thread of our identity. If we take a needle and sew the gap of hostility and act through deliberation, we will produce a garden of solutions to our wicked problems.

A Kentucky Kitchen Table is not a dreaded project, but rather a collective group of individuals gathering about a brown, cedar table in a crisp fall to discuss citizenship and community while eating a warm meal. Around this table, the cracked, brittle bones belonging to diverse identities—Liz, Sarah, Jack, Dwayne, Ernie, Jess, and Melanie—flourished with conversation and blossomed with white flowers of hope. Unfamiliar faces became familiar.

Kentucky Kitchen Table: Do What You Can

By Kristen

Soon after learning about the Kentucky Kitchen Table, I started to stress out. I live two and a half hours away from Bowling Green, so finding a time that would work both for myself and my guests was going to be a challenge. My initial KKT was set for the middle of October, and I had invited my immediate family, multiple aunts, my old band director, and my brother’s girlfriend. The timing was going to be perfect, everyone could make it and it seemed like I could get through this assignment with little to no setbacks. That was until I realized that the date of my sorority initiation was set in complete conflict with my original plan. So… I had to improvise. As it turned out, there wasn’t another weekend that I was free to go home for a while, and many of my original guests were unable to make it. A few weeks passed, and it was time for me to host the dinner.

I sat down at the table with my mom, dad, aunt, older brother, and my brother’s girlfriend. While I did know the majority of people at my KKT, the diversity amongst us is evident. What we lacked for in racial diversity, we made up for in age, economic, and political aspects. My parents are high school sweethearts, so they come from a similar background. Both of my parents were brought up in small, coal-mining towns in southeastern Kentucky. My father, Bill, has worked at Ford Motor Company for over twenty years on line, and was recently promoted to skilled trades. His dad served in the Korean War and worked as both a coal miner and on a rescue squad. He has pretty strong conservative leanings. My mom, Patti, is the daughter of a coal mining veteran as well. She’s worked for Toyota Motor Manufacturing for upwards of twenty years. For the majority of the time, she was on the line. A few years ago, she was promoted to Diversity Coordinator of her department. Essentially, she plans events and helps promote an environment of equality at Toyota. She, on the other hand, identifies as more of an independent politically. While both of my parents began college, neither obtained their degree. My aunt, Susie, is my mother’s sister. She has worked in the public school system in Richmond, KY for thirty years as a speech therapist. She is strongly democratic, and often argues with my father about policies and politics. My brother and I are both first generation college students, and we grew up in central Kentucky. My brother, Trey, is two years older than me. He’s attending a community college back home and looking to pursue some type of business degree. My brother’s girlfriend, Rileigh, is someone I don’t know very well. She’s 18 years old and is hoping to become a veterinarian.

It’s important to note that my family, throughout the course of our busy and chaotic lives, have become accustomed to not eating around the dinner table. For the most part, we opt to eat in front of the TV or in the kitchen. While we normally eat together, the dining room is for special occasions. So, sitting down in our slightly neglected dining room table definitely made the dinner feel more familial. There was my dad, telling jokes to my brother’s girlfriend, who is not quite comfortable with our over-the-top brand of southern hospitality just yet. My mother, who is very much a go with the flow type of person, sitting back and listening as we were about to begin. My aunt, trying to turn on the UK game to check the score. My brother, who is somehow simultaneously a carbon copy and the complete opposite of my father. They’re both very strong willed, but they possess very different political leanings. My brother’s girlfriend, sneaking off to play with our three dogs before we began. Then there was me, who was nervous enough after my first attempt had failed. I’ve experienced political conversations with my family on numerous enough occasions to know that I might’ve opened a can of worms my moderator training isn’t equipped to handle just yet.

I hosted my KKT in my hometown of Georgetown, Kentucky. Scott County is the fastest growing district in Kentucky, all because of the Toyota plant that attracts people from all over the state looking for work. That being said, it still has a small-town feel. There’s only one high school in the county, home to over 2,500 students. In contrast to the highly industrial Toyota plant, there are horse farms pretty much everywhere you look. I went to school with many of the same people from kindergarten all the way through high school.

