Last weekend, I was in the checkout line at the grocery, and a man in front of me seemed agitated. He huffed and puffed while the cashier and bagger hurried to get the person in front of him checked out. He shifted his weight and tapped his feet and kept looking all around him to see if there was someone he could share misery with.
When it was his turn to check out, he inspected every item on the cashier’s screen as it went through the scanner. When his 12 pack of soda when through, he said, “That’s the wrong price on that. Ya’ll never get the prices right the first time. Never. Terrible.” The gentleman working the cash register said, “Let me fix that,” and with a quick couple of clicks on the machine, it was fixed. As soon as it was about time for the man to insert his credit card, the cashier in the line next to us needed a manager to assist her with helping a customer. Now, each register station has a clear panel that swings like a door behind cashiers as part of pandemic protocols. In order for the manager to help out, that panel needed to swing out into our aisle to let her in. This meant that the man needed to take one step out of the way. One. The man grumbled and made all sorts of comments half-directed at all of the employees within earshot.
After he left, it was like all of us had survived a storm together. Customers and employees alike took a big, deep breath and made eyes with each other from the tops of our masks. The energy was much more relaxed, and we were relieved that incident was behind us.
While my groceries continued to be scanned through and bagged, we all talked about how uncomfortable and difficult that was. As we were about to change topics, I will never forget what the cashier said next, “We’ve got something he doesn’t have. CLASS.”
Now, everyone has a story. There could have been something going on in that man’s life that we will never know about. That is important to remember. We all need grace. But it was the concept of class that really stuck with me.
We’ve got class. What does it mean to be classy? It’s a word we often use. We want to be classy. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t want to be classy. I wondered what a formal definition might look like, so I checked dictionary.com:
Classy: Of high class, rank, or grade; stylish; admirably smart; elegant.
And there it was. Embedded in the definition of the class. INTEGRITY.
There is no amount money that can buy integrity. Money can buy nice belongings. It can buy an academic education. It can buy elegant cars and houses. But it can’t buy integrity.
Integrity. We can build it. It’s can be limitless. And no one can take it away from us unless we let them. We can hold onto it in the most difficult of times.
As Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.”
It doesn’t mean we don’t stand up for ourselves and others. What it means is we decide which arguments are worth attending. And when we do engage in conflict, we show up with class. With integrity. We model for others what we want to see more of in the world.
What does it mean to be high class in our schools and organizations? What opportunities do we have to model integrity for students, parents, and colleagues…especially in difficult situations?
At the end of this school year, it would feel great to be able to say, “We go high.”
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