monochromatic culture

Hidden rules – a meditation

The idea of “hidden rules” comes from Dr. Ruby K. Payne’s book A Framework for Understanding Poverty first published in 1996. It advertises itself as “a must read for educators, employers, policymakers, and service providers” and I’m going to add, for anyone who does anything.

Knowledge of hidden rules is defined by Dr. Payne as “knowing the unspoken cues and habits of a group.” This she specifically applies to the three classes—poverty, middle class and wealth—with adroit attention to the different ways classes use and value things such as time, personality, education, etc.

While the book focuses on understanding poverty and discusses strategies for improving people’s lives, the concept of hidden rules can be applied for anyone trying to function within a group where they don’t yet have a working command of the unspoken habits and cues.

It’s a simple yet enlightening concept. What I like about this book is how straightforward Dr. Payne presents the strategies for functioning in a different group.

For example, one might say to a group of fourth-graders, “Do we use the same rules when we play basketball as when we play volleyball? No—the rules are different. Just as we must use different rules in different games, we must use different rules in different situations in life.”

The part in which he considers hidden rules and his identity

This concept revealed a lot for me as an America Peace Corps Volunteer living abroad, half-submerged in a different culture. Sure there’s always been the tossed around phrase “when in Rome,” but I couldn’t quite unravel it all from my sense of identity. That, as I fall in step with the habits and cues of a group, I begin to edge towards an identity crisis, wondering how much of who I feel I am is changing into something else.

This Dr. Payne acknowledges as a “painful process” but one that can be smoothed by being “aware of the choice.” I wonder, though, is it possible to eventually work ones way up to being able to swoop in and out of several different groups while maintaining a static understanding of one’s identity? I personally am having a hard time with that.

I think it was being raised in such a monochromatic middle-class culture that made it difficult for me to see that transitioning between groups was less a matter of simply being born into it and more about being able to apply an understanding of the cues, habits and hidden rules. I can play the part of the blonde, blue-eyed, sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup, sitting on a folding chair in a church basement, Norwegian heritage sweater wearing, uff-da muttering, reaching-out-and-putting-an-awkward-hand-on-your-shoulder in an act of consolation, self-esteem shunning, seasoning hotdish with the three God-given spices of salt-pepper-and-ketchup, pretty gosh darn well. I’m pretty miserable at fitting in almost anywhere else.

But now I have the language to be able to deal with things a little better. I have the permission of someone saying, “Go ahead—learn the new rules and then decide to what extent you want to change, shape or mold your identity.”

The part in which he becomes less lucid

In Rudyard Kipling’s book, Kim, the young protagonist Kimball O’Hara becomes a master of ‘The Great Game’ in Central Asia and India in the second half of the 19th century. He grows up as an orphan on the streets of Lahore and it’s there he learns the ways of unnumbered classes of people scurrying about their lives.

It’s such a fascinating book full of intrigue and adventure. I wish I had the mind of young Kim to traverse multiple cultures and identities with such ease and mischief.

Even though I’m more than twice his age, in a lot of ways I’m just learning his lessons.

To open my eyes to the world around me.

To seek without jadedness.

To desire knowledge and merit beyond what I know today.

To humbly accept my reality yet have the humility to learn from it and be better.

To watch people without staring.

To remember without memorizing.

To engage without shutting down.

And to fight when necessary.

I think that in trying to smooth my rough edges I dulled the point that had any chance of poking into new worlds and new thoughts and new ideas and new stories. I never want to reduce my walk to that of the mailman, down known and tired paths, working the same little messages into smart little boxes. I want to be the trash-digger, the treasure hunter, the guy who sifts past an old banana peel to save a magazine or a piece of furniture.

I’m ready to get back at it, and though I’m well past what university would call my “prime” and the military would deem “acceptable for use” and though this mind is dusty and these wheels need a little grease, and though I’ve sacrificed much on the hills of newsfeeds and consumerism, I’m making the turn. I’m repenting. I’m facing a new direction.

Well, the proof’s in the walk and not the talk, as they say, and so I’m two weeks into a six week course on journalism at Yes, the rest of the course is in week five, but I’ve been catching up and will meet up with the class for the final. It’s so good to be learning something again rather than just consuming.

And that’s a topic for a future post—the idea of a “CREATE MOVEMENT” or a call for us to produce more and consume less. This idea started to formulate during my first months on my blog hosted by tumblr. I realize that tumblr was developed and is created around the repost, but what I find fascinating and discouraging is the number of blogs that consist entirely of reposts. (And I suppose this is the point of pinterest as well. Does anyone actually add pins or are they all repins? And then where do the originals come from??)

It’s no more than a statement of one’s hobbies and interests. It’s not a blog. Blogs are supposed to be creations, not regurgitations. Tell me I’m wrong?

The part in which he wraps up his still forming thoughts

This blog has been an experiment over the past 3-4 months since I moved platforms. I’ve been experimenting with different kinds of posts and on many occasions have slipped away from my originally intended structure for the blog. I think I’d like to get back at it again and get back at it in the way the steam of indignation over injustice boils in an engine, hauling thousands of tons of weight screaming through the countryside.

I hope I’m not alone.