Seeking To Understand

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”—Jesus, Matthew 7:2

“If we don’t seek to understand, we will either react or judge,” said a trainer at a recent conference about understanding the hidden rules of socioeconomic class. But I see much broader application. God has brought this phrase to my mind in the context of marriage, parenting, friendship, acquaintances.

At the Bridges Out of Poverty training, there were people from all three main SECs, all seeking God’s shalom for OKC. We talked about what people in each class often spend their time and money on in a given day. The trainer emphasized how each group—poor, middle-class, and wealthy—had strengths and weaknesses and all needed a seat at the table to affect positive systemic solutions.

As a group, we drew a big circle on a sheet of paper and put inside it what someone in that SEC would be likely to spend time and money on. In the center, we put a letter to represent what was typically the most important thing to someone in that group. It was eye-opening.

The circle for the person in generational poverty included: waiting on hold, navigating social services, transportation, looking for a job, clothes and shoes to look nice, moving, laundromats, fast food, tv, helping friends, going to the ER or community clinic, track phones, looking for free wifi. Their neighborhood businesses: corner convenience stores for groceries, liquor stores, laundromats, pawn shops, payday lenders, lots of social services. Small houses with lots of people in them or apartments. The highest priority in this SEC is Relationships. Because the environment is unsafe and unpredictable, they need someone to have their back. They look out for each other in sacrificial ways.

The circle for the person in the middle-class included: planning vacations, home improvement projects, garden and yard work, pets, books, kids’ activities, cars, saving for college, classes, iPads, Macs, jogging, going to the dentist, Netflix, commuting to work, single-family homes. Neighborhood businesses included: Starbucks, Lowe’s, coffee shops, fitness clubs, Whole Foods, bike shops, Sylvan Learning Centers, dry cleaners, craft beer and wine stores, yoga studios. The highest priority at the center of this SEC is Achievement. They will help someone as long as it doesn’t get in the way too much of their goals.

The circle for the person in the wealthy class included: art, traveling, collections, unique experiences, philanthropy, charity events, managing wealth, managing household and yard help, board meetings. Businesses included: country clubs, golf courses, valet parking, nice restaurants, boutique shops, spas. The priority at the center for this SEC is Legacy. They want there to be something in their or their family’s name that will outlive them.

Maybe the other person isn’t crazy. Maybe we just don’t understand and appreciate what is important to him or her. We don’t have to agree with their choices, but I think Jesus would want us to seek to understand, really understand.

Doug Serven