Alli’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Alli

This past Sunday, April 14th, 2019, I had the loveliest experience hosting a Kentucky Kitchen table of my own in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I was accompanied by four women named Kylee, Claire, Izzy, and Margee. Kylee is girl I met through my sorority. She is a special education major from St. Louis that came to Western Kentucky University to get away from everything she knew. She upholds Christian values and practices and takes on a more conservative political approach. Claire is a friend of a friend, from Murray, Kentucky and finds comfort in calm quietness. She recently changed her major from art studies to International affairs and admits to a mid-college life crisis. Izzy is my dorm roommate from Bowling Green. She is loud and spunky and very opinionated. She is Agnostic and very liberal. Margee is a friend of a friend that I was do not know well. She enjoys intentional conversations, bible study, and helping others. Her good heart shines through everything she says and does. As for me, Alli, I’d describe myself as a student from Louisville who is far too obsessed with animals, and really doesn’t care for children, but you would probably never guess it. I consider myself moderately liberal, atheist, and someone constantly trying to change the stigma around liberal atheists.

I described this event as a potluck with no theme and encouraged everyone to bring something random and tasty. With that being said, we had a delicious meal of buttered noodles, pepperoni bagel bites, pear halves, and green beans. We all laughed at the odd but delicious combination of food and quickly applied our current situation to citizenship. I brought to attention how our current table represents how each of us bring something different to the table as citizens. Each of us then went around and discussed what we felt we brought to our community as individuals and our answers varied greatly. Morals and empathy played a huge role in the direction of our answers. Some people answered suggesting they bring a certain set of emotional characteristics that make them a good citizen, one said her faith controls her action and ultimately her behavior, while others simply stated their interests or skills as defining factors. 

We talked much about the community we were raised in and the one we’d like to live in as adults or create for our children. A common theme in our discussion at dinner and in our class was empathy. Everyone around the table felt the world had turned cold and natural, genuine, kindness was a dying trait. Our discussion brought me back to the class reading, “Empathy Exams”, in which a woman was an actress that tested the empathy factor of those in medical school. The reading showed an example of learning and developing empathy through verbal practice, making a questionable statement about whether empathy can actually be taught. The ladies in my group came from very different backgrounds, but all said they felt a lack of empathy in their community. 

I learned how their claimed lack of empathy in the world can be found in and felt through “the little things”. They argued, sure, you can teach someone the right words to pretend they have an ounce of empathy, but empathy is more than words, it’s in your soul. Empathy is holding your neighbor as she sobs because her husband has passed. Empathy is helping the little boy who is worried sick about his dog that ran away. Empathy is helping the old woman carry in all her groceries from the car because she’s too frail to do it alone. Empathy is in your actions, not your words. It’s found in your interactions, the intentional and heartfelt conversations. It’s not in a dry, monotoned, “I’m sorry, that must be hard” that is too often practiced by those who want to seem empathetic but lack the natural grace to do so.

In regard to the first question, Margee lead the discussion and the others followed with definite agreement without much expansion to her answer. Margee stated, to her citizenship means basing your actions and decisions around working towards a better world than the one that existed before you were born. She believes it is our duty as world citizens to create an improved community through loving your neighbor, doing good for the sake of spreading the good, and living selflessly. This guided our conversation into the group feeling it is a citizen’s job and utter responsibility to care for others, especially your neighbors, despite differences that have created issues within our world on many occurrences. I believe this question allowed for an eye-opening experience for ladies of differing faiths. It warmed my heart to be able to share commonalities between loving others and doing good in the world with those that felt atheists or anyone without religious practices may not maintain similar values. 

Our conversation about making the world better for future generations tied in to our class discussions during our wicked problem case study of the environment. The table acknowledged the impact corporations have in determining the health of our world ecosystems, but felt it is a group effort to truly make a difference. Izzy proposed legal action in hopes of preventing large businesses from getting away with environmentally harmful practices, while Claire discussed the impact of every average person making minor changes within their daily lives. Claire’s argument reminded me of, “The Energy Diet”, and Kylee, having read the article, supported the idea from the start. 

