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Learn the hidden rules

Jodi Pfarr

If you want to understand other people, first you need to understand yourself, Jodi Pfarr believes.

People who grew up as part of the middle class, for example, need to realize how they were affected by that experience — if they want to understand people who grew up in poverty, or in wealth.

Pfarr grew up in rural poverty. Today the Minneapolis woman is an internationally known consultant who travels widely, sharing her unique perspective on the demographics, diversity and dynamics of poverty and class.

She will be in Red Wing Oct. 4 conducting an all-day "Bridges Out of Poverty" workshop at Minnesota State College Southeast, 308 Pioneer Road.

HOPE Coalition is sponsoring the workshop with support from a dozen or more local partners. The coalition offers local programs that address domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse and homelessness.

"We want to provide innovative training in our service area that has the highest potential for breaking generational cycles of poverty and violence," Development Coordinator Linda Flanders said of HOPE officials' decision to choose the "Bridges" workshop

Pfarr came to mind first thing. Flanders had participated in one of her presentations — which are based on Dr. Ruby Payne's work on generational poverty — and found the speaker to be "engaging, funny, smart and experienced."

A matter of class

The message is key. "One of the core concepts that comes out of this is the hidden rules of class," added Emma Onawa, HOPE Coalitions' volunteer coordinator.

Consider food, for one. People who grew up in poverty may focus on whether there is enough food, while middle class people might ask, "Do I like it?" People who grew up in wealth are more likely to focus on presentation.

Is money to be used? Managed? Invested?

Which is more important to you: Living in the present, preparing for the future, or adhering to traditions and history?

Do you select clothing that expresses your personality? Clothes that are accepted as the norm among your friends? Or designer clothes that express your artistic sense?

Are your most valued possessions people, things or one-of-a-kind objects?

The answers to items on the "Hidden Rules of Class" chart do not stereotype a person as belonging to one class or another.

"Economic class is a continuous line, not a clear-cut distinction," according to Payne's book. The "hidden rules" are based on patterns within the environments of each economic class. All patterns have exceptions.

Understanding the rules of the class in which you were raised is important, however, Pfarr said: "I believe that the more we understand how class affects us, the more effective we can be across class lines."

When you understand the way people think, Flanders pointed out, you are better able to understand why they behave the way they do and make certain choices.

The survivors

"So much about poverty is survival," Onawa said. It affects people's lifestyles, values, behaviors and relationships.

People living in generational poverty "are in survival mode most of the time," Flanders said, but frequently it is middle-class assumptions that are imposed on them.

When one class is in charge, Pfarr noted, it generally will write the policies based on its own experiences. Schools and businesses operate from middle-class norms and tend to use the hidden rules of middle class.

One of Pfarr's messages is that, "In order to build relationships of mutual respect between economic classes, we need to be aware of more than one set of hidden rules."

HOPE officials and Pfarr hope that the Oct. 4 workshop will bring the full spectrum of local residents to the table.

The coalition has done outreach to professionals who work with people in poverty, including educators, law enforcement personnel, churches and nonprofits, businesses, youth workers and pastors, county and work force officials, social services and more.

Learn and grow

Pfarr hopes the workshop will bring together people from all socioeconomic classes, including local residents who come because they care about the community and its future.

"It leads to the strongest solutions," she explained, because understanding how class affects people is important when looking at how agencies operate in the community.

"Poverty affects sustainability," Pfarr said. "If you want a community that is rich in resources, you have to address poverty so that those resources will grow. ... This is about helping our community grow our resources."

People who attend should be prepared to look at how their background has affected them, and to "be open to hearing how class has affected others. ... Work out of understanding, not out of judgment," she said.

One caution: "If you use any material to say 'That's how that group is,' that is unjust," Pfarr said. "Use it to figure out how class has affected yourself," so you can be open to hearing how class has affected others and have a relationship across class lines.

"Come to the workshop to learn about yourself."

Participants also will be given tools and strategies to address poverty.

"Some communities have a problem recognizing that there is poverty," she noted, even though social service workers and teachers know it exists. "The greater community may be the last to admit it, but you can't wait too long. Address it before it continues to grow.

"The more proactive the community can be, the better."

The workshop is open to everyone. It will run 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in room 314 at the college. Cost is $75 per person, which includes lunch and a copy of Payne's book, "Bridges Out of Poverty."

To register, contact Red Wing Community Education at 651-385-4565. For more information, e-mail or call 651-448-3396. Continuing education credits are available.