I spend an hour each morning in prayer and contemplation. Why? Because it is very hard for me to stay in the Present; I tend to live life thinking about the Future.  This makes me fairly driven to getting things done.  If I don’t slow down, stop and take time I almost forget there is a Present. On the other hand, I have never had a problem living in the Past. Though I reflect on the lessons I learned and the blessings I’ve had, I spend little time thinking about the Past. What about you? Is your Past, Present or Future driving you?

I am learning answers to this question since I recently began a book group on “Bridges Out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities” © 2001 by Ruby K. Payne, PhD, Philip E. DeVol & Terie Dreussi Smith. It is clear from this book that it is NOT the Past, Present or Future that drives us.  It is our narratives, our self-talk, our closely held beliefs that predict our Past, Present and Future.  Our beliefs are at the heart of our own narratives.

In “Bridges,” the authors present the strategies for helping those people living in poverty, that is “the extent to which an person does without resources,” to move beyond it.  The key to helping lies in understanding and sharing the unwritten rules of those living in poverty, middle-class and wealth, as well as, the role of language and story.  The unwritten rules cover issues of possessions, money, personality, social emphasis, food, clothing, time, education, destiny, language, family structure, world view, love, driving forces and humor. Comparing the differences among the classes based in these areas is quite enlightening, and guides us in explaining our personal narratives. (See the chart below on some of the Hidden Rules Among Classes from “Bridges.”)

One thing that America has historically done well is to help set up the conditions for increasingly more people to make a life beyond surviving with limited resources.  Keep in mind however that the middle-class is shrinking and those slipping into poverty is growing.  Despite our past efforts at growing a large middle-class, the reality today is that more people are surviving on limited resources and slipping into poverty.

This matters personally to each of us for two reasons: 1) our narratives are cemented in the unwritten rules of the culture/economic class in which we were raised and drives how we think, behave and experience life; and 2) as leaders we need to understand how we may reach people under our leadership from each economic class, most importantly those in poverty.  As “Bridges” points out, the importance of mentors cannot be over-stressed, particularly in the workplace.

I ask again, what drives you?  What narratives do you have that put you where you are today and will lead you where you are going?  Are those narratives helping you or holding you back? Are you using them to help others or hold them back?

PovertyMiddle ClassWealth
POSSESSIONSPeopleThingsOne-of-a-kind objects, legacies, pedigrees
MONEYTo be used, spentTo be managedTo be conserved, invested
PERSONALITYFor entertainment. Sense of humor is highly valued.For acquisition & stability. Achievement is highly valuedFor connections. Financial, political, social connections are highly valued
SOCIAL EMPHASISInclusion of those you likeEmphasis is on self-governance & self-sufficiencyEmphasis is on social exclusion
TIMEPresent; decisions made for the moment based on feelings or survivalFuture; decisions made against future ramificationsTraditions & history; decisions made partly on basis of tradition & decorum.


Cynthia Stewart
Cynthia is passionate about serving others. Her life-long obsession has been to model Jesus as a servant leader. Jesus' model raises the bar, challenging her to give her highest and best in all situations, and gave rise to her pursuit of excellence. She is the chief evangelist for LeadQuality.
Cynthia Stewart

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