After conducting a Kentucky Kitchen Table of my own, I have reflected mostly about perspective. As a person, I try to gear my interactions and responses to others around similarities and differences between our perspectives because I feel that it makes me a kinder, more understanding person. With each day my faith in this practice is enhanced, because I often see perspectives being the root of problems or the reason a problem is absent. I think, as the ladies learned through a thorough discussion of our beliefs and values through citizenship, it is extremely important to try to understand another’s point of view to the best of your ability before making judgements, especially in today’s world divided by differences. Alternatively, it is extremely important to note that even when you try your best to understand, it is quite literally impossible to feel and think the exact things and experiences as another human. I was filled with a sense of peace and humility when I say this applied to topics of religion and politics and was encouraged by the respectful and thoughtful interactions I was able to experience. 

Elena’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

My Kentucky’s Kitchen Table took place on April 6, 2019, in a small town called Adairville, Kentucky. I was planning on hosting at my house in Louisville, Kentucky, but due to last-minute changes, my mom and I decided to host at her cousin’s house. There was a total of 6 people at dinner, including myself. Starting on the left is my mom, Jennifer, who was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. She is very involved in our local parish, and she owns our family’s bakery with three of her other cousins. Third from the right is William, who married my cousin, Natalie, and so kindly let us use his kitchen for dinner. He apologized for not being as good of a host as his wife is (she and her daughter were in Louisville that night), but my mom and I both thought he didn’t give himself as much credit has he deserved. He graduated from Western Kentucky University, lived and worked in Louisville for a few years, and now that his parents are getting older, he and his family moved back to Adairville to assist his aging parents in running the family farm. To the left of William is his father, Jim. Jim grew up outside of Bowling Green and graduated from the University of Kentucky. Martha, his wife, is sitting to the right of William, and she too graduated from the University of Kentucky. After graduating college, they settled down in rural Kentucky to start a family and farm their land. I had never met either of William’s parents before this trip, and my mom met them once at Natalie and William’s wedding. At the far right of the table is Natalie and William’s son, Mason, who is 9 years old. I used to babysit Mason and his sister, Hadley, quite often when they lived on my street, but I haven’t seen them much since I started college, and he was very excited to tell me about the piglet he would be raising this spring.

After everyone had made their plate of pork, salad, beans, and mac and cheese, I asked the question, “beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” After a couple seconds of silence, Martha said that she thought it was giving back to the community in any way you can. Jim agreed with her, adding that helping the people in your community makes a good citizen. William said by living your life in a way that brings something good to the people around you and the town or city you live in will bring about good citizenship. He emphasized how working a job is something that would make someone a good citizen, simply because they are giving their time and energy to accomplish something that our society has deemed important. My mom said that volunteering your time to the organizations you choose to get involved in will enrich the places you live in and help a person feel more connected to the place where they live and the people they live with – thus bringing about a sense of belonging and citizenship. As she said this I thought about how involved she is at my parish and grade school – she was the athletic director for multiple years while I was attending school there, and although it was unpaid and took up a lot of her time, she kept returning because she cared about the program and wanted to use her talents in ways that could benefit that specific community. She also mentioned that by getting involved, you can help turn your community into the kind of place you want to live. I thought this related back to one of our key questions in class: how do we have more of a say over our lives, and help others have more of a say over their lives? Simply put, the more involved you are in your community, the more likely you are to make changes that will impact your life in the ways you want it to.

After asking the initial question, I wanted to know more about life in rural Kentucky versus life in Louisville, and how that may affect someone’s perspective on citizenship. I began by asking how well everyone knew their neighbors. Jim and Martha have lived in their house for about 50 years, so they know all of their neighbors very well, and even though William moved away for a few years, he too knew everyone who lived near them. They all knew everyone who lived on their street, who they were related to, how long they lived there, what kind of crops they grow, where their children moved away to, and many more details that I don’t know about my neighbors at home, even though I live much closer in proximity to my neighbors. William said that for him, the strangest thing about coming back home after living away for so long was that there were many people who he grew up with who did the same thing – left for a while and came back home. He said it felt good to come back and be building a life and a family in the place where he already has roots. One of the things Jim said that stood out to me about neighbors was how he felt comfortable asking any of his neighbors for help with the farm or to borrow a piece of equipment he may need; however, with the increase in big farmers and the decrease in small family farms, he said the good farmers are a lot harder to come by now than they used to be. Many people are selling their land to large farming corporations because their children do not want to come back to take over the farm. Even so, Martha said that there are about 10 houses on their street belonging to only 4 different families – meaning that although times are changing, many people still do value family land and want to come back to continue on their traditions.

