An Unfair Playing Field


“You can be whoever you want to be.”

If you heard these words from your parents in your childhood, it’s probable you were born into an upper middle class family.

“Don’t try and be better than your own.”

If you heard these words from your parent in your childhood, it’s probable you were born into a lower class family; possibly even one in poverty.

Parents in both were doing what they believed was correct; preparing their child for life ahead. How they did this was either by laying the world before their child and encouraging them to dream and then follow that dream, or to keep their head out of the clouds and prepare for a predictable life of work ahead.

The reality for many of the poor is a different value system than those in both the middle and upper classes. While there will always be the odd exception; that child who aspires for more and finds an inner determination to climb the social classes, the majority face what often turns out to be insurmountable struggles. Education for example, highly valued by those who can afford it, is often a precursor to success. For children growing up in poverty, they may have families who frown on education as unnecessary; many of the parents themselves poorly educated and as a result, not in a position to assist with or encourage home study time.

It’s a sorrowful reality of course. Well, to be fair, it’s sad for many in the middle class who work with and support those in poverty. As an example, we might take our own values and beliefs – writing a cover letter and error-free resume as a given. We’d take steps to ensure our applications were proofread, our sentences grammatically correct and the content precise. Many living in poverty would be more inclined to try and get a job by meeting someone and asking for it directly; no resume, certainly not a cover letter. Where a resume is required, it would be of an inferior quality; spelling errors, blunt and repetitive, a single word or two for a bullet, scant in content and length.

This is no knock against the poor, more an observation of reality. It’s a tough life when you think about growing up to be an adult in a world of digital technology and social media when you haven’t got a high school education, you lack basic computer skills, your literacy level is low and more doors are closed than open.  How sad it is that young children start off in life with such roadblocks to success already set in place.

When working to support the impoverished, it’s vitally important to be aware of our own value system and check frequently to ensure we don’t transfer our hopes and expectations onto others. While we might believe we can be whomever we choose; that hard work and persistence will pay off with success, it’s not the case for all. Think about how daunting it must feel for someone living with literacy issues, a skewed view of higher education and to read over and over again that a high school diploma (not to mention a College Diploma or University Degree) is required for many of the jobs they find. Completing high school and graduating with a diploma is like someone in the middle class graduating with a degree or getting their Masters.

One of the best ways to fire the brain at an early age and open a child to language is reading to them as their parent. It’s great bonding time for parent and child as a bonus, and it sends the message that reading has value. Regular, daily reading time stimulates the imagination, each word sounded out and pronounced correctly creates confidence and builds self-esteem. However, a parent who finds reading difficult themselves isn’t likely to showcase their personal weakness to their child, and may either tell them to read to themselves or actually discourage reading altogether as something of little value. “I never needed it and you don’t neither.”

Each day I work with those in receipt of social assistance, I find many have literacy issues. This manifests itself in the words they use in conversation, their inability to spell common words, sometimes their comprehension and as a result their ability to learn and put into practice what they hear.

Here’s the thing though…these same people are some of the most generous, giving people. They are truly inspiring and while their hope is fragile, many show a determination to be better than they are and for their children to have better lives than they have. Hire some of these people and you get paid back with great employees. Not always of course; sometimes their going to make poor choices – but again, likely because they lack good decision-making skills and haven’t had encouragement and supportive coaching.

They have incredible barriers to success to push through however. Having had poor parenting themselves, often having grown up in single-parent families, they don’t have the knowledge or skills to build on many of us take for granted.

Looking for work is difficult because they aren’t on a level playing field. Many of the advantages we have in middle/upper classes we take for granted; not even recognizing or appreciating them.

Want to help? Be kind, understanding, empathetic, maybe forgiving and always courteous. Give someone a chance, perhaps a second chance.