Manners & Misdemeanors
Why We Should Stop Using the Term 'World-Class'
We need to change our mindset and trust our own feelings of greatness.
IMAGE NYPL Digital Collections
Comments

The highest terms of praise we seem able to bestow on a product or a person is to call it, him, or her “world-class.” The trite phrase seems current only in this country, like “cardiac game” for a thrilling competition that can lead to a heart attack for the unwary. The unusual phrase is used to designate something or someone that has been given recognition abroad, preferably in an advanced country. In this particular success index, peer countries in our region (like Thailand or Vietnam) don’t seem to count as much as even small principalities like Monaco. 

The recognition may be material success abroad as an expatriate (high pay, high position), triumph in an international competition (besting over 350 hairdressers from all over the world), or simple marketing acceptance of one’s product in a foreign country (we sold 150 of these basket-woven chairs in Belgium).

This asymmetrical arithmetic propounds that selling 500 handbags in Makati is not the same as selling the same number of bags (or even a third of that number) in Prague, even for the same price. Somehow the smaller number of bags sold abroad provide the occasion to uncork a bottle of Dom Perignon 1986.

We don’t have to call anything or anybody “world-class.” Just plain classy will do.

There is probably no Japanese equivalent for the phrase “world-class,” at least not the connotation we attach to it. It is quite enough for the most accomplished haiku poet, Zen master, sword-maker, film director, origami or ikebana guru to be acknowledged and revered within one’s own native country with no reference to the affirmation of talent other than by his (or her) own countrymen. The acclamation is bestowed not necessarily by virtue of winning a contest but conferred even informally by masters who have excelled in the field. The idea of perfection in the Orient (to which we theoretically belong) is mastery of self and living to one’s full potential, not beating other contestants in an American Idol mold—sorry, you chose the wrong song.

America stretches to the extreme this self-praise and setting the standards. With typical hubris, this country thinks of its domestic best as automatically the world’s best. Thus the NBA team that wins the finals is accorded the title of “world champion” even if no other countries competed in the tournament and the teams are all theoretically representing American cities.

Implied in the media hype celebrating the winner of any big U.S. tournament, including baseball and football, is the unchallenged acceptance that the world’s teams are not good enough to beat the best in the American league. Thus, the basketball Olympics in Athens was embarrassing. Argentina’s gold in basketball (over Italy) clearly demonstrates that the title of world champions at least in the NBA should be given a rest. As that prideful New York anthem puts it, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. It is possible that in the Beijing Olympics there may be yet again a non-U.S. basketball team to take the gold.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Our own idea of excellence moves in the opposite direction from Japan and America.

A big singing star, no matter how talented, feels inadequate somehow, unless and until she has had a stint abroad, maybe a role in a Broadway musical, a concert in Taipei or even a matinee gig in one of the gambling rooms in Las Vegas. There is this humiliating hunger to secure the “world” stamp of approval to rightfully claim a sense of accomplishment. This implied superiority of other countries to distinguish between talent and mediocrity seems automatically acknowledged. It is understandable to pine for an international gig if the money is bigger, but this isn’t even always the case. Thus the domestic helper working in a Forbes Park mansion and earning perhaps more than her counterpart toiling in a small studio loft in Hong Kong is liable to feel inferior to her “world-class” cousin.

Now and then, the world takes notice. But we need not wait to celebrate our domestic success.

When a successful local company decides to raise its sights, it thinks right away of going international. Thus a successful domestic burger chain opened a few stores abroad to try to get its own “world-class” seal on its name. If the international foray was not the rousing success it was expected to be, does this mean that this great company is somehow diminished? I don’t think so. It is the combination of domestic taste buds and product offering that has made it a wonderful growth story at home.

Our version of globalization does not aim to improve distribution or leverage on outsourcing. The goal of operating or succeeding outside the country seems only to acquire a kind of legitimacy.

Being the best here is a worthy achievement. The best here can even beat its multinational counterparts from abroad operating here. Why is there a need to prove ourselves in other countries too?

An excellent company need not cross time zones to prove its worth. There are enough objective measures like return on investment and market share to support a claim for excellence. Being the best here is a worthy achievement. The best here can even beat its multinational counterparts from abroad operating here. Why is there a need to prove ourselves in other countries too? How much red ink has flowed from “international operations” of the country’s largest domestic companies? Sure, we should export labor, products, and expertise abroad. But local management should not feel any inferiority complex if its success is limited to its own shores.

