Photo by Salt Water New England

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

What is Class?

 

The Robb Report post from a few days ago triggered some comments and emails around the concept of class.  

In an American context, what is class?  (I have often said that I don't know what class is, but I know it when I don't see it.)  

More concretely, should we work at being "classier"? And if so, how?  What are the decisions day-to-day around class, and where do people go a different direction?  

One reader asked if the nuts and bolts of class are not shored up, does it evaporate?

24 comments:

  1. In the US, I think it most commonly centered around phrases like being a "class-act" - doing right by people in your personal and professional life.

    Plato talks about doing just deeds justly.
    The old JP Morgan line is do to First Class Business in a First Class way.

    Above board, graciousness, being a gentleman/lady, not cutting corners are all related ideas.

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  2. Too many equate class with income or net worth. I suggest, for starters,that it has to do more with intangibles like broad experience and awareness, curiosity, kindness, tolerance, forbearance, calm, a circumspect and slightly more reserved nature than the instant bonhomie we see all around us, plus being unfailingly considerate/polite at all times/places/occasions to all people regardless of how they come across. Without doubt, I am omitting other intangibles, but the aforementioned come immediately to mind.

    Kind Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

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  3. To me class is the aura you create when you respect the dignity of everyone you encounter and always strive to do what is right.

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  4. I think you are correct except maybe not needing to create an aura.

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    1. It is certainly evident when someone truly embraces acting that way. I just could not think of the ideal word to convey it. I also find that such people seem to place little importance in the way they are perceived.

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    2. Or no importance at all.

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  5. I agree with ...d..., Heinz-Ulrich, and Vecchio Vespa: Class is about how you treat people. But how you dress, where and how you live, what you do for a living, and where you were educated have nothing whatsoever to do with class as I see it. Taste is another concept altogether, and it's something that comes to people through a certain degree of education and privilege. There are a lot of classy people with unsophisticated taste and a lot of cultured people with no class whatsoever. Then there is class-as-caste, which, as far as I'm concerned, is a different concept altogether.

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  6. I am reminded of an interview with Charlotte Ford on TV, after she had written her etiquette book. She mentioned “consideration of others.” That was seared on my soul.
    This is not exactly the same but along the same line…the definition of a lady or gentleman. Way back when, when our previous president had written The Art of the Deal and had fixed up the Wolman Rink in NYC, he fascinated me greatly and I thought he had a lot of potential, until the German skater Katarina Witt came to the City and was all giddy on TV to an interviewer, saying “Xxxxx likes me!” She named the man. When he heard about it, he said on TV himself that there was no way…he would never like such a person, besides….”she has bad skin.”
    When I saw that, I knew then that he was no gentleman…and that holds true today.

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    1. Let us never forget SPY magazine's enduring epithet of him in the 1980s: "the short-fingered vulgarian."

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  7. “Xxxxx” was a regional oddball until he was given a nationwide media platform. The denizens of midtown's media offices, forever in pursuit of eyeballs, thus always enthralled with the lowest common denominator, got us into this pickle.
    If you travel in certain parts of the country, it’s easy to understand how people get the wool pulled over their eyes. Celebrity rules. If it’s popular it must be good. Alas, it’s true, a country gets the leadership it deserves.

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    1. Yes. Large population percentages in parts of the country are susceptible to the romanticization of the myth of rugged individualism. It’s constant in the music they listen to, and it’s in the movies and tv programs they watch. If they’ve travelled at all, maybe they’ve been to Las Vegas or Chicago. They can’t see through the wool one bit.

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    2. Reminds me of the famous NEW YORKER cover showing a USA map with nothing but an empty continent beyond the Hudson River. Nothing really out there until you see the West Coast.

      Unfortunately, it seems no region has a monopoly on provincial views.

      -- Robert Reichardt

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  8. I think that this quote from Muriel Spark's book The Girls of Slender Means is relevant: "Poise is perfect balance, an equanimity of body and mind, complete composure whatever the social scene. Elegant dress, immaculate grooming, and perfect deportment all contribute to the attainment of self-confidence."

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  9. Being able to listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger?

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    1. What! "Class" means never being familiar with vintage television?

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  10. Class is a easy word to understand when applied to racing vehicles, for example, or artisanal goods that meet certain standards. Applied to people, it's a word that maybe ought to set one's teeth on edge; however, I wouldn't want it thought about me that I lacked it. End of quibbling! The standards I would like to embody, and that I certainly admire in others about whom a person could say, "They've got it," are self control, common ethics, consideration for the welfare of others, good manners, plus dedication to the development of a few of the virtues. I grew up (around some wonderful people) believing these were attributes that most adults shared. Happily, I've found that many do; not in the numbers I had anticipated. Wouldn't it be lovely ...

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  11. RE Oscar Wilde "A gentleman never insults anyone by accident."

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  12. "Class is a dirty work." Class: A Guide Through the American Status System by Paul Fussell

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    1. That is a really excellent book.

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  13. I always thought of my father as a gentleman but only in the sense of being kind and considerate of other, never complaining. My mother was an invalid, and he carried, sometimes literally, that burden without complaint. He set a high standard of behavior to live up to.
    On the other hand, I have known others who were born as gentlemen. They came from notable families, went to the right school, belonged to the right clubs and churches, but gave mixed models of behavior. One of my wife's uncles, in fact her only uncle, is an Episcopal priest who once chained himself to the town's Confederate memorial in protest to, I think, the invasion of Iraq, which happened anyway. But I think that he was also a gentleman in the same sense I used in describing my father.
    Notice, however, that I have not used the term "class." My father, though, recognized that classes existed, but behaved with regards to everyone as though there were no classes.

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  14. My mother gave me this Ann Landers quote when it was published in the newspaper and I still have it albeit tattered and taped ( Scotch, not Duct ):

    “Class never runs scared.
    It is sure-footed and confident.
    It can handle anything that comes along.
    Class has a sense of humor.
    It knows a good laugh is the best lubricant for oiling the machinery of human relations.

    Class never makes excuses.
    It takes its lumps and learns from past mistakes.
    Class knows that good manners are nothing more than a series of small, inconsequential sacrifices.

    Class bespeaks an aristocracy that has nothing to do with ancestors or money.
    Some wealthy “blue bloods” have no class, while individuals who are struggling to make ends meet are loaded with it.

    Class is real.
    It can’t be faked.

    Class never tried to build itself by tearing others down.
    Class is already up and need not strive to look better by making others look worse.

    Class can “walk with kings and keep it’s virtue and talk with crowds and keep the common touch.” Everyone is comfortable with the person who has class because that person is comfortable with himself.

    If you have class, you’ve got it made.

    If you don’t have class, no matter what else you have, it doesn’t make any difference.”

    ― Ann Landers

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  15. To the question of shoring up the nuts and bolts of class, I would say it does matter to model and encourage good behavior in a way that inspires people without making them defensive. I recall an older man on the subway annoyed by another's behavior, remonstrating, "Sir. You are not a gentleman." The perpetrator was nonplussed and stopped whatever it was he was doing. And the rest of the train (except those with ear buds..) stood up straighter and offered seats for the rest of the ride.

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  16. An element of class in my opinion is having standards -- even if one can never live up to them. Indulge me in a quotation from Tom Sharpe's Porterhouse Blue: "A gentleman stood for something. It wasn't what he was. It was what he knew he ought to be....Like some old battle standard that you followed because it was a symbol of the best. A ragged tattered piece of cloth that stood for something that gave you confidence and something to fight for."

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