Hidden Rules of Social Class

At a recent staff meeting a guest speaker talked about generational poverty based on the book Bridges out of Poverty by Ruby Payne. Generational Poverty is defined as people who have at least 2 generations of poverty in their family. (This does not include people who temporarily find themselves in poverty for a short time due to special circumstances such as divorce, being laid off, or illness)

The speaker administered a test that showed our society is based towards the middle class. You understand middle class rules if you know the following:

-I know how to get my children into little league, piano lessons, soccer, etc.

-I know how to order in a nice restaurant.

-I talk to my children about going to college.

-I know how to use a credit car

-I know how to help my children with their homework and will not hesitate to call the school if I have questions.

-I know how to get a library card.

These are just a handful of the middle class hidden rules. They will make sense to most of us as volunteers who have grown up in the middle class. However, imagine you were asked to live life by the rules of wealth suddenly. Those include:

-I can read a menu in French, English, and another language.

-I know who my preferred financial advisor, legal service, designer, domestic-employment service, and hairdresser are.

-I am on the board of at least 2 charities.

-I have several favorite restaurants in several different countries.

I don’t know about you, but NONE of these apply to me. Asking me to be able to function without assistance in the wealthy class would feel impossible. The thing is, for many people in poverty, asking them to abide by middle class hidden rules without educating them about them, can feel much like us being asked to function in the wealthy class.

Hidden rules of poverty include:

-I know how to get someone out of jail.

-I know how to keep my clothes from being stolen at the laundromat.

-I know how to live without electricity and a phone.

-I know what to do when I don’t have money to pay the bills.

-I know how to move in half a day.

In her book, Ruby Payne shares a great deal about the differences between classes. Overall, she emphasizes the importance of building relationships and education (not just formal education, but also walking alongside people and answering their questions about everyday things). At the Clinic, we strive to make sure a patient understands why he or she needs to call in advance to cancel an appointment or the importance of establishing a primary care provider once they have insurance. We seek to teach from a perspective of love and treating them with dignity.

Payne further describes in her book that most times when individuals move from poverty to middle class, they can name a specific individual that really came alongside them as a mentor and that often they are scorned by their family/friends as thinking they are “too good now.” There are many barriers physically and emotionally that arise when people attempt to move from one social class from another. Regardless, of where they are on the social scale, each person deserves to be treated with dignity, and taking time to build relationships and clarify things that might seem like common sense to us in the middle class can go a long way to bridge that gap with patients. Thank you for loving our patients well!