Friday, 25 November 2011

Looking down, so down

The other day I was putting together a dataset looking at how the wealth of the super rich, to investigate just how accurate the phrase "the rich are getting richer" really is. Incidentally my conclusion is that for the top 50 richest people in the world their wealth only increases by roughly 15% year on year.

However, this lead to a discussion about how I focus too much on the wrong things when I should be focussing on the poor and the needy, over-population and the scarcity of land. Again, this lead on to a discussion about whether I look down on poor people. After a bit of introspection, I don't think I do. I don't consider someone's wealth if I look down on them, I think I'd probably consider whether they are uncouth and uncivilised, the intolerant and the bigotted. I could be wrong, but I consider these traits as better reasons to look down on someone than the state of their balance sheet.

That said, I don't think I look down on people much at all.

There was a story on the BBC news website about how dirty looks are putting off mothers in deprived areas from playgroups

The study was based on the experiences of 30 parents - 29 mothers and one father - in a deprived area of Bristol, who between them had experience of 97 different groups for families with young children.

The research found that one in four had been once to a group - and had been so uncomfortable that they had never gone again.

The most typical reason had been because of a sense of social unease - either because other parents were "too stuck up" or "too rough".

There were fears of being excluded by established "cliques", or facing unpleasant comments.

One in five were "phobic" about encounters with groups of other parents. These parents tended to be the poorest, with the least qualifications and the lowest self-esteem.

A single "dirty look" could be enough to deter them from any return to use childcare services.

Dr Jones says that one mother did not even make it past the front door, but had turned round and gone home when she was put off by the perceived attitude of another parent.


Those making the most use of such mother and toddler groups tended to be those who already had the social skills, confidence and support networks.

After I read this, I empathised. I remembered the times I've had low self-esteem and low confidence, the first time I went to cub scouts when I was eight, the first time I went into the girl's common room in the 6th form, the first time I went to National Pop League club night in Glasgow. I don't have those fears of dirty looks now because after years of being in the cubs, or louching round the common room, and becoming a fixture in the Glasgow indie scene, I noticed the sheer lack of dirty looks from the regulars when new people came in. The only dirty-lookage would between people who'd had unwise but very intimate experiences with each other, not complete strangers.

I believe its probably the same deal at everywhere, newbies think that they're getting dirty looks, but they are mistaken, the regulars are not giving dirty looks at all, no opinion has been formed. In things like playgroups, cub scouts, 6th form common rooms and premier Glasgow indie clubnights, it takes time for the regulars to form an opinion of newbies.

Its all in the eye of the beholder, the newbies need to just oull themselves together, get over it and remember the way it is for next time. And there hangs my privileged upbringing, for these mothers from deprived areas probably never went to cub scouts, the girls 6th form common room at Bolton School or any of the many indie club nights in Glasgow which made me the ultra-confident sex tyranosaurus I am today.

But if the newbies are going to interpret whatever looks they recieve as dirty, that what are the regulars to do?

Luckily the BBC article had the some sugestions

Sure Start centres were seen to attract a wider range of social groups than voluntary organisations, says Dr Jones. This could be because they had paid staff and were less likely to be dominated by one group of parents.

They also sometimes had a designated "welcomer" to give new arrivals more confidence.
Another way of preventing cliques, she says, has been to run playgroup sessions in limited blocks of time, six or eight weeks, so that parents would not develop into networks that would be off-putting to newcomers.

"My study has found that going to a group can be a daunting experience, especially if a mother doesn't know anyone there," says Dr Jones.

"The mother and group need to 'fit' together. Mothers need to feel that others in the group are her social equals, with similar values and attitudes to child-rearing.

"Mothers need to feel their age, social class, and their or their child's ethnic identity will not isolate them in a group."

Those last two paragraphs are worrying and somewhat contradictory, unless they are suggesting that some people should not join specific groups if they don't fit. I'm more into amorphously tolerating and embracing people with different values, atitudes, ages and social classes, rather than rejecting people who don't fit.

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