No, I didn’t grow up in a ghetto, in fact much of my young growing up years were spent living in very small farming towns ranging in population of 32 people (Winifred, Kansas) to around 900 people (Walnut, Iowa).
But for a few years, when I was attending Faith Baptist Bible College studying to be a pastor, I worked 6 nights a week at a convenience store chain in an area of town that even the local police referred to as ‘the Combat Zone.’ And when I say nights, I mean graveyard shift, from roughly 10:30pm to 6:00am every night from Monday through Saturday. I had Sundays off, but since I was the song leader and choir director, Sunday was exhausting to me. Anyway. . .
The convenience store I worked at was in a completely run down black ghetto neighborhood. It was normal at the time for someone to drive up to a gas pump, and say something like, ‘I want 50 cents worth of gas.’ The first time someone did that, I didn’t believe they were serious and almost laughed at them over the speaker. Very glad that I didn’t. This was a completely different culture with an entirely different view of how the world works. Several of my customers really were prostitutes, one was a known pimp to the police, others were dishonest thieves. My biggest job was to learn who I could trust, and who I couldn’t, and run the store accordingly.
I learned that it didn’t matter so much if I made a mistake, it didn’t matter so much if I was rude, but of primary importance there was this. . .don’t be weak, don’t back down. Say what you mean, and stick with it no matter what. As you might imagine, people argued with me, got heated, and pushed to see if I would break. I didn’t.
What I did learn from this store was a couple of really important life lessons though.
- When having a confrontation, or even a discussion that you want to prevail in, don’t jump instantly to the bottom line, there’s nowhere else to go. I learned to arrive at my destination incrementally, in small steps. That was a hugely helpful lesson when I taught high school kids years later!
- I observed that these folks were in a mental jail that kept them in self-defeating thinking patterns. In fact, I started seeing my own thinking patterns changing in a very short time working at that store. Those attitudes of assuming anyone you see is a potential enemy who will lie, steal, or possibly even physically attack you changes you quickly.
In my case, this was extremely obvious because I was leaving this environment and driving directly to Faith Baptist Bible College environment. So, in the store, while I might look someone in the face, telling them to ‘get the hell out of my store’ for their behavior, that would not have been acceptable speech etiquette at a bible college. 🙂
I’ve thought about this experience a lot. And I think the idea of a ‘mental jail’ can apply generally to a lot of things, but specifically, I think that just as most of those poor folks who were raised, and lived in that black ghetto neighborhood adopted a certain mindset to survive, I was raised with a certain fundamentalist mindset and trapped inside of that; my personal ‘mental jail’ that I lived in.
The folks living in the ghetto developed behaviors, ways of approaching people that worked well strictly within that subset of people. But, if they were ever to try to successfully interact with people outside of their culture, then their ‘ghetto rules’ would not apply, would place them at a serious disadvantage, most likely to the point of not being able to find or hold a good job.
I think that I have lived in a fundamentalist ghetto, been blueprinted with a specific worldview that works inside the fundamentalist culture quite well, but this has put me at a serious disadvantage in the mainstream real world. I was taught, for example, that women are to be submissive to men; that women should not rule over men, and the ideal is that men work, women stay home. With this ingrained mindset, I struggled at times when I had female supervisors. I had difficulties in my relationships with female coworkers that I supervised whom I thought should instantly ‘obey’ my directives to them without question! Generally, I had the view that women should keep their place, the only opinions that really mattered were those emanating from the male gender. After all, it was Eve who was deceived first, not Adam. Hence, women are easier to fool, less stable than men. (Don’t yell at me, I don’t currently think this, it’s just the lies I was taught.)
But, what if we go with a completely different comparison?
Living in the small town of Walnut, Iowa in the early 70’s, high school girls basketball was really huge for that town! We had a good girls basketball team, and they were exciting to watch! Six girls on the floor, three offense, three on defense. Each group of three girls stayed on their half of the court, and passed or handed the ball over the center line. What? You’ve never heard of girls basketball played like this? Well having never seen any other form of this game, I was somewhat surprised when I attended college girls basketball games to realize they were played just like the boys – full court!
Fundamentalism is kinda’ like that as well. You are given a pair of glasses that filter your worldview, you don’t know anything else, until an event, or a person knocks those glasses off, and you stand wide-eyed, blinking, and looking around in shock (or wonder).
What if you were taught how to play soccer and you played it so well that you were the star athlete at your school? You knew those rules inside and out! Then you changed schools, where you joined their football team? Well, if you played football with the same rules as soccer, you’d be laughed off the field, or kicked off in utter disgrace. Fundamentalism does that to you also. I venture to say that I was (in my own mind) a ‘star’ in the church that I attended in high school. I was president of the youth group, helped out as the activities director during the summer Vacation Bible School program, a felt like a lot of the church members thought I was really a good kid, and I felt that! I had it together, and was really cool in my fake silk shirts and my fake leather jacket that I wore!
And then reality kicked in.
At college, I realized that I had to ask someone to show me how to run a washing machine. (I’d never washed or dried any of my clothes. Ever. My Mom did all that, sometimes laid our clothes out for us to wear for that day even.) The college grant money that I’d been depending upon to pay most of my college bill was not accepted by the private college, so I had to suddenly start working a minimum of 35 hours weekly while attending classes. I missed out on almost every fun activity the college ran, I couldn’t see football games, basketball games, go to socials, because I had to work to pay my expenses. I worked, I studied, I went to church and extension ministries on Sunday, and played ping-pong in the guys dorm Sunday nights. And my grades dropped badly. I think they had dropped quite a bit anyway, but I went from being an A and B student to a C and D student. Imagine that! I wasn’t ‘all that’ in the big world, I was just Kelly trying to make my life work. God didn’t wave a magic wand just for me and make things easy! : And no reason to expect that anyway, as that would be rather narcissistic.
I think being raised inside the bubble of fundamentalism creates a certain sense of narcissism, and insensitivity to my fellow humans. It creates a synthetic ordered world of black and white whereby I learned to judge people not with love and mercy, but according to how well I thought they were adhering to ‘my rules’ that I assumed were universal to society.
Ha! How naive of me!
It’s very difficult to play the game of Monopoly if all you were taught were the rules to Checkers.