The Old Money Definition of Privilege

Someone mentioned the other day that I had a ‘privileged’ background. It’s difficult to deny, but it left me eager to qualify.

When the term ‘privileged’ is used, the imagination can run wild with visions of nannies and maids, gated driveways and country clubs, sports cars and travel. I think it’s important to redefine it, or at least refine the definition in the context of the Old Money culture.

There are some aspects of ‘privilege’ we need to articulate and remember. Here we go…

First, you come from a privileged background if you grew up in a home with love. All the material possessions in the world mean nothing to a child who grew up without it. Love includes caring enough to spend time, to communicate, to educate, and to discipline. It’s a warmth and a light that comforts and guides in a way that no tangible thing can.

Second, you come from a privileged background if you were raised by someone who set a good example. My father often encouraged me to ignore everything he said…and simply watch everything he did. As a young person, it was incredibly irritating. As an adult, I find it tremendously inspiring. He set a good example, and I had to respect that. These days, I find myself compelled to emulate it.

Third, you come from a privileged background if someone taught you values from an early age. These are the Core Values I detail in The Old Money Book. If you learn these as a young person, your road may still be winding and steep, but it won’t be as rough.  Values make many things go smoothly.

Fourth, you come from a privileged background if you have learned to practice empathy. Empathy is the ability to intimately understand how another person is feeling, to walk a mile in their shoes, as the old saying goes. Another comment I recently heard and liked was this: the rich man should know how the poor man lives; the poor man should know how the rich man works. So much of the class hatred we’re seeing in the world stems from this lack of empathy. To be wealthy and still be able to understand in very personal terms how hard life can be for less fortunate people is to be privileged. The same can be said for someone of modest means really understanding the work and risk that some wealthy people shoulder every day.

Finally, you come from a privileged background if you are aware that, regardless of your financial position, you must give back to the world. Many people never realize this and lead hollow lives despite having every material comfort. They accomplish great things. They make a name for themselves. Still, there’s a vacancy that, ironically, only charity and selfishness can fill.

So, based on these new criteria, did you come from a ‘privileged background’? Are there other aspects I didn’t mention?

  • BGT


22 thoughts on “The Old Money Definition of Privilege

  1. I love this concept! Every aspect of “privilege” listed can be experienced by anyone regardless of socio-economic background. In this instance I can think of many people who lived a privileged life even though their bank account might not have reflected it. Great post!

  2. Now that I am an adult, I realise that we did. My parents did all of the above. I am not perfect but I am a better man for their examples.

    I can remember my father telling me it was a sin to talk about money and it was just not done in polite society. Mum always said ‘we do not count other people’s money’. Also that money means less than manners, politeness and kindness.

    Canada, like Australia and New Zealand, has a lot of British traditions that still hold true in 2016. One of them is an understood but understated ruling class. It has less to do with money and more to do with traditions, politeness and understatement.

    One can exist comfortably in a shabby chic and genteel poverty existence, but if one has the right manners, style and tradition here, they are higher up than, say, Canadian Justin Beiber, whom is considered rather low on the rung, despite his bank balance.

    Another example is our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He is a member of the Liberal Party (like the Labour party in the UK or rather like American Barack Obama politically). Despite the fact that he is not a Tory here in Canada, he is still part of a ruling class here. He is not just a Trudeau, he is also an Elliot on his father’s side, and he is a Sinclair on his Mum’s side. I am not saying it is right, that just appears to be the way it is.

    My sense is that most of my neighbours in the village I live in here in British Columbia are Tories but many voted for the MP in Trudeau’s party in last October’s election. Not because they are Liberal Party members, but because they simply feel Mr Trudeau is ‘one of us’. It can seem rather odd.

    Again, now that I am an adult, I realise that we did have a privileged background. Growing up I did not believe this was the case. I am what is called ‘the second son’ in Canada, and I always had to wear my older brother’s clothing. Not that I minded, but I grew up thinking that we were somehow poor, as absolutely nothing was ever wasted, and I never seemed to have pocket money. You purchased quality and wore it or used it forever. My father died when I was younger and I still have some of his clothes that I wear and still receive the occasional compliments on. We shared the same shoe size and many of his pairs were hand made. No need to bin quality.

    It was and is more important that we were spiritually rich and giving rather than financially comfortable.

    Your post was excellent, as usual, and really got me thinking.

    1. You make some interesting points Michael. I am now thinking about my Virginia Tidewater ancestors and the “privileged” society they created. They were also from English gentry roots and produced more than a few american presidents over the years. I would still like to think that anyone can live a “privileged” life based on Byron’s criteria above. 🙂

    2. Thank you, Michael, for the insight. Your personal history resonates with so many Old Money values. “We don’t count other people’s money” is a great maxim! – BGT

  3. Excellent, and a label of privilege to take pride in, though humbly, as opposed to the more common example, which some seem to like to wear as a badge of superiority.

    I think though you meant “selflessness” in the line, “Still, there’s a vacancy that, ironically, only charity and selfishness can fill.”

  4. After I read the first two or three sentences I thought your point was going to be that although most people see inherited money as a privilege, some OMGs also see it as something of a burden. The complexities of managing a large estate. The challenges of philanthropy. The envy, resentment, isolation and lack of motivation that inherited wealth can create. Instead you went in a much more positive and uplifting direction. Those of us who were raised in loving families that set good examples for us should never forget how lucky we are. Thank you.

  5. Hello Byron…I was fortunate enough to have a few good mentors in my life who loved me, gave good advice, and set a good example for me. I was not given that by birth. But regardless of it’s source, it has proved invaluable, as is your advice in your books and blog. I believe that the ability for anyone in this country to be successful through their own hard work and merit has always been The American Dream, not just being able to own a lot of nice things. So, while not privileged by birth, I feel very fortunate to be given the opportunity to achieve that dream.

  6. It has taken me years to realize this. I was raised in a loving family and I took it for granted. Only now do I see that not everyone had this advantage. By the way, the penultimate sentence, “Still, there’s a vacancy that, ironically, only charity and selfishness can fill” doesn’t make sense to me. “Selflessness,” maybe?

  7. According to your excellent definition, I do come from a privileged background. My grandparents raised me with values that I still practice today. They have shaped me for life by their example. Thank you so much for this clarified definition.

    1. And you value relationships because I notice that you try to respond to each comment: respect, manners, politeness, even via social media!

  8. So much truth in these words . My father had no car, he walked a mile and a half to the bus to go to work and be on his feet all day then he took that same bus home and reversed his walk. He had two slipped discs in his back and terrible problems with his feet, the result of frostbite in World War II. The money that should have paid for a car to make his life easier was spent on private education for me.

    Was I privileged? You better believe I was.

  9. My parents were divorced when I was 5 and I understand the hole that can leave in a child’s life. I remind my children regularly, that the best gift they will ever receive is growing up in a home with happily married parents who care about them. That is a privilege money cannot buy.

  10. Reblogged this on Melissa Bishop and commented:
    I love this version of, ‘privilege’. My parents went out of their way to keep their marriage, and our family, together, in a safe neighborhood, and moving forward in life.
    We are not Old Money. You do not need to be ‘Old Money’ in order to live by values you consider to be better than what you see being displayed by the people around you. It is part of ‘being the change you wish to see in the world’.

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