Living in a Right-Handed World

In October, four of us CCC staff members attended the” No Need Among You” conference in Austin. I went in rather pridefully, thinking that after completing a missions degree and 5 years of “missional” living, I had already learned most of the skills I needed to serve my neighbors. And God laughed. In just three days, I encountered so many new thoughts that my head is still processing them. One of the sessions I attended was an abbreviated version of Ruby Payne’s Bridges Out of Poverty workshop. I had no idea how many prejudices I still carry against the poor. Primarily I realized that I still assume that poor people stay poor because of bad decisions. When I think of the poor I know personally, I would never say that their situation is completely their fault. So why would I assume it to be true of the poor in general? That’s hardly fair. Maybe political and economic structures play a role. What about a lack of a support network? And how many times have they been directly preyed upon or exploited? At this point, the workshop speaker connected all these factors with a single metaphor, and I had an “Aha” moment that will forever change the way I interact with others: Being poor, he said, is just like being left-handed.

Think about it. Left-handed people must learn to cope with living in a right-handed world. You can’t just switch to being right-handed. Even if you tried, you would get along slowly and awkwardly. There is nothing inherently wrong with being left-handed. But you know life will be harder for you because the world was designed by the right-handed. Just to write in a spiral notebook, a “southpaw” has to fight the metal coil under the wrist and be marked with an ink smudge from rubbing their hand through their own words. My left-handed sister tells me that she has to take the pendants off all her necklaces and flip them around because she can’t fasten them with her right hand. I am right-handed. Since this is not a problem for me, I never realized it was a problem for anyone. Poverty, then, is not about being without money. It’s about trying to live with different skills, different priorities, and different types of relationships in a world that was not designed by you or for you.

This is not to say that the poor are just poor, so give up all hope for the impoverished. If there were no hope, the workshop wouldn’t be called “Bridges Out of Poverty.” The point of this paradigm is a deeper understanding of the culture of poverty. When we understand the “left-handedness” of the poor, we can learn to give people the benefit of the doubt. Next time you and I have an interaction with a person in poverty, let’s fight the urge to think “If they would just make the RIGHT choices, they wouldn’t be in this mess.” We must remember that the rules of our world were designed by and for the middle-class and therefore do not come naturally to everyone.