Class: –noun: excellence; exceptional merit; Informal: elegance, grace, or dignity, as in dress and behavior: –adjective: Informal: of high quality, integrity, status, or style. (From Dictionary.com)
When I was a kid, I learned it was all about having class. I learned this from my mom, my paternal grandmother, and from stories about my maternal grandmother (who died before I was born). The interesting thing is that it was never said in so many words. It was taught by example, and reinforced by looks and sighs. What I learned is that having class is an attitude. You don’t have to be rich to have class, or carry a Gucci bag, or drive a Porsche or Mercedes. I have met people with money who had no class whatsoever. I have seen famous people with no class. I have seen people thought of as “cool” who had no class, and some who did. Contrary to the definition above, you do not have to have high status or high style to have class.
What actions indicate class? Honesty, kindness, compassion, doing your best, being polite, striving to be non-prejudical, trying to make the world a better place, behaving with dignity, having a realistic understanding of your abilities. Sometimes class can be defined by what a person doesn’t do: wearing clothes inappropriate for the occasion (such as clothes too tight or with cleavage to the office), doing things to call undo attention to yourself, cussing, being too self-involved (narcissism). A person with class usually has a tidy house, even if it is a large cardboard box (with no trash in or around it).
While in college, we discussed middle-class attitudes in our women’s studies classes. “Middle-class” is a socio-economic classification for those who are neither rich nor poor, a group that has been shrinking over the past few decades in the United States because the rich want to get even richer. I grew up middle-class, so until these discussions I really didn’t understand how that affected my view of the world. I remember an essay by a woman who had grown up poor, gone to college on scholarships and student loans, and was now teaching at university. She wrote about how her loan payments and other expenses meant she didn’t have much money, but she was now expected to operate according to middle-class values (which meant you didn’t take paper and pens home, and often had to pay for your own supplies without reimbursement). Her version of telling it like it is included cussing. And I wondered . . . is the idea of “class” I was taught really just middle-class values? Something the poor don’t need to aspire to, and the rich are beyond?
I thought about that, and let it simmer in the back of my head, and read about people, and talked with people. And I don’t think having class is about money. It is an attitude that transcends money. It also transcends culture, though class may look a bit different in other cultures. It is an attitude of worth (self-worth, the worth of other people, the worth of Nature). It is an attitude of respect. And I still think it is all about having class.