 I learned a lot from this experience. It was interesting to see how similar we all are even though we live very different lives. All of us cared about and felt deeply connected to the places we live and work, and everyone recognizes the value in giving time and talent to our communities. It relates to Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Mass, because he too found similarities in the most different of people – from America to Bosnia, from people at peace to people at war. He showed that being human involves wanting to belong and feel needed, and when we are active citizens, we accomplish these basic needs.

Nathan’s Kentucky Kitchen Table Project “Cheesy Citizens”

By: Nathan

On the cold, rainy day of April 4th, I along with a fellow Honors Student, Sophie, sat down around a table with mutual acquaintances living in the Bowling Green area for a traditional Kentucky kitchen table dinner. Inside the college house located on Chestnut Street we devoured cheesy pizza, salty chips, and cold soft drinks and discussed what citizenship meant to us in individual and communal terms. Our guest list was comprised of WKU students with varying geographical, political, social, and economic backgrounds. First on the guest list was Harper. Harper is a highly involved sophomore on WKU’s campus from rural eastern Kentucky. She identifies herself as a liberal democrat. She finds most of her interests lie in politics and legal processes. Next, we have Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn is a junior student at WKU that is from the western Kentucky area. She is heavily involved within her greek organization. She describes herself as someone who does not know a lot about political affairs but would consider herself as a liberal democrat. Her friend, Hayley, was also in attendance. Hayley is from the same small town as Kaitlyn. Hayley is a transfer student that is not greek and comes from a strict, religious household and recognizes herself as someone with republican leanings. Our last guest being Ashton. Ashton is a senior at WKU. She is from Owen County, Kentucky. She describes herself as huge animal lover and someone who has great interests in racial equality and votes primarily for the republican party.

To begin our night, we started our discussion with the question “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?”. Harper responded, “Helping your fellow man”. Hayley agreed with Harper by stating, “I agree with Harper, it just about fostering the spirt of community and helping out one another”. The rest of the group agreed, with Ashton adding, “It is about being supportive of your fellow neighbors”. These statements were the vehicle for our conversations for the entirety of the evening. Prior to our dinner, the consensus among the girls was that they had never considered what citizenship meant. Oddly, though, as we chatted away eating greasy pizza I found that all of them had a stake in politics and were exemplary citizens.  Accompanied with my realization I uncovered that their passions on citizenship resided with the matters that were attached to their empathetic feelings.

The article The Baby in the Well written by Paul Bloom was presented in our Honors course. This article provided substance to our class discussions on empathy’s relationship to our community. Bloom’s analysis of empathy provided highlights on the dialogue on the inner role of empathy and its significances in our modern society. Specifically, Bloom looks at what causes us to have more empathetic feelings on particular subjects weighed against other subjects. He uses multiple cases to support his examination of empathy. For example, he looks at Baby Jessica, the 18-month year old that fell down a narrow well in Texas during the 80s, and a plethora of other cases, for instance the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, to distinguish what generates the human feeling of empathy. He concludes that “The key to engaging empathy is what has been called “the identifiable victim effect.”” (PG 3). In essence, he argues that when we can identify a specific victim, we can better connect with their story and have empathy.

As we chatted away through the night I kept finding myself referencing Bloom’s argument. Case in point, Hayley was heavily empathetic about the cost of healthcare and as a result I found that in any of our discussions about our community she referenced the personal struggles her family had with affording the costly treatment of her mother’s diabetes. She had an identifiable victim and as a result she could find a deep, empathetic connection. By fostering empathy on a particular subject, she was more willing to speak on the issue as a citizen and bring awareness to the community around her, overall a more civically engaged citizen.

