Tis’ the season for charity

Give time and hope to someone living in poverty instead of monetary donations.

Instead of giving a monetary donation this holiday season, why not volunteer your time to help someone out of poverty? Keep in mind that people living in poverty generally have a communication style different than people living in middle or upper socioeconomic classes. The difference is that people living in poverty tend to be more “oral” communicators rather than “print” communicators. Walter J. Ong, the author of Orality and Literacy: The Technolozing of the Word (1982) was the first to connect “oral-culture” learning and communication styles with poverty experiences.

Dr. Donna M. Beegle, in her book See Poverty… Be the Difference! states that oral-communicators have various strengths and characteristics. They tend to be more relationship based, spontaneous, holistic, emotional, physical, repetitious and present oriented. Dr. Beegle goes on to say that we therefore need to learn how to incorporate oral communication skills into our interactions with people in poverty by doing the following:

  • Focus on building relationships: People living in poverty need a trusting relationship with a professional who can bring information to life through storytelling.
  • Improve communication through storytelling: Personalize the information as much as possible.
  • Allow time for flexibility and spontaneity: Oral culture takes in a lot of information at once in random order.
  • Use repetition: Oral culture communication requires repetition in order to remember.
  • Understand the immediacy of poverty and help people: Oral culture and the crisis of poverty don’t always allow for the focus on the future or strategic planning.
  • Break things into manageable steps: People living in the crisis of poverty generally feel overwhelmed with just getting basic needs met.
  • Allow for connecting and relating to emotions: Remember oral culture uses mostly non-verbal communication. In order to gain understanding, pay attention to emotional contexts in order to get the meaning, knowledge and information.

Understanding the difference between print and oral communication/culture is a vital learning objective in the quest for breaking down barriers and myths about poverty. In order to help, we need to first understand and accept where people are. Michigan State University Extension offers several social-emotional health related programming. Find events in your community on the MSU Extension website. Remember this holiday season, the best gift to give, is hope. Help people living in poverty see possibilities for success, believe in their worth and recognize that they have something to offer.