Hidden rules of poverty affect decision-making

Misty Aaberg
Misty Aaberg

You can’t win a hockey game playing by football rules. You have to know the rules of the game. Similarly, those who didn’t grow up in poverty could remain unaware of the hidden rules that affect many aspects of life for the poor.

Hidden rules are the unspoken cues or habits of a social circle. Connected to this are the inherit values and attitudes of the different classes.

Based in part on Ruby K. Payne’s “Framework for Understanding Poverty,” Bridges Out of Poverty is a resource designed for social, health and legal services professionals. Bridges reaches out to service providers and businesses whose daily work connects them with the lives of people in poverty.

Bridges training can help one come to a better understanding how hidden rules can create barriers that prevent individuals and families living in poverty from achieving and maintaining self-sufficiency. By viewing customers’ realities through an economic lens and responding with a greater understanding of what living in poverty means, we enhance our capacity to provide support rather than misunderstanding.

Emerging science indicates the inherent stress of living in poverty can affect the processes involved in solving problems and setting and attaining goals. For people in poverty, the resources in the mental model are crucial for survival and tightly interconnected. When one piece falls out of place, the rest of their lives are affected.

When you’re poor and all you think about is how to pay for food and make rent today, it’s almost impossible to think about the future. The mental strain of living in poverty and thinking constantly about tight finances can drop a person’s IQ by as much as 13 percent — about the equivalent of losing a night of sleep, according to a new study. It consumes so much mental energy there’s often little room to think about anything else, leaving low-income people more susceptible to bad decisions.

Sensitivity to environmental cues influences an individual’s ability to suppress thoughts and actions such that the control systems might be hijacked by a primitive limbic system rendering control systems unable to appropriately modulate behavior.

Poverty is a label attached after-the-fact in analysis of a circumstance. To those who’re in the circumstance at the time, it’s their normal state of being. In the haste to sort people into categories, it becomes easy to forget the obvious: These are people worthy of dignity, respect and acknowledgment.

Aryton Senna, quite possibly the greatest Formula One driver, ever, has my attention for another reason. Senna was also known as being an extraordinarily generous and compassionate human being. Senna is credited as saying, “We all breathe the same air. We must give a chance to everyone, at least a basic chance.”

We don’t make poverty go away by disregarding it. Poverty is a fact of life.