This theme of empathy’s relationship with citizenship was sewed throughout the night’s conversations. When the discussion of racial equality was brought to our dinner table. Ashton referenced the multiple service trips she had made with her church and how that brought awareness to the differences of social, political, and economic treatment that members of different races experienced. All of us listened intently to each other as we individually spoke on racial equality. Soon, after a quick glance at the clock and empty potato chip bowls, I realized we had spent a large portion of our dinner openly deliberating on race relations within our community.

After our dinner, Harper, noted that she was exceptional fond of our dinner as she can rarely find the time in her strenuous student schedule to have such in depth conversations on issues, like race, that she sees within her community with her peers. This dinner was a unique opportunity for myself and the other members of our dinner to express our deeply held convictions on the relationship of oneself and citizenship.

From an outside perspective, I could identify that the household dynamic between our dinner participants was highly civic. Their house entertained daily, assigned chores, all roommates had sincere relationships with each other, were cognizant on each other’s life happenings, and generally the house fostered an inclusive and effectual environment of living. There consensus on the role of citizenship allowed for such a highly civic household. By analyzing the nature of their home, I was able to uncover that by living in such a highly civic home that they were better able to understand the viewpoints of others. Furthermore, understanding the context of their answers I better understood why they viewed citizenship the way they did.

As our cheese pizza began to congeal and our sodas became flat we concluded our dinner. After reflection on the night I shared my finding with two of the dinner participants, Harper and Kaitlyn, and explained to them my take on our dinner. We agreed that it was refreshing to see such a variation of mindsets and viewpoints. We also agreed that talking about these issues in such an informal environment allowed for respectful conversations that made us feel better about the future. Who would have ever thought insightful conversations were hidden underneath pizzas and kitchen tables?

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Riley’s Kentucky Kitchen Table :)

By Riley

My Kentucky Kitchen Table was held in Bowling Green, KY on April 11, 2019. Elizabeth, the host, graciously offered up her home for me and other students and prepared a meal for us. Elizabeth is a professor at Western Kentucky University for Honors 251 and religion classes. Another guest at the table was also a professor at WKU but is in the history department. Her name was Jennifer and she was born in Canada. Another guest at the kitchen table was a graduate student whose faculty mentor was Elizabeth. She is from southeastern Kentucky but will be going to New York for graduate school. Autumn, a peer from my Honors 251 class, is a freshman from northcentral Kentucky and is studying Chinese. Another peer at the table was Shelby who is a freshman from southcentral Kentucky and is studying biology. The last but not least guest at the table is Victoria, who is Elizabeth’s daughter. 

            At the Kentucky Kitchen Table, since we were all strangers, we first introduced each other and tried to get to know where people were from and learn their background a little bit better. We talked about our hometowns and our respective family dynamics. With that, we discussed how family meals usually went. The graduate student talked that her family meals use to be more chaotic and the dinner table seemed to be a somewhat hostile area when she was younger. Contrastingly, she noticed how much more relaxing and peaceful the dinner table was as she got older and would go back home from college. Throughout the dinner, we also talked about the state of the university’s leadership. At the time, a dean of the university had resigned, and students did not take too fondly of the resignation. They wanted answers from the school as to why he had resigned. Jennifer talked about how proud she was of the students and faculty both for the way they reacted to the changes. She was proud of how the students approached the issue and only wanted answers, not making any accusations. She was also proud of how faculty was willing to voice their opinion and cared enough about the running of the university to participate in discussion. The discussion then moved to talking about citizenship. Everyone went around and talked about what they thought citizenship was in their own mind, or at least part of what a citizen is. One overall theme we discussed was how not to be pessimistic to the world. Everyone was unmotivated to speak positively (maybe because of the situation at school?) but also from the other things they all had witnessed and noticed from experience. 

