Ruby-Payne-CircleAs part of our “Ask Ruby” series, a questioner recently posed, “Why does it seem that the hidden rules of economic class promote social class warfare against the wealthy?…” Here is Dr. Payne’s response:

Part of the reason that this happens is that the realities of survival are very different than the realities of being overly resourced. Literally, you live in different worlds with different understandings of how the world works. So, communication becomes more difficult.

Barry Osprey (anthropologist and author of Seeing Systems) did a fascinating study. He took college degreed individuals for a week in the summer and put them in an”experiment.” Using a college campus, when they arrived, he handed them a paper that said “low,” “medium,” or “high,” and he gave them tasks to do.  If the individual got a low paper, they were in a dorm room with four people, shared a bathroom with 8 people, and ate hot dogs and burgers. If they got a middle paper, they shared a dorm room with one other person, had a bathroom for 2 people, and got salads, entrees, etc. If they had a high paper, they got a suite or rooms per individuals, with a bathroom for each individual, and had champagne, lobster, etc.

He did this for 27 years. The results were the same every time except for once. Within two days, the people on the low list developed a “we versus them” mentality and ostracized anyone in the group who attempted to be willing to see a larger frame of thinking. The people in the middle were so overwhelmed with all of their tasks that they had little time to socialize. The people at the top were overwhelmed by the complexity of the system and divided the tasks into “turf.”

Furthermore, the people at the top believed that the people in the middle gave them poor information. The one time it was different was when the people in the middle got together, identified a common agenda, and brought the low and high into understanding and a common goal.

Right now because we are so segregated economically (e.g. the way housing subdivisions are done), it is even more difficult to bring the two groups together to talk. Additionally, the media’s ratings are based on controversy, so there is little interest there in having a dialogue.

Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D. is the founder of aha! Process and an author, speaker, publisher, and career educator. Recognized internationally for A Framework for Understanding Poverty, her foundational book and workshop, Dr. Ruby Payne has helped students and adults of all economic backgrounds achieve academic, professional, and personal success.