I began by explaining what my project was actually about, then we started into discussion as we dug into the food. We started with an easy one, “Do you know your neighbors?” To my surprise, the answer wasn’t a unanimous yes. It turned out that Rileigh spends most of her weekends in Morehead, KY visiting family, which left less time to connect with her neighbors here. My aunt lives in an apartment in Richmond with her long term partner, Tommy. She said that she felt like she could probably connect better with her neighbors, but she doesn’t really feel the necessity. Something I thought was interesting is that she said she felt more connected with her neighbors when something was going wrong, like when their power went out, than on a daily basis. Both my parents and brother felt very connected to our neighbors, especially because we’ve lived in the same house with the same neighbors for 15+ years.

We discussed the very important “What does citizenship mean to you?” question for a fairly long time. When asked, my dad immediately responded with freedom. He said that, as a son of a veteran, he felt that those sacrifices give us the ability to have our freedom, and ultimately be citizens. He launched into a bit of a rant about the NFL kneeling protests, but that’s besides the point. My dad and brother both agreed that being a citizen was the very core of being an American. When they were talking, the two words (citizen and American) almost sounded synonymous. Their freedoms and rights were what citizenship is about. It was generally agreed upon that being a citizen was about respect, about standing for the national anthem and going beyond just paying taxes and voting. Rileigh brought up an interesting idea, that citizenship is about being there for the people that need you and filing in the gaps. That simple comment launched my dad into a story about when he was younger, and his father was working long hours to put food on the table. His neighbor would let my father come over and pick peaches straight off his tree, and that was often his dinner. “It’s about those little things,” my dad said, “because you never know how much they’ll add up over time.”

That response in particular made me think about the central questions of the class, and it really relates back to multiple of our central questions. How do we solve problems? Well, it seemed to my KKT members that even the smallest of steps could lead to something great, and have a lasting impact over time. In relation to the readings, the approach is comparable to the “The Energy Diet” by Andrew Postman reading, about putting small measures in place. It’s certainly an easy, non-intimidating approach. How do we live better together? One way that was suggested by my dinner partners was to have faith in your neighbors, like the sweet man that provided my father with food. We’re more likely to understand those around us, as well as come together to tackle bigger issues, if we can trust our neighbors.

The next question I asked was “What kind of community do you want to live in?” Overwhelmingly, there was a generational gap in answers. The older of the group decided they wanted to go back in time, back to how things were when they were younger. “I want to live somewhere like home 30 years ago, where we slept with our doors unlocked and could walk down the street in the dead of night without concern,” said Susie. “Back in the stone age, before every house had A/C, we’d leave the doors open at night. Now, that just sounds ridiculous.” Whereas the gen-xers would prefer to go back to the past, the younger generation felt like society needs to take steps forward. Beyond physical safety, my brother argued that emotional safety was just as important. “We need a community of understanding, and compassion. There’s no way we’ll address any of our problems if we don’t listen to each other,” said Trey.

It was getting late, and we had long since finished our dessert (chess bars, my specialty). As I said goodbye to some of my guests and helped clear the table, the conversations of the night were still flowing through my mind. The main take away from my KKT was the great effect that just sitting down and having a real conversation can have. In the modern society we live in, it can be easy to get caught up in the chaos and general stress that is everyday life. With new technology, especially smart phones, making deeper connections with people can be difficult. It’s very easy to use technology as a scapegoat (something that my mom often points out to my brother and I) and not be present in the moment. The KKT gave me the opportunity to really learn more about those around me, even those that I thought I already knew very well. Overall, I learned that a lot of problems could be addressed in a more efficient way if we just take the time out of our day to really listen to each other: not just hear what others are saying, but really listen and understand.KKT 1KKT 2

Not pictured: Susie

Living Better Together

 

6VL6aaMeTVatyvTVh8LSLA

By Chad

My brother Chase and I had made a split decision to come home to Louisville that weekend just to have an opportunity to see our family and of course our loving dog, Buddy. I face-timed my mom and told her about our plans to come home, when I suddenly had the idea to have the Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner over the weekend. She seemed very excited and said she would invite her friends from college. On the drive home, I took in the newly forming spectacular fall colors that illuminated the trees, and formulated some questions that I could possibly inquire about at dinner. I had never done or even heard about an event similar to this so I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