            During the conversation, Jennifer asked me what I had learned or had taken away from the honors class that I am doing this assignment for. I answered saying one thing that stuck out to me was my thoughts on supervised drug addict facilities. I really had not given the idea of allowing addicts the space to use but also be monitored while using to make sure the person is taken care of. She was very surprised that the class had impacted me like that. Well, honestly more impressed and thankful for me to think that deeply. I really wasn’t sure if she was surprised because of my age or where I grew up. Either way, it somewhat made me skeptical as to how the older educated people view the younger generation. Through the conversation, I also learned how helpful the faculty of WKU have been to the students, especially the dean earlier mentioned. The graduate student was funded to go on a trip by the dean and another faculty member out of their pocket. It was cool to see how invested some of the faculty members are with their students and I was given a great example right in front of me. Furthermore, I learned about some of the struggles that the graduate student faced when she was younger and to see how successful she became. One big idea I took from it was when we actually discussed what being a citizen looks like. To give a slight preview of everyone’s responses, Jennifer said that being a citizen was that they should actively partake in community issues, just as the student body did with the leadership change at the university. The graduate student answered off my response saying that a citizen should learn the problems of the community and then use that information to approach those problems that a community has. In turn, my response was that citizens should be informed about their community and area before trying to participate in the community, because being educated is important. Autumn emphasized the importance of compassion in a community and toward the neighbors and fellow citizens. Shelby thought being a good citizen should be being a good neighbor. Also, Victoria thought that being a good citizen is about being kind to each other, but especially fair to each other. This was a very good point as that many times people aren’t treated fairly because of many things they can’t control. All of these are good things of a citizen but as I went back and reflected, I noticed that being a good citizen isn’t just that citizens “should” do those things but that they actually do the things mentioned. Citizens need to feel more responsibility instead of social laziness as they think others are responsible for the community. 

The discussion related to the class as it related to the “Green Fire, the Still Point, and an Oak Grove” reading. We talked about how it is important to be informed and to know the history of a community which directly relates to that reading. As a central idea, one of our central questions comes to mind: How can we solve problems? As we discussed, it is important to have conversations just as the WKU staff and students had with each other when it comes to complex problems. Also, through talking about citizenship, the other questions are involved as well, such as “How can we live better together” and “How can we have more of a say over our lives?” Being a good citizen involved being compassionate and fair to each other, which would lead to citizens living better together. Also, being a good citizen would hopefully empower the people to know they have a role in society. Back to the university example, the students and staff came together and had more of a say over their lives. Being a better citizen is about being better people. The Kentucky Kitchen Table was an event that allowed diverse people to come together and discuss topics that usually aren’t formally discussed. Through that, I was able to learn different perspectives and had to think of my own responses, leading to self-reflection. The Kentucky Kitchen Table was a gathering that fostered good discussion that desired to increase the potential citizenship of those involved. 

Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Derek

My Kentucky Kitchen Table Project took place in my hometown of Scottsville, Kentucky on March 31st. Around the table in the Make America Great Again hat is my brother Brandon. He works at a factory and considers himself to be very conservative. The next one is my mother Lorinda who also works at the same factory Brandon does, and she considers herself to be a very neutral person on all political aspects. She also does not like politics at all. One of the quotes I remember her saying as a kid about politicians was that “if they don’t come into office as a crook, they will leave as one.” This is still the mindset the majority of my family still has today. The next person in the picture is my dad, Frank. He owns his own construction business and has been working since the age of fourteen. My dad is also very conservative and a huge trump supporter like my brother. The man on the far left is Freddie, he is one of my dad’s business partners, and he is extremely liberal with his political views. And behind the camera is me, Derek, I am a biology pre-medical student. I have lived in Scottsville my whole life, just like everyone else at the table except my dad, who used to live in Pikeville, KY. And I consider myself to be a moderate democrat. So as you can tell, this is a very diverse group with extremely different views, but somehow we all get along incredibly well.

The first question I asked was “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Brandon said to him it meant being there for his fellow neighbors. Frank and Lorinda both had similar views in that they both said citizenship to them is everyone in society contributing in some way. Freddie believed that to him it is everyone helping each other out to the best of their ability. To me, citizenship means taking that extra initiative to turn the place where you live into the society that you want it to be. For example, if you’re walking through the park and you see trash, instead of complaining about how trashy the park looks, and you took the initiative to pick it up then it wouldn’t look trashy anymore. I really do believe in being the change you want to see in the world.

