|Gonna be a bad day|
When born into poverty (or any other class), you inherit a system of beliefs and way of doing things. Like it or not, this system is as real as the nose on your face. In fact, this system is right under your nose. Thing is, unless you know what to look for, chances are you can’t see it. That’s a problem.
All social classes have “rules” that help define who we are – to others and to ourselves. They also tend to dictate how we look at the world, which leads us all to engage in predictable ways.
These rules are rarely discussed intentionally but we abide by them. We’re compelled to. After all, it’s what we know. For most of us, it’s all we know. At worst, we are prisoners of our own experiences; it sets the stage for what we come to believe. About ourselves and about each other.
Yes, there are exceptions; there’re always exceptions. But the majority of us remain cemented where we are. And it’s usually not because we like being in the social or economic situation we’re in.
Take getting an education. Ask any adult; rich, not so rich or poor. Most will agree education is important. I’ve met many a successful business person who has boldly informed me that nothing takes the place of hard work. And who am I to argue with somebody who only finished high school but nevertheless managed to acquire and maintain a seven-figure bank account? Legally.
Getting an education and/or keeping your nose to the grindstone is sound advice. But there’s more to it than that. It’s understanding there are different rules for different social groups. What allows us to thrive in one set of living circumstances may not work so well when you’re trying to survive in another. Or climb out of the financial/social situation we’re in.
I learned a valuable lesson about this while serving on the board of Woman's Co-op, a nonprofit network of women helping women with very low incomes. During a board exercise, we were invited to list items women living in poverty needed.
Believing I knew what it meant to be poor (based on observations and my own early struggles after college), I confidently compiled a list. My list had things like car seats, diapers and baby food. Turns out none of the items I listed made the top 10.
What was at the top? Silverware. Forks, knives and spoons. Plates and cups to replace the ones made of paper. Another was laundry detergent. I was stunned. In short, my middle class values came with assumptions rooted in ignorance: mine. There was a major disconnect between what I assumed they needed and the actual reality.
Why the disconnect? Patterns of activity and behavior get passed down. So do thoughts of self and others. Biases form as a result of the conditions in which we live. Our ways of being are programmed; whether we like it or not. Whether we know it or not.
What do paper plates and detergent have to do with getting ahead in life? Plenty. Those in higher income brackets always assume they know how to break out of lower income living conditions. Yet why aren’t more middle class persons living higher on the hog? A wealthy person might say, “They’re just not working hard enough.”
Now where have I heard that before?
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.