As I walked into my house, I felt a sense of warmth and belonging that always comforts me. The heavenly scent of the bison roast emanating from the crock pot by the stove was making my mouth water and I was immediately thrilled to have the opportunity to converse about topics that I rarely discuss or even think about over my favorite meal. The mashed potatoes had already been prepared and were cooling in the refrigerator. The green beans were melding flavor with the bacon strips that lied below them in the slow-cooker. My mom gathered the entire family in the kitchen and asked us to help her prepare the salad for the dinner. By watching her make her famous lemon salad, and practicing countless times I felt I was ready to take on this responsibility. My dad can rarely come home before dinner time because of his strict work requirements so having him in the kitchen and sharing laughs that night really emphasized the importance of family time to me.

Our guests arrived just in time to watch the sunset from our screened-in porch. The deep pink and orange lit up the sky as we all snacked on cheese and crackers talking about the latest sports news with the University of Louisville and the race that Paul, had run that morning. We moved in from the cooler night air into the kitchen where the warming scent of pumpkin and vanilla candles greeted us. We spread out the food and we all took our places around the round kitchen table. As soon as we sat down, my mom exclaimed that “This is a dinner like my mom used to have every Sunday evening.” This is a statement I would revisit in a later conversation that evening. Once everyone was settled, I inquired about the meaning of citizenship beyond paying taxes, voting, and following laws. The first to speak was my mom’s best friend and former college roommate, Karen, who sat to the left of me. She explained that contributing to one’s community, to one’s family, and one’s country was the meaning of citizenship to her. She elaborated that while society offers us so much and it is a responsibility to nurture it through social, political, educational, and economical participation. Also Karen told us how going to ball games establishes an important connection between the university and the city. After Karen answered, my dad, Nick, interjected with his thought that being a citizen means discussing ideas about politics and other important issues with friends and family. I thought his response was particularly interesting because of its simplicity. Paul mulled over the question for a while and finally said that having open businesses that provide jobs for families was what being a citizen signified. I thought that everyone’s first response very nicely addressed one of our central questions for our course which is, “How do we live well together?” All of the answers that I received were related to the interactions between the general public and the greater community as a whole whether it be universities, foundations, or directly with the government.

I then asked my guests, “What is your ideal community?” Paul, who was sitting next to Nick, said he wishes more than anything that people could trust each other but more importantly, trust our government. This trust issue was a heavy point of emphasis for Paul and the rest of the guests throughout the night. Paul then referenced his and his wife, Karen’s trip to Denmark where they frequently saw people leave their purses and wallets in plain sight at their tables in public places when they went to use the bathroom. They said that these people had no fear of anyone stealing their valuables because there was an inherent trust in each other. For me this was quite a shocking story because I can’t imagine just leaving my phone or wallet at my table while I was occupied somewhere else. Unfortunately, this fear of theft begins with people in this country not being able to trust one another and this issue manifests itself in other ways. Everyone at the table agreed that people in the United States aren’t able to place trust in their government because politicians are too concerned with personal gain and winning for their particular parties. This issue was also a recurring theme throughout our conversation. This lead into my next question which was, “What are the worst things in our current government?” Nick said that commoners and people in office should share the same benefits of laws that are passed instead of politicians receiving monetary and power gains through their own work. Karen added that our government is too partisan and politicians only desire to win for their parties and not to better their communities.

When we were discussing the best things about our country, Karen mentioned something that I believe is crucial to growth for our community. She said that even through all the fighting between parties and all the polarizing figures in politics, our country is still a family. She referenced Hurricane Harvey and said that people banded together to save their fellow humans. Her statements made me think of a reading we have done, “Occupy Sandy: A Movement Moves to Relief.” This reading talks of how the government largely failed to provide assistance to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, however; people who witnessed the tragedy worked tirelessly to get the victims food, water, and shelter. Karen’s words reinforced that we are no matter our identity, or our position in life, we are all human beings. And when we discussed if everyone knew their neighbors, Nick and Jan said that they are great friends with their neighbors because they are retired and they desire to help take care of my parents. Everyone then agreed that more gatherings just like the one we were currently having was a good way of improving the sense of community amongst people.