We also talked about a lot about current events today and how different life is now compared to when each person grew up. I asked the question, “Do you know your neighbors? Why or why not?” And Freddie said he doesn’t anymore because both of his neighbors are really young families who do not really value social connections as much as he does. He believes it’s because of the mass technology today and that many people lose valuable social skills and no longer try to make an effort to get know anyone. He compared his life now to his life growing up as a child and states that back in that time era, it would just be extremely odd to not know every one of your neighbors and their kids extremely well. He also believes that people used to treat each other better with more respect than people do nowadays. My mom and Dad both agreed. So it led me to ask the question of why they think people used to respect each other more in the past, and they all agreed that it is the lack of parenting that parents provide their children.

Another thing we talked about was the advice that we would give to people running for office in our country. Frank said they should be more like Donald Trump in the sense that he is completely transparent and you know where he stands on every issue. Brandon, Freddie, and Lorinda all think they need to appeal to the biggest class in America, the middle class, instead of just focusing on the top 1% or only the extremely poor class. I honestly think that future politicians should stay true to their beliefs, instead of worrying about pleasing everyone or worrying about getting elected because if you’re true to your beliefs and you do get elected then I personally think it will a much more effective and enjoyable experience.

I learned that no matter what your viewpoints are or your beliefs everyone can still get along. I learned a lot about my dad and where he was coming from because before I would get frustrated and wouldn’t want to listen to what he had to say, but this project really allowed me to understand where his viewpoints stemmed from. My dad started working when he was 14, he grew up poor, and really learned the value of a dollar. Because of this, he doesn’t believe in giving people free things. He believes that they should work hard to get out of whatever situation they’re in, just like he did. My mom also grew up poor, and she has the same viewpoints as he does. Their viewpoints really opened up my eyes because for the first time I really understood where they were coming from, I just really wished I would have asked them sooner.

This project relates to what we learn in class by the type of discussion we had at the table. When doing this project, we talked about things that most of the time do not come up in everyday situations and because of this sometimes we are really bad about discussing things with people who have different opinions than our own. That’s why I really liked doing this project. It really makes you sit down and have a nice conversation about things that affect us in everyday life. One of the central ideas in our class is how can we have more of say over our lives and contribute to how others can have more of a say over theirs, and this is exactly how we can achieve that. We achieve this by asking the hard questions and trying to find possible solutions to make the problem better. In the Righteous Mind chapter by Jonathan Haidt he talks about how our elephant, or emotions, are in control and our rider, or logic is used to justify the actions of our emotions. Personally, I think this concept is huge in terms of future political debates, future deliberations, and future discussions because it’s basically stating that it doesn’t matter if you’re throwing facts at people, if you’re not appealing to their emotions, then the conversation probably isn’t going to go very far.

Elizabeth’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Elizabeth

On April 11th, 2019, Bailey, Hayden and I hosted our Kentucky Kitchen Table Dinner in Bowling Green at my older sister’s house. We figured everyone was lacking on getting enough fruits and veggies (college kids). So, we prepared a vegetarian feast of salad, sweet potatoes, peppers, scrambled eggs, and fruit. Joining us was Laura, Logan, Amelia, and Erika. Laura is a sports psychology major from Segovia, Spain and plays on the WKU girls tennis team. Logan is very charismatic and knows how to laugh at himself. He was even kind enough to help me and Hayden prepare dinner. Amelia is a new friend of mine. She is kind-hearted and a great listener. Amelia is majoring in social work- how perfect! I had never met Erika before this dinner, but it turns out she had my mom as a teacher during high school for two years and had heard a lot about me. I’m sure she wanted to run out of the house after realizing I was the crazy kid my mom always talked about, but she remained very polite. Erika is a political science and economics double major. She plans to be a judge one day.

