I admire class. Not class as a societal stratum, for sure. Not class as a look, either, although refined elegance in dress and manner always entices me to pause and appreciate. Not even class in bearing—shoulders squared, head held high, look direct and approachable, eyes soft and steely, mouth always ready to smile, mouvements sure and unhurried, although such self-possession does approach my ideal.
Class in action is what I look for, and having found it, carve its every detail into my memory as a composite of a vision to emulate. For me, class has particular characteristics.
1. Class is humble. It diffuses any credit coming its way. Class prefers “we” to “I” and is a team player.
2. Class pays attention. It notices details about others and remembers them to integrate into conversation.
3. Class strips away hierarchy and shuns prestige or privilege. Jean Béliveau, a forward with the Montreal Canadiens from 1950 until 1971 who passed away on December 2, 2014, asked why he always gave 100% effort in every game, replied that, if that game happened to be one a fan had traveled a long distance to attend, and, for that fan, might even be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that fan deserved to see the best. Beliveau—the epitome of class.
4. Class is more concerned about the other person than itself. Class converses with others about them, not about itself. Class shows interest in the activities and events in the lives of others, and, in so doing, affirms their life experience.
5. Class always has time; it is never in a rush, and never busy. Class waits for the guest to stand and signal the end of a visit. Class is calm and unflappable.
6. Class is inclusive; it makes room for everyone. Class will leave a dinner table to sit with someone fated to dine alone, even if the potential solitary diner’s stubbornness has created the situation.
7. Class acknowledges people, regardless of their appearance or their station. Even when an acquaintance arrives at the very moment it must welcome a celebrity, class will greet the unexpected arrival, initiate a conversation, and, the celebrity on his own to leave the limo and walk to the entrance, prolong the conversation so the acquaintance and the celebrity can be introduced.
It’s so easy to be dismissive. In a careless moment, the brain detaches from a conversation to focus on what has to be done next. It prompts the fingers to key in a phrase, or close a file. In that split second of preoccupation, the eyes lose contact; they might look away, or disappear behind an invisible curtain. All it takes is one careless minute. The individual involved gets it. He or she looks away, shuts down, abdicates from the conversation, or ends it and leaves. The damage is done.
That's why class is so important, and why I enshrine it in my memory wherever I find it.