The woman who called was short on her rent. She had a job lined up, she explained, she'd never had to ask for money like this before.
I said I'd check what we could do and call her back, but I knew we couldn't bridge the entire amount she needed. She said she would continue calling around and try to piece together the rest.
I get a lot of calls like this--and people show up at the door in need of help. But there was something a little different about this conversation and its resonance with me...and I realized it was because the woman was middle-classed.
This was revealed by the way she spoke, her choice of words. It set me back for a moment; that I had recognized her class over the phone--and that--I'm laying all my cards on the table now--it made me more eager to help her.
I could be more circumspect about what triggered this response. I could say that it was because our small contribution could truly make an enormous difference in her life--as opposed to offering what often feels like such a temporary stop-gap--a drop into a bucket with a huge, obvious leaking hole. And that might have been part of what I was responding to.
But the take-home lesson for me was that those people who understand the social code in our country can more easily negotiate with the gatekeepers... gatekeepers like myself, or those at the phone company or the credit card company, or the gas or electric companies. If you can speak the language the right way, you are more likely to be granted a reprieve. But if you never learned the code, the gatekeepers can tell; we may not think consciously about this, but we can tell.
When I called her back to let her know we could contribute a small amount toward her effort, the woman burst into tears. "I think I'm going to be able to do this! Everyone I've called has been so nice to me!"
Yes. Like recognizes like.
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