Thoughts on “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” by Ruby K. Payne

Ruby K. Payne’s classic “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” distinguishes between situational poverty and generational poverty. In generational poverty, the learned culture and environment of life in poverty becomes a significant hurdle for the poor person to overcome to enter the middle class. She describes some of the “hidden rules” that define life between the classes. One very important one regards time: for those in poverty, the “present is more important. Decisions made for moment based on feelings or survival;” for the middle class, the “future is most important. Decisions made against future ramifications.” For the wealthy, “traditions and history are most important. Decisions made partially on basis of tradition and decorum.” The attitudes towards destiny are also telling. For those in poverty, “believes in fate. Cannot do much to mitigate change,” ie enjoy money now because tomorrow there won’t be any and I’ll always be poor. The middle class on the other hand feels more empowered, “believes in choice. Can change the future with good choices now.” For the wealthy, simply “noblesse oblige,” their destiny is to watch over the lower classes. (p 42 and 43).

I cut this quotation from a piece I am working on, but it still fascinates me.

The idea is that there are so very, very many things in my life from how I learned to drive, what I value in purchasing clothing, my hobbies, everything really, that were influenced by my parents’ state in life.

How many aspects of the experience of others do I overlook on a day to day basis simply because those aspects of their lives are invisible to me in my learned experience?

The idea of hidden rules also has helped me make sense of a few instances of social faux pas in my life.

Experience teaches us and teaches us by omissions as well. For Christians, as we are called to love God and love our neighbor and the poorest among us, we need to be alert to ways to love our neighbor especially when their experience might have been defined by completely different parameter than our own. And yet, we are all still human and we all need love and to be loved.

I hope I can be more awake to some of these differences.

Have you ever thought about the hidden rules in your life or the hidden rules for others?

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