Tag Archives: character traits

Class is not about money

I realized recently that I grew up on the poor side of town. I did not grow up poor, mind you. I grew up with lots of love, a wonderful family and in a safe neighborhood in a small town. But I always thought of our lifestyle as “middle class.”

My family always had enough to eat, we never went without any basic necessities, clothing, health care or even luxuries like television and eventually a microwave. My sis and I shared a bedroom until I moved to the basement in high school so I could wake up earlier to run in the early pre-dawn hours.

But social class and income class are not the same thing. Both my parents had college degrees. Mom chose to stay home and raise her daughters until we were in middle and high school, when she went back to work part-time, as a substitute teacher. I just assumed that meant we were middle class.

My Dad was a teacher and a leader in the local community. All of the parents of the students he taught in the bilingual program treated him as a respected professional in our small town. Of course, some administrators and teachers were not as respectful. He had his share of good principals and a few racist.

Recently my mother-in-law called herself “working class.” I was shocked. She has a master’s degree and she and her husband bought and sold homes together a few times during their history. So I always considered her middle class. But she considered herself working class. Probably it was more about her upbringing (to her) than any type of income category.

In contrast, my parents never bought a home. Not quite enough income from a teacher’s salary. We had the advantage of summers at Grandma’s house in Bemidji. So we did not go without space to enjoy ourselves in the summer, on a lake in Minnesota, no less. It was a long drive from Southern Wisconsin, but we had the picnic lunches that my Mom made, and there were rest areas for potty breaks. It was a blessing for us. We read books all, swam in the lake nearly every day, and there was plenty of introvert re-charge time.

By income standards, we probably would have been considered working class, or perhaps slightly less. In comparison to families with two working parents, mine were certainly not as well-off financially. But I always had what I needed. I always had a couple of new school outfits to start the year. There were a lot of farm kids in my school, so all of us had pretty similar income, or so I imagined.



I relied heavily on need-based financial aid for a private college, but being 2nd in my class in high school, I qualified for it. I won’t say I didn’t work hard for that.  It may have helped that my name belied my half-Mexican origin. But I was born in Wisconsin, not Juarez. Therein, by the grace of god, lies the difference. 

Why was I born here? Because my Mom fell in love with her guitar teacher when she studied in Mexico. And he fell in love with a Minnesotan woman, despite her mother serving as a chaperone on most of their dates. Why did I have the opportunities I have today? Because my family worked hard, and made sacrifices for me, so I could grow up healthy and happy.

I started thinking about people who use racism and class-ism to divide people. Take ahem… our Harasser-in-Chief. No matter how much money he makes, or pretends to make, he will always have NO class.

You know why? Because class, true class, is about how you treat people. It is about your character.

My father always treated the cooks and the janitors in his school as respectfully as he treated the other teachers. I learned to treat people as equals, not as superior or inferior due to their education or social status. I am really proud that both my Mom and Dad taught me that the measure of a good person is in how kindly you treat others.

To be a classy person is to realize that it is not about what you have, or what you do. There is honor in ALL work, and there is compassion for those who may not have work right now. There is a belief that ALL people are worthy of human dignity, no matter their skin color, creed, religion, or national origin. America was founded on these principles, that all people were created equal, which is why I am still proud to call this home.




North Star navigation

Happy Tuesday, peeps. It is dark as I’m writing, and I am getting through the DST transition, even though it is not typically my best week of the year. At least I am being kind to myself and others. That goes a long way.

In only 24 days I will head to Arizona for a weekend event with two favorite authors, Martha Beck and Liz Gilbert. In honor of that event, I downloaded the audible version of Finding Your North Star, by Martha Beck to give it a re-listen. Years ago I read the book (many times, and annotated it) and then later gave it to a friend who was in a place of transition.

martha beck

Martha Beck’s Finding Your North Star found me during  transition 15 years ago.

Martha’s wisdom is amazing, and since I am in another place of transition in my life, the audio provides just the right level of humor and perspective to help guide me in this next journey. I am working with a coach from the Handel Group, and that homework has been helpful as well.

Martha makes a distinction between the “essential self” and the “social self” in terms of helping us know our core interests and desires. I remember at that time it was a huge discovery for me, the fact that we have these different parts of ourselves that work together in our lives. When we ignore the essential self (aka our soul) in favor of doing only what the social self wants (more ego-driven, people-pleasing), we end up unhappy and unfulfilled.

On the other hand, when we use the faculties of the social self, like pushing ourselves sometimes when we are in a difficult place, in order to achieve the dreams of our essential self, we can create the lives we want. I think there are actually a lot of “selves” that exist within us, and Handel method refers to them as “character traits” that we can identify and then evolve.

A couple of weeks ago, I identified a trait I will refer to as “Mary the Martyr” as a voice talking in my head. She’s the one who tells me I should be grateful for what I have, that it’s greedy to want more. She’s the one who sacrifices for everyone and does not value her own wants and needs. I thought I had rooted her out of my life years ago, but she made an appearance when I worked on the dreaming exercise. Effectively she blocked my dreaming process for a bit.

Her voice sounds a bit like family members (parents perhaps) and she was pretty certain about what she was telling me. It was funny when I actually named her, and began to recognize how she asserts her influence in many areas of my life.  There are certain qualities I like about her: generosity toward her loved ones, a desire to protect the people she cares about, and a sense of independence. She never wants a hand-out and believes she should work hard, but she also has difficulty receiving.

When navigating toward our North Stars, our true purpose in life, it can be difficult when these familial or societally-programmed voices start interfering with the journey. But in recognizing those as not our essential selves, but rather the social selves we evolved to keep us “in a tribe” then we are able to see whether these serve us. It can be a little painful to wake up to this realization, and know that we have been putting dreams on hold.

slaying dragon

When slaying a dragon, recruit some help! (photo credit link).

Sometimes we must find different tribes that support our new journeys. But this is possible, and we must create this support for ourselves. It can take the form of authors on our shelves or people we admire. We do not even need to know all of these “virtual” supporters in person. The web makes this process much easier than it used to be. But the internet sometimes induces other problems, like the tendency for comparison, which is not always healthy.

In any case, navigating toward our North Stars is a scary and exhilarating process. It makes sense to get as much support as we can muster. There is a Hero’s Journey part of the process, and while we may be okay with slaying a few dragons by ourselves, having a posse can make the journey a lot more fun and interesting.