Life is Different Here- Short Analysis of the book “Bridges Out of Poverty”

It is important for teachers, social workers, and mentors who work with poor individuals and communities to understand that poverty not easy to successfully resolve. Poverty is a multi- faceted problem where individuals who work full time can still remain in poverty and those who are born into ‘generational’ poverty are unable to break out of the beliefs, behaviors and survival skills that define their everyday lives.1 As a future teacher, it is vital that I understand the multiple causes of poverty, the unique problem solving skills that are acquired by those who live in it, the hidden rules among economic classes, and the patterns that hold individuals in their economic and social class for the duration of their lives. This topic is quite broad and and this book covers more information and details than can be covered in a short analysis; therefore, I will focus on two specific aspects that need to be acknowledged by potential helpers working with both individuals and communities to effect positive change to figuratively build a “bridge out of poverty”. These focus areas are: Patterns in Generational Poverty and Internal Resources and Resiliency.

Patterns in Generational Poverty

Individuals in generational poverty learn from an early age many thoughts and behaviors that can significantly affect their ability to overcome the poverty of their childhood. An aspect of this particular form of poverty is the specific structure, belief systems, and hidden rules that are created to keep families and communities together. Even seemingly helpful strategies such as developing a community support system and ways to cope can in the long run hold back economic progress as special debts come due.

Since living in and dealing with poverty is the only lifestyle that individuals know, specific coping behaviors develop. Some aspects of dealing with poverty are limited respite time, power and matriarchal structures, and creating support systems for day to day survival. Since money is lacking, the forms of respite that are most frequently used are group activities and discussions, background noise (constant television in background, many people talking at once, humor, etc.), and other inexpensive interpersonal activities. Support systems are created by developing relationships with others in the community that are co-dependent; individuals help each other with volunteer work or financial resources when they are available and the same is expected in kind when others have the resources and abilities available. The individuals with power in family relationships tend to be the mother of the family; it is she who is the constant and focal point of all relationships so her words and actions have a stronger impact on the group than other individual members even when the members are grown ups. All speech is held in the casual register which includes survival language, extreme freedom of speech, and the propensity to talk back to authority, marking people in poverty and making it difficult for them to find and keep steady employment.

Belief systems are unconsciously recognized or intentionally developed by all individuals; however, there are several rather unique belief systems that tend to exist solely in those who struggle with poverty. The beliefs that fate rules their lives, that society owes them a living, that conflict must be resolved either physically or by removing themselves from it such as quitting jobs, cause specific behaviors: difficulty in organization, excuses for problem behaviors, difficulty in accomplish tasks and monitoring their own behavior.2 Due to these challenges and more, individuals may be unable to exit their economic class; in essence, this reinforces the beliefs in fate and dislike of authority.

Internal Resources and Resiliency

All human beings have some form of internal resources that help them to navigate the world around them. Some examples of internal resources are intelligence, traditional and cultural spirituality, emotional resiliency, as well as other internal protective factors. Internal assets can include the ability to form positive relationships, self worth, flexibility and more. Depending on the individual, these resources may all be in abundance or may be limited due to many factors beyond their control such as mental illness, abuse, and environmental damage or challenges that can not be escaped.3 One ability that tends to be developed is the ability to solve problems minute by minute, day-by -day, with limited resources which is a valuable survival skill.4 If possible, it is important for both the individual and their mentors/ helpers to recognize the internal strengths that each person possesses and how to use those skills to the best advantage. However, it is important to recognize that people dealing with long term poverty may develop limitations to their internal resources due to the trauma that is inherent to the environment and stressors that enfold the individual.

For people in poverty, life is a daily struggle that is often invisible to those who do not know them well. Therefore, it is necessary to recognize poverty in individuals and communities based on the visual and behavior cues given by those with in. Individuals need role models or mentors that can help them overcome the hidden rules of the class system as well as develop a trusting relationship between so that difficult subjects can be discussed and challenged. It is important for who work to lift people out of poverty to understand the behaviors and general challenges of poor people. Particular help is needed with goal development, coping strategies, developing new support systems, work stability, and mental health and other medical problems. The necessary personal skills for helping people in poverty-empathy, ability to develop healthy relationships and boundaries, understanding of the challenges faced and how to gather appropriate data so that treatment plans are relevant and successful- need to be developed and strengthened in all individuals who work with challenged populations so that those who help can maintain their own internal and emotional resources.

There are more steps discussed in this book to help struggling communities and people than I was able to discuss here. I highly recommend this book for all individuals who wish to work with people to improve their economic situations. I also recommend this book for people who struggle with poverty to help them understand that there are ways that their lives can change; that they are not merely the victim of fate. An important book for all to gain insight into ourselves and our communities.

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