I had an epiphany the other day after watching far too many hours of CNN’s obsession with making Donald Trump appear completely incompetent. Sadly, he’s doing most of the heavy lifting and feeding more and more of their yellow journalism propensities. When I was younger, I wanted to be a journalist.
My heroes were people like Peter Jennings, Harry Reasoner and Ted Koppel who reported the news factually and without opinion. Not even as much as a negative facial expression even when reporting the most ridiculous stories on record. They were the epitome of class. I used to watch Peter Jennings every evening on World News Tonight…without fail. I’d emulate his incredibly articulate speaking voice which quickly eliminated the rather pervasive Southern drawl acquired from my youth growing up on an East Texas farm. I held him in highest regard as someone of class, integrity and a tireless pursuit of the truth. And when I was fortunate enough to meet him in person and actually hang out for a bit, he confirmed every single one of those traits.
I’m often aghast at the contrast I experience daily as I review today’s news cycles. Not only are journalists reporting on the ridiculousness that is our current Administration, they’ve also completely disregarded the most important tenet of their responsibilities as journalists: Report the news as truthfully and unbiased as possible and allow the consumer to formulate their own opinions. Instead, it’s become a shit show of opinions, personal political affiliations and agendas, eye rolls on air, and stacked “expert” panels more concerned with derisive and divisive opinions than the simple truth with a number of potential perspectives. Telling people what to believe has become the norm. These “news” channels have become tabloid news at best with the same extended group of experts committing the ultimate sin as panelists: listening with the intent to answer and differentiate themselves vs. listening to understand. Our culture has devolved so much that the many arguments these panels have within their split screens supersedes THE TRUTH. It’s classless and I’m sure all of my journalistic heroes are absolutely exhausted from all of the spinning they're doing in their graves these days.
Another thing I’ve found myself incredibly disappointed by is the comments section of almost every post ever posted. The comments section is the new Sirens' Song. Enter if you dare. But expect to be seduced by your base need to be right and voice your opinion to hopefully put that one troll in his place. If you take a step back and see it for what it is you can usually extricate yourself from the quagmire of trying to reason with someone who is purposely trying to usurp a reaction vs. having anything of real validity to say. But if you find yourself three comments deep in a ridiculous debate, that’s the time to realize you’ve lost your center and have actually fallen victim to a rather evil (and effective) plan.
The improprieties at the highest level of business brought to light by the #metoo movement, the numerous CEOs and celebrities dominating the headlines due to lack of integrity (Travis Kalanick, Elizabeth Holmes, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey...) have all led to numerous "WTF is going on?!" moments for me as I try to reconcile and navigate a world that makes less and less sense "from the rooter to the tooter."
So, I decided to create my own revolution. A revolution of class. I’ve become so disillusioned by the abject lack of class and integrity in our White House, in business, in popular music, and in our schools that I decided to start a personal crusade to bring back class to the mainstream. Sure, it’s a huge undertaking, but I have an audience now and I’m a firm believer in leading by example.
Class isn’t about how much money you make or how well-heeled your family is. To me, it’s about acute self-awareness, making sound, moral choices consistently, and behaving in a way that pays homage to all of the things your Mama taught you as a child including the Golden Rule: ”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Kinda old school, huh? Read on.
Television and YouTube are teaching our children now. Websites like WorldStar, BuzzFeed and anything by those entitled, baboonery Paul brothers have become that really cool, highly inappropriate uncle our kids inexplicably love. Those websites are all about recorded fights, general meanness, oneupmanship and the most obvious absence of kindness and empathy on the Web. Kids are emulating what they see on these sites and treating it as acceptable behavior. Worse, the parents who watch the daily media circus of the goings on of our White House are normalizing the absolutely base and unacceptable behaviors of our chosen leader rife with numerous claims of infidelity, possible collusion with a longtime foe, consistent lies and half-truths, inconsistent messaging, Twitter attacks, public firings….shall I continue? Our kids now actually have the right to roll their eyes at us adults, mid-admonishment, simply based on the dramas du jour from the never ending circus that is our White House at the moment. Full disclosure: I didn’t vote for the man, but I’m still a believer in and respectful of The Office of the President. But the woeful lack of class and culpability being displayed and normalized is equal parts disheartening and infuriating.
