Thursday, March 22, 2012

Class is not about wealth

I have been thinking recently about who are the "classiest" people I have known in my life. I have been fortunate to have traveled extensively and experienced a wide wide range of people from all walks of life. I have known poor people with tons of class...and some very rich people with none at all.

Lets define "class" for a minute. The "informal adjective" definition is "of high quality, integrity, status, or style". Obviously you don`t have to have lots of money to have integrity, status, or even style. Sure, money can help one have the "appearance" of success and "style"...but to me pure class comes from WITHIN. It is about character and values more than appearances or heredity.

I am constantly challenged to live up to some of those values that came from my family and roots. I did not come from wealth...but my Scandinavian grandparents who partially raised me came from generations of agricultural backgrounds. They had very little formal education...but had taught themselves English and excelled in reading and keeping up on current events. I was continually encouraged to read and take music lessons even though the cost of books and lessons were a hardship many times. The class my single mother showed as probably the first divorced mother in our neighborhood during the early 60s was also an example of "keeping your head up when fate is throwing you a curve"...and even now as a busy productive widow...she serves as a continual lesson to me on "class". Even in her poorest years in my childhood, she always dressed to the "nines" and took care of herself. She never took drugs, drank or "ran around" in her divorced years. By maintaining her "class" even during very difficult times, she earned a much better marriage the next time around with my stepfather...who also taught me many lessons on how to live with "class". Nothing flashy. Nothing extravagant. Just quality living full of quality investments, vacations and the simple pleasures of fishing, raising Christmas trees and great outdoors experiences.

Having class to me now is how one has defined themselves based on the circumstances they came from. I have met rich people who look down on anyone else that does not have their luck or success. Many of these people inherited riches which apparently gives them license to be arrogant, boastful or egotistical. I have never understood that reaction to "inherited" wealth. Sure, one should/could be grateful...but not suddenly arrogant and egocentric.

Most of the people in my family have made their own way financially in this life. Our family values were based on hard work, independence and correct thinking. Not meaning one is right all of the time, but thinking in perspective about yourself in balance to the big picture. Taking pride in what you do and the progress you make...and yet willing to stop and help someone else who needs a hand or a gift. My classy grandparents never made much in this world, but their door was always open to extended friends and family who almost daily stopped by for "coffee"...which more times than not turned into lunch and/or dinner. Their picture should be in the dictionary to represent the meaning of the word "hospitality". They didn't have much, but they always found a way to buy quality food...or do quality things with what they had for others. I don`t find many in today's world who practice or remember the true art of "hospitality".

Our family is not necessarily affectionate physically or even verbally. Yet, at the core of our traditions is an openess to all of humanity...not threatened by race or creeds of others. There is a strong tradition of "knowing who you are"...and not feeling competitive with others about getting attention or having "things". It was more about who you are and what you do. Not some emotional trip based on materialistic gains. Every once in a while I have to remind myself of these traditions I came as not to get caught up in the social pressures of comparing myself to the masses or base my life on materialism.

Yesterday we saw the movie "Iron Lady" where Meryl Streep does a great job playing the historic role of Margaret Thatcher. One of the best quotes of the movie that struck me was when Thatcher went to the Doctor while struggling with Alzheimers and the recent loss of her husband. When the Doctor asks for the third time "how are you FEELING?"...Ms Thatcher says...

“What? What am I ‘bound to be feeling?’ People don’t think anymore. They feel. ‘How are you feeling? No, I don’t feel comfortable. I’m sorry, we as a group we’re feeling….’ One of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas. Thoughts and ideas. That interests me. Ask me what I’m thinking.”

For me, class is about "thinking"...and thinking quality thoughts. Real class is being positive while surrounded by negativity. Real class is about humility even in the midst of success and winning. Real class is not about how much you have, but what you do with what you have. Real class is how you relate to someone less fortunate than yourself and measuring people not for what they have accomplished, but for what they have survived. Real class sometimes demands going against the grain of common consent. A classy person holds their head high and stays focused on their objectives even in the midst of extreme chaos or being attacked from all sides.

Most basically, real class is about who you are, not what you own.

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