A framework for understanding poverty, by Ruby K. Payne
Whether you have grown up in poverty or in wealth, this book will teach you things you never knew about yourself and your culture, and how it differs from others. Worth buying or reading just for the “class assumptions” quiz, one each for poor, middle class, and wealthy. The questions alone will be a real eye-opener.
I got the book through the library LINK+ system, thinking it was a socioeconomic text. It turns out to be a guidebook for folks in public service, such as teachers, program administrators, and health workers. The book very clearly and candidly tackles the differences in values between classes. It can get a bit heavy-handed at times, but that’s almost a requirement to hammer home the point that people in poverty (and they differentiate between generational and situational poverty) have different values from the middle class. The generationally wealthy have different values from the middle class, too, but the middle class doesn’t spend nearly as much time bashing them as individuals because of those values.
Which, in my opinion, is why all 3 classes are included, as the message is that time and again one sees middle class “helpers” designing programs and individual approaches that are almost guaranteed to fail when dealing with people in generational poverty, because they go directly against the values of those people. Points are also raised about how the differing value sets work against people who are trying to reset their class affiliations, either from poverty to middle class, or from middle class to wealthy.
In my specific case, I am made aware of certain values– and expectations! — of mine which are directly working against my success in some career goals and my satisfaction level in some friendships. That’s incredibly valuable to me. It’s also more than slightly upsetting, seeing more clearly the extent to which I’ve self-sabotaged various things over the years, and also how I’ve unwittingly sometimes ridden various assumptions to the top. Well, I’ll raise a glass to more conscious choices, and continue the learning curve.
I mentioned in an earlier, friends-locked post that I had been feeling keenly disappointed in what I perceived as a lack of reciprocity among some people that I helped through difficult times. Well, there’s a direct-pattern value from generational poverty that says that one is required to share one’s good fortune with one’s community, and that the community will share back. People help each other through difficult times. The middle class community, on the other hand, values self-sufficiency, especially financial self sufficiency, above personal relationships on that level. If you get a bonus, you’re not even obligated to take all your friends out to dinner or buy a round at the neighborhood bar– those are poor to working class values, not middle class.
A specific example– over the years, especially the ‘bad valley years’, I’ve cheerfully picked up the tab for lunches and dinners for friends who weren’t working. Fast-forward to now, when I’ve had some business disappointments (employee nightmare costing me a full quarter’s revenue, and the fiscal year’s profit; me taking some time off to finish a book project). The same friends are going strictly dutch when we go out, down to line items like who had a soda and who didn’t. Nice. Guess who feels like a dork? Not them! [PS- These lunch/dinner folks are not on LJ, afaIk, so if you’re reading this and feel guilty, it’s all in your head.]
So I will chalk up several of those disappointments to class values. There are still one or two cases where I feel like folks personally took advantage of me, either because we were involved or because they perceived me as ‘rich’ compared to them, or both. But going forward, knowing the differences frees me from having to pick up the tab so much, from giving things away because I feel obligated to do so, and generally acting like I’m still stuck in rural NH/Maine during the 1970’s recession/depression.
I also will work on confronting my feelings about how to integrate my love of dressing in unusual ways, and my hatred of brand brandishment with the undeniable FACT that brand conformity (in clothing) is perceived as reliability and stability by the class of folks who hire and fire at the levels I work, and who network socially while clad in those brands. Ugh.
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