Our guests struggled to formulate an answer after we asked the required question. There was definitely a moment of hmm citizenship is more than voting, paying taxes and following laws? After everyone took a few seconds to think, we began to focus on the importance of participation. Everyone agreed that citizenship has a lot to do with what you contribute to your community and how active you are within it. Amelia mentioned that she loves how our generation is more politically and socially active. I think was easier to define the role of a good citizen than to describe what citizenship means. To be a considered a citizen you do not necessarily have to be politically and socially active. However, to be a good citizen you do. We didn’t go too in depth about what “socially and politically active” actually looks like. Today in class someone suggested that we tell the people who come to our deliberations that the fact that they simply showed up to talk is important. I think that is a fair illustration of the point our guests were attempting to make. It is our job as citizens to show up when there is an issue in our community. A good citizen is informed and concerned, or at the very least willing to listen to members of the community who are. This conversation made me realize how guilty I feel about the lack of effort I put into being a good citizen. I love to talk about controversial issues, and I love to listen to what people have to say about them. Yet, I mainly seek conversations and actions surrounding topics I find interesting. Sure, I recycle and I can talk about how I feel about abortion because I enjoy these topics. Nevertheless, you won’t find me advocating for people who don’t have access to a decent hospital who live only one town away from me. I’ve learned that being a good citizen requires you to care about things you maybe don’t care about or think about simply because they do affect your fellow citizens. Good citizenship requires more than considering just “How can we have more of a say over our lives?” Good citizens also contemplate “how can I contribute to others having more of a say over their lives?”

Next, we asked our guests what they think the best things about our world today are. Ericka admitted that all of the bad things ran through her mind before she could come up with something positive. She said she hates that she has to search for an answer. We talked a little bit about how most of us can go to bed feeling safe at night, and how we are privileged to feel this way. We talked more about how much worse things could be and how much worse things are in other parts of the world rather than how great our world is. Once we reminded everyone to think in broader terms, our guests mentioned their appreciation of diversity. Overall, this part of the conversation was really disheartening. Afterward, we asked them to describe the type of community they would like to live in. Our guests idealized the concept of a completely nonjudgemental community. I hesitate to validate what David Brooks said in “It Feels Right” because he really trashed our generation. That said, this aspect of our conversation reminded me of his argument that our generation is building an atmosphere of moral individualism. Of course, nobody wants to feel judged all the time. Still, I wondered why everyone jumped to this response. I believe that the issue is not to to the extent that Brooks argued, but I think a lot of our generation does tend to rationalize based on feelings and personal views. If this desire for a nonjudgmental community roots from our wanting others to accept our individualistic and diverse determinations of what is moral and immoral, we might run into even more issues later on. Creating a strong sense of citizenship and community often relies on coherent goals and beliefs about how the world should look. After this part of the conversation, I wondered if a community in which everyone accepts any and every different viewpoint and decision would only become more individualistic and polarized.

Unfortunately, our dinner felt rushed. Laura was somewhat quiet during the meal but she did briefly compare the slower pace of life in Spain to the faster pace of life in the U.S. Her comparison made me think about the reading “The Power of Patience” by Jennifer Roberts. I definitely agree with Roberts point. The more time you put into something, the more you get out of it. Looking back, the entire dinner sort of seems like one big analogy for the average American’s life. Sometimes we are so caught up in the rat race that we forget to sit and take our time and really get to know someone or understand something. When Laura mentioned a slower pace of life I felt envious and actually relieved by just imagining living that way for a second. I feel as if we had a great group of people but that a lot was left unsaid. Having a kitchen table dinner, something I hadn’t done in an embarrassingly long time, reminded me of how important it is to slow down and truly listen.   

Autumn’s Kentucky Kitchen Table

By Autumn

    Our Kentucky Kitchen Table took place on the eve of Thursday, April 11, 2019, at Professor Gish’s house in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We ate a sort of rice dish with apples and other atypical ingredients as well as a salad with avocados and angel food cake with strawberries for desert. That was the first time I actually managed to eat salad without my stomach punishing me for it, and I especially loved the avocado part. The attendees were another professor, Dr. Jen, two classmates, Riley and Shelby, a graduate student named Hilarie, the aforementioned Professor Gish, her daughter, Victoria, and of course myself, Autumn. There were also a dog and two cats, one of which stayed on my lap for a majority of the conversation.

