I think there are a lot of misconceptions about being wealthy in America. Obviously, the media contributes substantially to these with the way that wealthy people are portrayed on television.
Money is not a license to behave badly. It’s not a toy. Being born into a rich family with a certain amount of education–college educated parents and grandparents–sets you up to conduct yourself in a certain manner. You’ve seen much more, in terms of travel and exposure, than most people. You’ve never seen your parents intoxicated with silliness because they made a lot of money on a business deal. You’ve never seen them worried about paying the mortgage, either. So there’s this equilibrium that’s established, emotionally, about money and what place it has in your life.
You’ve been educated in private schools, or very good public schools, with every resource available to you. The assumption, which is sometimes subtle and sometimes not, is that you’re going to find something you’re passionate about and excel at it. That’s just a given: you’ve had every advantage.
So there is pressure, but you sound like a spoiled brat if you complain about it. The purpose of the pressure is to make sure you don’t get a fat head and become a blazing asshole. Or even worse, lazy.
There is a standard of behavior. Other people can be rude. We must be polite. This is not to say we can’t speak our mind. If you want to hear some unvarnished opinions peppered succinct and colorful language, ask an Old Money person over the age of 60 about something. They’ve read a lot, seen a lot, and will call something exactly what it is in no uncertain terms. And most of the time, they’re right.
The upper class, or whatever you want to call it, can appear to be an insular world, but I have friends who are rich and friends who aren’t. The ones who aren’t rich are smart enough to pick up social clues regarding what is and is not done. That’s a courtesy they extend to me. “Yeah, you better dress a little nicer when you have dinner over there,” or whatever.
What I do for them is that I don’t judge the way they entertain or socialize when I’m with them. If they bring out chips in a Tupperware bowl with some dip they bought at the convenience store and a soft drink in a can, so what. They’re being hospitable. The least I can do is be gracious and have a good time.
I go to private clubs and I go to baseball games. If you can’t hang out with the whole spectrum of society, you’re not really Old Money, or upper class. I’m very aware that my position in life is due to an accident of birth. So I do my best and keep low profile about a lot of things.
The final thing that isn’t really acknowledged much is chivalry. It seems like a corny, archaic term, but it’s very real in our circle. In the most pedestrian sense, it’s opening a door for someone or offering your seat to an old lady on the train. In a more serious sense it’s taking a stand for what’s right or defending someone who’s vulnerable. The rich men who could have taken a seat on a lifeboat on the Titanic didn’t. It’s just not something you do, taking advantage of your position. If you risk your life to save someone else, so what? You’ve had a good ride. You’ve had privilege. You can’t be selfish. You can’t be a coward.
We’re here for a short period of time. You can’t get too attached to this life or the things in it. Do your best. Be passionate about life. Set a good example. Leave something for the next generation. That’s about it.
- RGP III