The theme of trust in government was revisited in our conversation about advice for politicians. Nick, without hesitation said that they need to “Tell the truth.” My mom, Jan, rather energetically exclaimed that they must stand up for what is right, and not lose sight of the goal which is the betterment of the community.

Another lesson from a reading sparked in my brain when my guests talked about if Americans had an obligation to people in other countries. Nick said that we first need to make ourselves the best we can be, then and only then can we extend a helping hand to people in dire situations in other countries. However, he made it a point to say that we don’t owe subsidies or any other forms of monetary aid to them. I think Ivan Ilich was smiling somewhere because in his speech we read by him, “To Hell with Good Intentions” he lays out the reasons that American volunteering in developing countries is simply out of self-gain and not for the improvement of the less-fortunate. Jan chimed in that we do need to stand up for basic human rights for everyone, which means stopping chemical warfare and the use of mustard gas from radical governments against their own people. This ties into the point Karen made that we are still human beings.

When the guests were asked what issue was closest to their hearts, they had varying answers. Paul said that society should stop glorifying sports stars. He was frustrated with the fact that professional sports stars earned salaries higher than our doctors and educators. He referenced the fact that in South Korea, “the scientists are the rockstars.” Other cultures make education/family a priority. Karen was more concerned of the dangers of social media and how that people treat each other nowadays. She mentioned that kids don’t respect their parents, and this translates into them not respecting their teachers and elders, and therefore not respecting the president. The degradation of the family unit once again was highlighted as Jan said that parents need to raise their child in such a way that enforces the importance of going to school and receiving a quality education. Also, she said that we can’t blame others for our children’s failures. At the end of this debate, everyone came to the conclusion that trust in society is crucial and the family unit needs to be emphasized and revitalized.

By the end of the night, all my guests had shared thoughts which they probably don’t have the opportunity to express very often. I could tell there was an enhanced feeling of community among our group because we all revealed our true feelings about serious topics. It was clear to me that unfortunately people in this country don’t have a large amount of respect or trust in each other or our government. Also, the quality time spent with family has decreased and the family unit as a whole has diminished into a shell of what it used to be. I believe that having meals with one’s family is one of the most important steps one can take in improving these issues. Simply by eating with family, you can discuss topics and have a better understanding of another’s perspectives while having a better respect for your family members. In my opinion, stressing the importance of family and education to young children is the best way to combat the aforementioned problems. I thoroughly enjoyed the Kentucky Kitchen Table experience and I firmly believe that more events like this need to occur.  

My Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Bryce

For my Kentucky Kitchen Table I ate dinner at my house with my grandmother, two sisters, and my oldest sisters two friends from graduate school, Emily and Natalie.  My guests Emily and Natalie are both 3rd years in the Physical Therapy program and WKU.  Emily described herself as a token liberal from North Carolina, while Natalie said she is a freshly 26-year-old who just got kicked off her parent’s health insurance policy. For dinner we ate steak and potatoes that I prepared in the oven and on the grill.

My Kentucky Kitchen Table was diverse because we had my grandmother whose generation is known as the baby boomers and four members from my generation the millennials.  Emily added some diversity in political ideology as she identifies as a liberal on the political spectrum, whereas the rest of us leaned more toward Republican views.

We started the conversation by talking about what citizenship meant to each person at the table.  The obvious and immediate response was voting and being an American, as our identity as Americans is often associated with simply being born and living here.  Upon further prying, my grandmother explained that there is a sense of pride with being a citizen of the United States.  This is her country, she worked hard and lived her version of the American dream, going from a dirt floor house to a trailer, and finally building her own home on the plot of land beside her mother.  My sister went on to mention that citizenship is contributing to the community, and told us about her recent volunteer work at the Bowling Green Marathon where she gave massages to runners afterwards using her physical therapy training to help those with soreness and cramps.  Emily and Natalie were both in agreement on what they felt it meant to them, when Emily exclaimed “Freedom!” to which Natalie then added “Trump!”.