    The general consensus is that Dr. Jen Jen was one of the most interesting guests. Originally from Canada, she now teaches History, and as my classmates recall, spoke  with a poetic tendency. Professor Gish likewise has that air of intelligence, but chose to try not to lead the conversation, as this was for her Honors 251 course. The others from our class, Riley and Shelby, were both from Kentucky. Regrettably, I have not spoken much with either outside this assignment, but they were both very kind. Riley has a calm voice and demeanour, while Shelby possesses a very friendly appearance. Hilarie, the graduate student, seemed to be the third most relaxed after the two professors. Victoria of course had the natural innocence portrayed only by a child, though her response to our key question showed that many adults should perhaps attempt emulating that innocence.

    At the meal, the first topic I recall is what we have learned, or been surprised by, in our class. Riley said that for him it was the intensity of the drug epidemic we learned from two of our readings. Shelby agreed with this, and I as well, though I did not speak up about that because I felt I did not have something to say that was already said. Me being me, I brought up afterwards that this course has made me more cynical about society. I enjoyed hearing people take this more negative outlook and considering the banes of human nature. Even just to hear it reflected by someone like Dr. Jen makes me happy because to me it seems like no one ever thinks about these things. We also talked about the recent Snyder outrage, and the impressiveness of the students’ united reaction. Even I have to admit I was pleased by this, I just wish it happened so successfully on a larger scale more often.

     We also discussed one stressed question of the assignment: what is the meaning of citizenship, other than voting, paying taxes, and following laws(all of which are apparently previously common themes). Hilarie and Riley shared similar themes of being knowledgeable in matters like history or problems, while Shelby placed an emphasis on being a good neighbor. My response was similar, proposing compassion as the key aspect. Victoria said that we should be nice to each other, and I could not agree more.

    Actually, my favorite part of the discussion was that of the general responses to this question. Voting was not criticised of course, but at the mention of following laws, Dr. Jen said “or not following them,” which I thoroughly enjoyed. In our class we talk about how we live better together and how we can solve problems, and I think sometimes these contradict. “Living better together,” in my view, categorises behaviour that encourages smooth interactions with others, and as such, little controversy. This is makes Dr. Jen’s response intriguing, as often in order to live better together we must compromise not only our goals and feelings but our morals. It is almost as if sometimes we have a choice between living fluidly or attempting to change what we do not like. Take for instance, the refusal of serving LGBT folks. In many circumstances, this is legal. Therefore, to protest or make a noise is not only an act of refuting current laws, but also of prioritising your morality above your relationship with the community.

    We have talked about deliberative democracy in several readings, but what of when that fails? How does on deliberate a racist? You will not dissuade a person with an argument detached from reason, so it is likely civil conversation will not change them. Which is more important then: being nice to your neighbors, or standing up for your morals? Or what of racism? I cannot say for certainty it is dissolved anywhere, but I do know for sure it is still evident in other places. What is our duty then? It is easy to say we should try to live well together, but can we really say that when the cost is the well being of others? Or should we perhaps stand up for our morals, even at the cost of a peaceful society? Sometimes, it seems, morality and cohesiveness contradict, and loathsome as it is, this seems to be a permanent trait of human reality. With this in mind, I would actually pose a new question for our class and anyone trying to be a good citizen: what do we do when we cannot live well together?

    Still, I think Victoria’s response displayed our hope for this dilemma: we must learn to be kind. I realise this seems contradictory to my previous statement, but what I mean is that we must place compassion before our personal beliefs. Compassion, in my view the hallmark of morality, should be seen as a sort of test for any other morals. If a belief contradicts with compassion, I propose we teach our children and students to brush it aside. We may believe whatever we want in our individual houses and minds, but if we want a society that does not destroy itself over differences in opinion or accept a peace in which the minority is suppressed, we need to learn to suppress that aspect of our nature which beckons us to imprint our own beliefs on the outside world. We must learn to objectively view our beliefs for the culmination of our experiences and situations, and put them to the test of compassion. Haidt argued we are but riders explaining the actions of a compulsive elephant; I argue that we should get off the elephant and walk on foot, even if it is harder for us. I think that I did garner a sense of cruel, necessary hope from reflecting upon this simple dinner.