By Gwen Brown, RC International Liberation Reference Person for Raised-Poor People.
The divisions and irrationality in our world are largely driven by class-based distress recordings, many of which have been passed down through a long history of greed, exploitation, and poverty. To move our lives forward and ensure that our children have a future, we need to help people from all class backgrounds free themselves from class-based distresses. In particular, releasing poor people’s power to create positive change is essential to creating the world we all want.
It is a goal in RC to make our theory and practice available to people who are not yet well represented in RC and to encourage, support, and follow their leadership. Poor people are most of the world’s people, and they face more crises and are more vulnerable in times of crisis than people with more resources. Re-evaluation Counseling, founded and developed by Harvey Jackins, who was raised poor, is well suited to poor people. But we have not yet managed to get it fully into their hands.
I have found the RC theory below to be particularly relevant to poor people’s liberation.
I took my first RC class many years ago, and the basic theory about crying matched my personal experience. Despite people’s attempts to stop me, as a child, from crying, I still cried when things became overwhelming. In graduate school, long before my first experience with RC, in moments of high stress (before a test, a talk, or writing a paper), I often allowed myself a few minutes to cry. It dependably helped me to think better and center myself so that I could successfully complete the task at hand [the task I was facing].
I knew that many people saw crying as weakness, so I never discussed my crying with anyone. And never in all my psychology, child development, and anthropology classes did anyone ever mention that crying might be an important “survival mechanism” or a natural built-in process we humans have engaged in since the beginning of our existence—a process that frees us of painful feelings that interfere with our ability to think and find solutions to our problems (such as how to find food and shelter and, in my case, get through graduate school).
After graduate school, I finally met a teacher, my first RC teacher, who said what I had thought: that “crying helps.” I also learned that crying works better with a caring listener. In my first Co-Counseling sessions, I was not only talking and crying about my life but someone was attentively listening—without interrupting me, giving me advice, or analyzing.
My teacher and my Co-Counselor also encouraged me to set goals, and they listened as I released the feelings of inferiority and the negative self-talk that were getting in my way of reaching the goals. They communicated their belief that I was more than smart and good enough to reach those big goals. It was an extraordinary experience for a raised-poor woman.
With that initial support, much began to be possible. First and foremost, I was able to save my troubled eight-year-old marriage. Thanks to the many sessions both my husband and I had, I have now been married to this good man for fifty-two years. After that big success, good things began to happen in my other relationships, in my work life, and ultimately in my leadership and parenting. Now, as an older woman looking back through the many ups and downs of my life, I am so thankful that I have had this profound and simple way to create a good life, one that most raised-poor people never get to have.
PEOPLE ARE INHERENTLY GOOD
Another basic RC concept that caught my interest was that all people are inherently good. I, like most children, had initially believed in our goodness as human beings. However, because I’d experienced and witnessed a lot of violence and disrespect, that idea had become a bit shaky. I was happy to have it confirmed that every human being is good and deserves complete respect.
That perspective is such an important one, whether we grew up wealthy or poor. It is the opposite of what our class-based distress recordings tell us. And it is essential for moving past human conflicts and divisions.
Imagine what could happen if we could keep the reality of human goodness firmly in our minds and act upon it. Maybe we could build a child-centered society based on equality and respect—one that helps all children hold on to a sense of their goodness and the goodness of others; one free of the classism, sexism, racism, and white supremacy, and all the other oppressions that interfere with self-respect and rational thinking. When I feel alone and like such a society is too much to hope for, I remind myself of John Lennon’s song in which he says, “Imagine all the people, living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.” Being able to change things starts with reclaiming our dreams and remembering our goodness.
VALIDATION AND SELF-APPRECIATION HELP
Our class-based societies are a long way from giving poor children and their struggling families the message that they are good and deserve complete respect. Communicating respect to poor children means meeting their material, educational, nutritional, safety, and health care needs.
Poor children are also constantly invalidated and treated as unworthy and inferior beings. They are given the message that their minds are inferior, that their bodies are not worth protecting, and that they are to blame for their difficulties. Validation and self-appreciation contradict the shame, terror, and feelings of inferiority that accumulate from such mistreatment. Appreciating myself, and taking in validations from others, has made my work as a raised-poor leader possible.
Validation and complete self-appreciation are important for people from every economic class. I always knew that poor people were treated as if they were “less than,” but after listening to lots of people from the “better than” economic classes, I also understood how thoroughly children from those classes are treated with disrespect, too. After a few years of listening to people in RC classes and workshops, I began to see that almost no child, from any class, gets treated with full respect, and that those higher on the economic scale are also burdened with shame, outrage, and terror (usually well hidden). Instead of being appreciated for who they are, they are often approved of only for their accomplishments, their beauty, their clothes, how they speak, or their material goods. Their training to be someone other than who they are, and to win at all costs, starts early.
Mr. Rogers, a children’s television host, noticed our society’s tendency to reward superficiality. He addressed it by singing, “It’s not the things you wear. It’s not the way you do your hair. But it’s you I like. The way you are right now. The way down deep inside you. Not the things that hide you.”
We all want to be appreciated for who we are. That song has been important to thousands of U.S. children from every class background. Thank you, Mr. Rogers!
PEOPLE ARE NOT TO BLAME FOR THEIR STRUGGLES
A concept I particularly like as a raised-poor woman is the following (by Harvey Jackins): “Every single human being, when the entire situation is taken into account, has always, at every moment of the past, done the very best that he or she could do, and so deserves neither blame nor reproach from anyone, including self. This, in particular, is true of you.”
The above perspective, so basic to RC, is crucial for thinking well about poor people. Blaming poor people for their struggles is at the heart of class oppression. We are all born good and are always good. However, through no fault of our own, we get hurt. Then we get hurt again when we try but fail to get the love and attention we need to discharge the hurts. We are left with many distress recordings, some of which include feelings of worthlessness, powerlessness, and aloneness.
Most people have trouble believing that our inherent nature as humans is good. They do not understand distress recordings and their power to confuse us, create negative self-talk, and change our behavior from good to outrageously bad. In reality, we have no evil side in our inherent nature. We need many people to understand that.
WE CAN CHOOSE WHERE WE PUT OUR ATTENTION
It’s been important for me to be reminded that at any point I can choose to act according to rational thought rather than on my negative self-talk and the “pulls” of my raised-poor distress recordings. It is key to all of our liberation, regardless of our class background, to give up our negative self-talk and blaming of ourselves and others. We can choose to act upon the reality that it never was any human being’s fault that they got hurt and were left saddled with distress recordings. No poor person is to blame for not “getting on top of their life,” and people from other classes are not to blame for their unthinking behaviors. It’s the society that is to blame, a society that distributes resources unfairly — including the resources of safety, caring attention, and respect.
Wilmington, Delaware, USA