We later talked about our neighbors and I asked my guests if they knew theirs.  Apparently, their interaction with their neighbor was limited to getting yelled at for parking in their neighbors parking spot and their neighbor flirting with their roommate, which was described as “odd.”  Natalie’s neighbor also knocked over her tomato plant, which she was rather upset about.  My grandma informed us that she knows about all her neighbors, because they are mostly kin to her.  After a laugh, she said with all seriousness that it is nice to have them living nearby because she always has someone to watch the house whenever her and my grandfather take a golfing trip.  Next it was me and my sister’s turn to talk about our neighbors, and sadly we know ours about as well as Emily and Natalie.  We explained that we believe we may have ran off our neighbor to the right, as they are moving out after a year.  Our neighbors to the left we are unsure of their names, but know they have a live-in nanny whom we had met.  As for the house that backs up to us, we know them as the vampires because we only ever see the dad at night time doing work outside.  The Kentucky Kitchen Table really opened my eyes to the divide that has formed in society from my grandmother’s generation to my own.  Whereas my grandmother grew up in a town where everyone knew each other, family was nearby, and you knew your neighbors first name, my generation is growing up in a much more secluded and the definition of neighbor has gone from someone who shares a common community to simply the guy next door we have never actually seen before. There is more of a sense that each yard is one’s domain, and you do not cross into their domain ever.

We later discussed how no one at the table has a job and was leeches off the government and adding to the trillion-dollar debt when talking about seeing our jobs as serving a greater purpose in society.  While Emily went off on a tangent about how her student loans were one of the governments few sources of income because they are all paying back their student loans for PT school with interest.  As physical therapists though, it will be their jobs to help get people off drugs like opioids, or meth, according to Natalie.  They will serve a greater purpose in the fight against opioid addiction in America and try to help those who have fallen victim to the deadly addiction.  Emily then mentioned how as physical therapists help keep the people healthy and insurance rates down making them a great benefit to the community.

The conversation then switched to about how spiritual identity relates to how we think we should treat people, and the answers were a bit out there.  My sister started the conversation by saying “Yes!” emphatically, but then ending with “but maybe not for us.”  My grandma then said, “Well, I went to Catholic school, so the nuns beat it into us” on the way they should treat people, which seems counterproductive.  Emily then recalled that the worst thing they did at her Catholic school was “staple our shirts to our pants if they came untucked.”  So, although the methods of doing so seemed odd, the table mostly agreed that religion helped to shape our morals and how we believed we should treat others.  They referred to the Ten Commandments from the Bible where it says to love thy neighbor as proof that religion preaches a sense of community and to treat others with respect.

Related to the topic of having an obligation to others in our country, there was consensus at the table that we should help those who cannot help themselves.  This can extend from those with disability to the impoverished and to the elderly.  We felt that we also have an obligation to help our veterans better than we currently do in America because of the sacrifice they have made for us and for our country.  We all felt we could do small things like donating old clothes or toys as well as be less wasteful with things that could be reused to help those who are impoverished.

Family dinners seemed to be a common affair in the households of my guests as well as my grandmother.  Emily and Natalie both recall having a family dinner every night growing up until they left for college.  In my household, scheduling conflicts and our active lives often keep us from eating as a family.  While no one ever eats alone, people tend to come and go from the dinner table in my house.  I may be eating and ten minutes later my sister and mother join, and I leave the table before my father sits down to eat.  Many times, my family will eat, and certain members not even be home.  My grandmother however eats with my grandfather most every night, and will even have her sister’s over to eat with from time to time.

Next, we changed topics to what kind of person everyone wanted to be.  The responses were good, Emily wants to be known as caring and giving, Natalie believes it is important to be compassionate and kind, and my grandmother said to be the kind of person to others that you would want them to be to you. My sister’s answer was a bit more comical, with her focus being a good physical therapist who doesn’t get sued for malpractice.  I said that personally I want to be someone that is remembered for something, whether big or small, to know I left an impact and put my stamp on something in this world.  I think that would be a great thing to add to my resume of who I am along with the other things mentioned at the table, besides the physical therapist not sued for malpractice.

