BY B. JAY COOPER
AUG 18 | Reprinted from The Screaming Moderate (bjaycooper.com)
Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, Nelson Mendela, Indira Gandhi, Sidney Poitier. What do all those people have in common? Class.
Where has class gone? Is it dying because our politicians and celebrities are over-exposed? Is it dying because we are so exposed these days that our faults are no longer hidden? Do we just know too much to accept anyone has class anymore? After all, there are cable TV channels and web sites for each of us: left wing, right wing; foodies, sports, hobbyist. We don’t have to be exposed to everything any more. We can subscribe to all the web sites or journals or whatever that tell us what we want to hear. Newspapers are dying a slow death; newspapers that, at least the good ones, gave us an unbiased view of the news so we could make up our own minds. A diverse range of opinion to educate and challenge.
Many of those news sources have been replaced with outlets that not only will tell you want you already know, but will raise money from you to be sure everyone else hears only what you believe. No more being exposed to various views. No more being exposed to various cultures or people – which helps teach us empathy which is one path to achieving class. Class isn’t manners or appearances. Class is doing the right thing. Class is not getting into the gutter just because the person you’re talking to is talking trash.
Our politicians have little class these days. They pander to a demographic that will elect them. And that’s all they play to. Whether you’re Ted Cruz on the right or Bernie Sanders on the left, you are not appealing to a broad base of Americans, you are appealing to a targeted few. Does anyone really believe that Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump will be elected president? No, because they are not appealing to enough of us.
Class rises above. It takes the higher road to be sure all are being taken care of, that all are treated equally. Class doesn’t stoop to rhetoric that puts others down to build themselves up. Class doesn’t take a cheap shot at someone to grab a headline. Class doesn’t separate. Class builds bridges. Class recognizes that the other person can make a mistake and shouldn’t pay for that one mistake the rest of his or her life. Class treats others like they want to be treated.
I had a boss who taught us to always think about what the guy across the table was thinking, to put ourselves in his seat, so that we would not only know him better, but know how to deal with him better. To help him do the right thing, but also save face. The goal is to make life better for people, even that guy across the table. Class isn’t you win, and they lose.
Can you imagine a question about class being asked at the next presidential debate? Try this one: Mr. Trump, those millions of legal and illegal immigrants you talk about, have you ever talked to one? Do you know what drives her? Do you know her goals? Pains? Do you care?
Okay, that was more than one question, but you get the concept.
Maybe it’s that we walk the streets with our heads down, buried in our smart phones. This Era of Communication teaches us how to immediately be connected but not to connect.
Good leadership requires class. Good leadership demands empathy. Good leadership calls for putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to see the world through her eyes. Leadership isn’t about being the strongest or the loudest. It’s about being thoughtful when you need to be, and tough when you have to be.
Editor’s Note: B. Jay is a former deputy White House press secretary to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He also headed the communications offices at the Republican National Committee, U.S. Department of Commerce, and Yale University. He is a former reporter and is the retired Senior Vice President of APCO Worldwide’s Washington, D.C., office.