As a veteran, top-tier, C-suite Executive Assistant and educator I realize and teach the importance of class. Those who want to rise to the top of this profession can only do so by having a healthy level of self-awareness, interminable curiosity and courage, highly developed business acumen, and an innate propensity to do the right thing. Additionally, as Artificial Intelligence starts to take hold, class will quickly become the key differentiator between competent Assistants and those who have the style, panache, soft skills and customer service chops to operate autonomously as ambassadors of the C-suite. Those still filing their nails at their desk, engaging in water cooler cabals, and doing just enough to get by vs. aggressively requesting more needle-moving projects for which they can be recognized as key contributors won’t be around very much longer and standing in the same “WTF just happened?” line as the other projected 7,000,000 AI-displaced workers around the world by 2023. Administrative omniscience is the new basic requirement. Having the ability to recognize, master, and play the game tactically and gracefully on behalf of the company or as a representative of your exec will be the new Holy Grail and the most sought-after (and highly compensated) Assistants in the game.
We’ve all had those two or three people in our lives who exuded class. They never engaged in gossip. They never blabbed on and on about anything. They would sit quietly and listen and completely stop traffic with the few, carefully chosen words they would eventually say. They were flawless in social situations. They dressed appropriately for everything. They were always prepared and never EVER seemed to put a single step out of place. They made everyone they came into contact with feel special and important. And they made you want to be better or at least like them to a degree. That’s class and sophistication. That’s the new commodity.
I was raised mostly by my grandparents so my values are incredibly old school. I still believe in courtship. I believe in actual effort when planning even the simplest date. This whole open relationship thing, especially in my community, often makes me feel that true love has officially died. And all that we’re subjected to in the media makes me feel sad for the decline of our nation's morality and empathy reserves. Worse, people seem to be okay enough with it all that they are normalizing and accepting it as evolution of the species. Sorry, but I don't subscribe.
So, I’ll offer this. Integrity will never go out of style. Telling the truth, even when uncomfortable or inconvenient, will always be the move. Allowing yourself to go with the consensus anytime you know, for a fact, that it goes against your own moral code is something that should feel like a butcher knife straight to the stomach vs. a simple placation to avoid confrontation. It’s all about class and holding true to your convictions. Setting a good example as often as you can. Lending a hand to your fellow citizen without the need for accolades or recognition. Searching for the truth even in the layers of bullshit that are fed to us by news networks with apple/banana comparisons hypocritically extolling the same virtues they mock. Appreciating the power and responsibility of the role you inhabit at a company that selected you as the very best candidate to do the job. And developing a deep appreciation for how fortunate you are to be vertical, with all of your faculties, and the ability to move freely within the world.
I want to be the very best representation of me. I want to provide that gleaming example of someone who is kind, empathetic, has their complete shit together at all times, and helps to raise the bar in a very visible way for every community that I fall into. I was taught the very best lessons about class by my grandparents and they're still incredibly valid today. And none of them are about oneupmanship or "getting mine" or walking over the top of anyone to get ahead. That's not class. That's game...that can easily be peeped and circumvented by those with class. Class doesn't make you a wimp or a pushover. Quite the opposite. It's more powerful than any physical manifestation of power, because it incorporates the very best of the human spirit and human experience, something unquantifiable and immeasurable, even by today's standards.
So bring on the class. Bring on a revolutionary return to morality, empathy, truth and acute self-awareness. Bring on those revolutionaries who are sick of the normalization of behaviors that don't serve the greater good, only a deluded and entitled few. Bring on a future where we return to and celebrate simple common decency and going the extra mile to make sure our fellow man feels heard and respected regardless of socioeconomic status. And bring on the wisdom, elegance and understated power of not needing to be the loudest voice in the room, just the best prepared.
My individual pursuit includes all of the aforementioned. And my sincerest hope is that by being an example, others will undertake their own revolutions of class and provide better examples for our kids to follow and for our companies to regale and celebrate as the new gold standard of employee. Wishful thinking? Watch me work.
Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.