The conversation got fun when I asked the question about what kind of advice would they give to someone running for office.  My sister was quick to say “Delete Twitter.  Immediately,” about the controversy over the current use of social media in politics.  My grandma and Emily chimed in that they felt it was important to tell them to make sure they are running to create positive change, and not for monetary gain or status. Natalie added in that you should make yourself seen, not heard and get out in the community if you want to run for office. This way, people can tell you are genuine and feel as though you are really running for them and not for yourself.

We ended the dinner conversation with a question on what social issue was most important to each person.  My sister began with a state level issue of the teacher pension removal plan currently in the state legislature.  It will get rid of the pension plan and move all teacher’s retirements to 401k plans.  She feels this will cost many teachers lots of money in retirement and will hurt the teaching profession as many of the better teachers will choose to leave the state in search of better retirements or better pay, and will also keep quality people from entering the teaching profession, ultimately affecting our future student’s educations.  My grandma was more concerned with the issue of same-sex marriage.  She did not feel it was fair that many states are still fighting against its legalization and that many churches turn away same sex couples.  While she admitted that it wasn’t for her, she believes that they should have the right to get married. This was a neat experience to eat with two people I had only ever met once at 2am driving them and my sister home from a bar.  Many of their stories and experiences were things that I had no prior experience with and it created a rich experience at the dinner table.

This activity related to our class by bringing people together to ask questions about society and the things we see every day.  We talked about how can we live well with the neighbor who knocks over our tomato plant (They did buy Natalie a bag of tomatoes form Meijer after.) and yells at us for parking in their spot.  We also looked at issues like running for office and pondered how we can solve the problems facing our community and help those who want to lead us with how to face those issues.  We also looked at how we can help in our community, and not say to hell with good intentions but create something meaningful.  In all, I enjoyed the Kentucky Kitchen Table and the conversation that came with it.

KKT Photo

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Harlee Pennington

My Kentucky Kitchen Table project took place in my hometown- Paintsville, Kentucky. Even though it is a long drive back home (5 hours at the least), I knew I wanted to involve my family in this project from the very beginning. I don’t go home much, so I knew finding a time that would work for both myself and the people I wanted to include would be difficult. I went home a total of two times before I actually got the dinner to happen. I was sort of worried and stressed out at the time of the dinner, but as soon as we settled down into conversation I knew I had made the right choice of choosing to do this with my family.

There were five people in attendance, myself included. My mom, Julie, is a very conservative veterinarian who is not afraid to voice her opinion in any way, so you can imagine how interesting she made the conversation. One of my mother’s friends, Ruth and her husband, Jim, also attended. We went to church with them for years, but when we moved to Paintsville that all changed. They have quite similar, yet very different views on most things, so I thought they would make an interesting addition to our dinner. Ruth is a friendly phlebotomist who has an insane amount of compassion for others. Jim is a retired school bus driver turned farmer, who values church above most things. The last person that joined us, besides myself, was one of my childhood friends, Brittany. Brittany is a social worker that loves children in a way only someone with a special heart can; she is very quiet and open-minded, which is quite different from the other personalities we had at our table.

In true Pennington fashion, my mother refused to let anyone bring anything for dinner. She said that if we were the ones hosting that we should be the ones to provide the food; I didn’t argue. We had chicken, with a choice of fries or onion rings. By the end of the dinner, there was not a piece of food left, so I would say we had a pretty good time. Before diving straight into the questions, I wanted to just talk with them. I didn’t want our dinner to feel like a project, so I just started off the conversation with some light-hearted questions. We mainly talked about college, which is when I started asking the questions that will form this blogpost.

