As a Canadian, I was also oblivious to class. Nowadays I think that the idea of class is meaningful, if instead of focusing on the wealth of the persons family background, you focus on the culture of respect for learning, and respect for empathy and kindness.
A person of a background of neglect is from a low class background, and very often, this will affect them. Conversely a person from a background of attentive care and encouragement will be affected. Generations of attentive care and encouragement usually lead to prosperity, of one sort or another. And generations of neglect lead to overall impoverishment.
We have all heard stories of generations of neglect and abuse, and we’ve heard stories of generations of very attentive nurturing. I see no offense in noticing what differences arise from our environment, and labelling these differences. It doesn’t have to offend our sensibilities to see the world clearly. To see it in all its beauty and ugliness, and to still love it, that is the challenge.
I think of class mostly in terms of curiosity and empathy. People are influenced from their environment, and these traits can be both suppressed and nurtured. If a person finds them regardless of their background, then they are classy.
I suppose some people do exclude from their company people from lower classes. But being able to see and talk about class differences doesn’t automatically imply that we have to or want to do that.
I’ve lived in a Filipine gettho, in love with a gettho girl. We spent half our time in Cebu City, in an area of mixed land holders and squatters. Some nice houses, some made poorly from scavenged materials. Sometimes children go to bed hungry, for lack of rice. Not everyone can afford to send their children to school, and some parents actually discourage it, out of jealousy. There are 11 year old prostitutes. There is screaming between husbands and wives at night. Sometimes parents do drugs or booze or gamble instead of buy rice for their family.
I loved and still love my crazy gettho girl. She’s incredible. And incredibly damaged.
I agree with you that we have to see clearly what a person does, not where they have been.
And you also agree that our backgrounds do tend to have an effect on us.
The notions of class, are therefore nuanced. It isn’t a yes or no, black and white thing. It isn’t defined by the wealth of a persons parents. The idea may be slippery, even slightly elusive, but it is, IMO, still meaningful. There are character traits that are low class, there are whole groups of people who teach these character traits to each other.
We may be able to make choices, but there is also an over-arching pattern that our previous choices will affect our current choices. That’s called Karma. What we did affects what we are likely to do. Our environment doesn’t make us do things – we can still chose, but it does affect us, and the choices we are likely to make.
I once had a fiance who had abusive parents. Her sister wound up being seriously closed minded and totally closed down to her libido, and had mood problems, while my fiance worked very hard at healing her past, to become an incredibly empathetic and talented and educated woman. Now that’s a classy woman. If I call her classy, I think you know what I mean. The word means something. There are low class people, and high class people. Low class families, and high class families.
This is what I noticed in the Philippines; there are groups of people that teach each other values, and as a group they cohere. In my ex girlfriends family compound, one teenager was dating a young prostitute, who just came back from her work in Japan. Children of one family might go hungry for lack of rice, while the father spent some money on recreational drugs. Her mother gambled away much of the large family inheritence, and would continue to gamble whatever she could get her hands on – even utility money. Her Mom married her dad at age 13, and they had 10 kids. The families of these children also were very large. Large families even when there is no money for food. One brother hadn’t worked in over 10 years, and had some distant children to a mother who needed help. Infidelity everywhere. And many sorts of incest, even her dad was was caught fiddling his grandkids, as he had done with some of his children. Not always money for school, and one parent getting into a row with his daughter, trying to discourage her from going to school, even when someone else was paying for it. Jealous, I suppose. I had money and my cell phone stolen from our room there from by a cousin. And that is just all in one family compound. In the surrounding community there is prostitution everywhere, starting as young as age 11. There are tribes of people re-enforcing each other’s values. Sometimes people will get new values elsewhere – through the church, or through books, a boyfriend, what have you. But these values that we suck up in our most formative years can go deep.
Doesn’t the Catholic church say something like give me a boy at 4 and I will have him for life? Regardless of value systems, some of the traumas, and even nutritional deficiencies, that happen in these environments can be life long. The brain goes through developmental stages, only if the right circumstances are present. Without emotional and intellectual encouragement, people can become stunted. Adult children, in some respects.
People tend to group around those with similar values, and then children born into groups with certain values tend to inherit them, just as some people inherit their parents religion.
Class needn’t be a taboo word.