Don’t get above your raisin’

“It was so exciting,” I said. “I even had to wear makeup!” I had been regaling my mother with my experience as participant in a local telethon.

“In country music the greatest sins are pretense and snobbery, getting above your raisin’” — Danny Duncan Collum, American author, editor and teacher

“It was so exciting,” I said. “I even had to wear makeup!”

I had been regaling my mother with my experience as participant in a local telethon.

It was 1978 and the radio station where I worked had volunteered me as one of the local personalities. While the back row’s staffers took calls and wrote donations on sheets, we (of the local media) got to read names and numbers on camera and be interviewed by celebrities.

“I got interviewed by Lloyd Robertson!” I told Mother.

“I know,” she said. “What is he like in person?”

“Nice,” I replied. “But shorter than I imagined.”

All the while, Father sat in his recliner sipping on a coffee.

“And I met that Celtic singer you like, John Allan Cameron.”

“Oh my,” Mother replied. “I do enjoy his singing.”

“It’s all well and good,” said my father. We both looked his way.

“To meet these people, do these things but don’t get above your raisin’.”

I knew the expression well. Father employed it when he felt someone was putting on airs or acting superior.

For the longest time I thought the expression was my father’s creation but it is far more common than I ever imagined.

In his book, Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ — country music and the Southern working class, American author Bill C. Malone points out that the expression reflects a sense of “fatalism” among white people in the southern U.S.: “a belief that life cannot be changed and that one should guard against the disappointment that might come from unrealistic expectations.”

Getting above your raisin’ is tied to the notion that to change your social class is to forsake family, history and deny where you come from or worst yet, to be ashamed of your roots.

In order to build our self-esteem getting above our raising is often precisely what we need to do.

In this context, I’m speaking of negative early programming: the ingrained and often damaging messages many of us received during our formative years.

For many people, early programming is a mixed bag of self-limiting beliefs, prejudices, misinterpretations and outright lies.

You’ll never amount to anything. You’re worthless.

You’re not smart enough. No matter how hard you try, it’s never good enough. Money is hard to come by and hard to keep.

No one will ever love you. These thoughts and countless others are often impressed upon defenceless yet highly receptive minds from an early age by otherwise loving and influential people, namely parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, organization leaders, members of the clergy and so on.

These negative ideas and our belief in their validity severely hamper our ability to live a vibrant, healthy and productive life — sabotaging our best efforts and best intentions.

How can we begin to recognize and break down this defective programming?

For me, one of the most powerful techniques to challenge and release negative programming is The Work by Byron Katie.

The Work consists of four questions and a turnaround.

Though I won’t go into detail here, I will share a small aspect of The Work with you. Take a belief that you suspect is false.

Express said belief in the form of a factual statement then ask yourself the following four questions. It is true? Can you absolutely know it’s true? Does this belief bring you peace or stress? Who would you be without this belief? (To learn more, pick up Katie’s book, Loving What Is.)

Listen to your self-talk — that inner voice that chatters away at you.

This inner critic is simply feeding back your early programming. Use your natural curiosity to examine your beliefs.

Take some time to really hear what the voice is saying. Are you really shy or non-athletic or not good at math?

Seriously consider how ideas you have accepted as true have impacted your life.

Sometimes our early programming provides us with a sense of identity.

Perhaps that explains why we hold onto these false beliefs. I think we all know at some intuitive level that we are capable of great things.

Give your intuition free rein and see where it takes you.

Feeling courageous? Here’s a little experiment you might find enlightening. Sit down and have a chat with the people who programmed you and ask them about their beliefs in the areas of life where you feel especially burdened. You may be surprised by the answers and you might just come to realize that much of the burden you carry doesn’t even belong to you.

“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace,” wrote Ajahn Chah, influential teacher of the Buddhadhamma. “If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.”

I think the words of Ajahn Chah express well the challenge and reward of releasing negative early programming.

To balance the ledger, keep in mind that not all early programming is faulty. Much of our “raising” is positive and appropriate.

Many people are living vibrant, healthy and productive lives because of the positive messages they received early in life. The key is to acknowledge the positive and bring awareness to the negative so you will know when to embrace and when to get above your raisin’.

Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at

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