Like I expected, we all shared similar beliefs in what citizenship meant to us besides voting and paying taxes. Most of the responses I heard were along the lines of enjoying the freedom we have the privilege of having and honoring our country in ways like volunteer services and taking care of the land that we live in. Some of the questions I asked had little diversity, but the most interesting conversation we had was regarding the question of whether we have an obligation to help people in our country and our community. For a little while everyone was quiet. Julie, the outspoken person she is, decided to speak up. Since she is my mom and I know her pretty well, I had a good idea of what she was going to say, which I also knew would stir up some conversation with Ruth. Julie said that it was not an obligation, but more of a choice. She doesn’t think that people are entitled to help others, but that it is a choice we have to make. Ruth was quick to respond after this. Ruth, dislike my mother, was very adamant that we do have an obligation to help others- it says so in the bible, was her argument. Although there was a disagreement, they were able to see each other’s points and respectfully disagree after I explained to them that bickering was never going to come up with a solution- something I had come to learn very well throughout my Citizen and Self class. They appreciated me stepping in and telling them that it was okay to have different opinions while still respecting someone else’s views. After this conversation, when there was disagreement, it was resolved pretty fast.

Although there were many disagreements about things like what advice should be given to people running for office and what social issues were important, there were some really common themes I noticed that we all continued to point out. Everyone at the table really thought that fellowshipping with others was a good way to kick start problem solving. We all agreed that there was no way that anything, even small problems with easy solutions, could be solved if we didn’t know how to talk and interact kindly with one another. This conversation kick started our conversation about the type of people we wanted to be. My response was open. My mom laughed at this (I wasn’t surprised), but I quickly reminded her that we had just talked about fellowship; she apologized. My mom said she wanted to be authentic. Everyone agreed. We discussed how being true to yourself and your beliefs was an important thing to learn before trying to respect other people’s ideas. I brought up the idea that people tend to be defensive instead of receptive when they aren’t secure in themselves and their beliefs. Another interesting point that was brought up was the dinners around a table concept. Since I was little, I have had very few dinners around a table. My mom agreed; Ruth, Jim, and Brittany were shocked. They explained how much they valued the time they got to spend with their families around the dinner table. Since I rarely had the experience, it was fun listening to their stories about how they believed it had brought their family closer together. It almost made me wish that my mom and I had more chances to sit down and eat together, but I also knew there were specific reasons why that couldn’t happen. Overall, I was really happy with not only the diversity in our answers, but also the things we could come together and agree on. Part of me was scared that our opinions would be so different that it would be hard to find common ground, but after explaining the things and giving tips on how to talk with someone who has different opinions than yourself, we were able to come together and talk about common themes and ideas.

Surprisingly I learned a lot from our conversations. Honestly, coming into this dinner I thought it was just going to be mass chaos of voices with no real substance, but I was pleasantly surprised at how wrong they proved me. Not only did I learn new things about people that I have loved my whole life, I learned new things about myself and new ways to view the world. I told them about my favorite reading from the class, “The Snare of Preparation,” by Jane Adaams and asked them what they thought of it before telling them that it was my favorite. They had mixed ideas, but overall, they agreed with the idea that we can become too prepared to know what to actually do when a situation arises. My mom used the example of war to explain her point that we can think we know what to do when a situation arises, but you never really know until you are put into that position, and even then, it is often too late to be wrong. I learned that you can wrong about people, and that you should never judge someone without getting to know them and their intentions first. I loved sitting around with these people and learning more about them in a deliberative way.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this project. Spending time with people I love is already fun, but when you add debate AND food to the mix, there’s really no room for disappointment. If the situation ever arises for me to have a deliberative engagement over dinner with my family, or with people I don’t know, I would definitely do this again. It’s a really interesting way to get to know people, and a good way to further develop your knowledge on issues you may not be familiar with. Not only was it an awesome opportunity to spend time with my family, but it also gave me a chance to work on my deliberation skills. After this dinner, I feel way more comfortable sharing my ideas with people who may not agree. I also learned a great deal about how to help people see other people’s points of view, and also how to help other people respect others to keep peace in a tense situation. In all honestly, I really did not think this project would turn out as well as it did, so I am extremely glad that I learned something and that I could pass along the helpful knowledge I have learned in class to people I love.