Still, one has to respect the desire to match the size and critical mass of large domestic companies in other countries. This is a different thing as it involves competitiveness with regional counterparts. It has nothing to do with putting a red pin on the map of the world—we operate in 300 locations, two of them in countries where you need a visa to line up at our counter.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

I shudder at the phrase “world-class” when any distinguished person who did well abroad is introduced. Can we go easy on this “world-class” sauce? It can cause arteries of the heart to harden.

Let us resolve to ban the phrase “world-class” from our media vocabulary, if it leads to withholding recognition or according it too late, sometimes posthumously to a deserving and gifted personality.

This penchant for sticking the tag “world-class” as if it were a medal of honor lies stems from the media. One can feel the reporter’s pulse racing when encountering a personality who has lived abroad and worked there for a bit. Immediately, the interviewer feels an itch that has to be scratched. She just has to use the “W” phrase, or she will bust her buttons.

It’s also true that the world out there is more competitive. It is indeed a bigger pond with bigger fish. It does not count on accidents of birth and the active support of godfathers and persons of influence to provide an unfair advantage. Sheer talent and a little luck account for success. But this combination of grit, hard work, and right timing exist too in our native setting.

Excellent companies and persons that are local, un-accented, spirited, creatively struggling with our imperfect system, and laughing off frustrations every day with unbounded optimism—these are the ones we need to celebrate. The jusi barong, Paete woodcraft, SMS dominance in telecoms making us the text capital of the world, and the highest number of great singers per capita (excluding karaoke wannabes) are enough to make us feel good about ourselves.

Now and then, the world takes notice. But we need not wait to celebrate our domestic success. More importantly, we cannot withhold recognition and accolades of appreciation unless and until some foreign bodies give their nod. This is like a concertgoer waiting for somebody else to clap first before she feels it is proper for her to do so. Such an attitude betrays a sense of insecurity in one’s unfamiliarity with concert etiquette—no applause, please, between movements.

It is said that as a people we are difficult to perform for, as we are stingy (or timid) with our applause for a fine performance. This may stem from diffidence in trusting our own instincts in detecting quality. In turn, this has led to a default mode in bestowing recognition. If we feel a person shows talent that gives us goose pimples, perhaps we think—maybe my tastes are not sophisticated enough.

Thus do we surrender our personal vote for determining quality. We wait for foreigners to applaud before we allow our own enthusiasm to express itself. Only the praise of the foreigner seems to provide us with the permission to recognize our native treasures.

Let us resolve to ban the phrase “world-class” from our media vocabulary, if it leads to withholding recognition or according it too late, sometimes posthumously to a deserving and gifted personality. I wish only to make a gentle request to be heartier in celebrating our local successes. They do not need to travel (and come back) to be worthy of our attention and gratitude.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

We have to believe in what we have done well. We need to change our mindset and trust our own feelings of greatness. We don’t have to call anything or anybody “world-class.” Just plain classy will do.

It is said that as a people we are difficult to perform for, as we are stingy (or timid) with our applause for a fine performance. This may stem from diffidence in trusting our own instincts in detecting quality. In turn, this has led to a default mode in bestowing recognition.

Comments
View More Articles About:
About The Author
A.R. Samson
View Other Articles From A.R. Samson
Comments
Latest Stories
 
Share
This year's Negros Trade Fair theme is one that will be enjoyed by many. “Food for Thought” will highlight the very popular Negrense cuisine.
 
Share
Here are the British royal babies from oldest to youngest.
 
Share
Seven sectors stand out as top favorites of the country's wealthiest business owners
 
Share
Taken from our 2017 list of 101 People You Must Meet Right Now, here are notable names and faces that have contributed to the world's food industry.
 
Share
The product is so in demand, it took us three months to get our hands on one.
 
Share
The up-and-coming actor finds a crowning achievement in this month’s 'Victoria & Abdul.'
 
Share
Kensington Palace announced that Will and Kate are expecting their third child in early September.
 
Share
The afterparty shouldn't be an afterthought when planning a celebration.
 
Share
Celebrate our favorite UK tradition with these festive holiday bon-bons.
 
Share
 
Share
Van Cleef & Arpels launched the famed four-leaf clover shape in 1968. Now, nearly 50 years later, it remains an emblematic symbol of the brand.
Load More Articles
INSTAGRAM
CONNECT WITH US