In this digital age when over-sharing is de rigueur, I think it’s important to revisit from time to time the concept of keeping a secret. Privacy, which is a Core Value of Old Money, is a general concept. Keeping a secret is a specific, tangible choice. The difference between the two makes the latter worth noting.
Of course, whether keeping a secret is a beneficial or destructive thing depends on the circumstances. A person who witnesses a crime and does not report it, is likely doing no one–not himself, the victim, or society–any good. A person who keeps a secret about more intimate information–personal finances, business arrangements, or romantic relationships–often does everyone a favor by keeping his or her mouth shut.
As I may have mentioned in a previous post, a secret is not something you tell one person at a time. This misconception has probably been with mankind since the beginning of time. I like to imagine that, for a moment anyway, after partaking of the forbidden fruit, Eve probably turned to the serpent and said, “Let’s just keep this between us.” And when all know how that turned out.
Fast forward to our daily lives, and we find ourselves on occasion asked or compelled to keep a secret. Often, this is a contract with a friend or family member. We agree to keep a secret to protect the person we care about. If we are honorable, we never use that information as a bargaining chip: emotional blackmail is not pretty, and actual blackmail can get you prison time.
So we work to maintain the trust of our loved ones by keeping a secret.
A second beneficial way in which we keep secrets is to reserve information that might influence others. The Ultimate Hard and Fast Rule of Old Money is that you don’t talk about your own money and you damn sure don’t talk about the money other people have, especially if they’re your friends. This is not only gauche in polite society, but it can influence the way you or other people might be treated.
That is to say, unfairly almost all the time. Many affluent people have been diligent in protecting their privacy and being discreet. A negligent or malicious slip of the tongue can bring the whole well-constructed wall crashing down. A young man is no longer seen for the interesting, well-read person he actually is, but rather, as the ‘trust fund baby’ who will someday inherit his family’s millions. The hardworking young lady learning the business from the ground up can be ‘outed’ as a ‘spoiled little rich girl’ and have her career plans dinted or derailed by petty office politics.
So who can blame Old Money Guys and Gals for being reserved in groups and slow to make friends? Unlike so many of today’s behaviors that can be rationalized, marginalized, or excused by saying that someone ‘misspoke’ or that their comment was ‘taken out of context’, keeping a secret is a black and white issue. There is no grey. Do or do not, said Confucius, there is no try.
Keeping a secret is a mark of character, the offspring of honesty, a reflection of honor.
So let’s hold up our end of the bargain when someone asks us to maintain a confidence. Let’s keep it, and our integrity, to ourselves and in tact.
14 thoughts on “The Importance of Keeping a Secret”
Very timely. I’ve been reading a lot about “stealth wealth” lately, among the FIRE community; which differs slightly from Old Money in that stealth wealth means maintaining the appearance of being middle class (Brooks Brothers, country clubs, boarding school and old Mercedes-Benzes wouldn’t make the cut.) Class resentment and jealousy is real, so I can see the appeal in blending in with the middle class. But that all depends on context, too. Old Money looks modest next to the nouveau riche in affluent cities, but rich in poorer, rural communities.
As for friends, given that all it takes is one person to let out your secret, there may be some things that even friends may not need to know. For OMGs, traveling in certain circles above the middle class opens doors to connection and opportunities, so I imagine they take a certain calculated risk with whom they socialize.
Excellent points, Essley. Thank you for the insight into the FIRE community. It is tricky socializing…what to reveal when. – BGT
Telling someone how much money you have is always a mistake. Nothing good ever comes of it. As for “Do or do not. There is no try.”, I thought that was Yoda from Star Wars.
Same for your income. Especially among colleagues, divulging it breeds resentment.
Similarly, whenever the topic turns to investments and their returns, it pays to maintain a stiff upper lip.
Good point, Amy. Yeah, Yoda did a little cut and paste. – BGT
A great lesson for young kids (who LOVE to hear secrets) is this:
Ask them “Hey, can you keep a secret?” They will say YES!! Then tell them “Great. So can I,” and just smile without another word. They get wide-eyed. “What is it ?!” And you explain, “a secret.”
It’s kind of funny, but makes a strong point.
That’s a classic, Elle! Thank you. Stay safe and healthy. – BGT
This is something I certainly agree with. Heck, after 43 years of marriage there are still things I haven’t told my wife! 😉 Discretion being the better part of valor and all that. And outside of the family, we never discuss things like money or finances. Another thing we don’t do is gossip.
Good call, Chris. Tick-a-lock, as they say. – BGT
One wouldn’t lose one’s peace of mind if one’s finances and politico-religious views were divulgated. And if a similar faith befell others, one wouldn’t even bother to consult or judge, for it would reveal nothing that exalts the mind. But one’s obscure past as a stamp collector, obsessed with illustrative minutiae of historical figures and wildlife alike, must under all circumstances remain secret.
Very true, JL…!!! Hope you’re safe and well. – BGT
Why would an OMG care if people judge them for being “spoiled?” If the man truly is interesting, and the young lady truly a hard worker, then most rational people would eventually recognize that. And for the people who simply make snap judgments based on a trust fund and not the actual person, then it’s their loss, and certainly not the loss of the OMG.
As a non-OMG, the little financial success and upward mobility I’ve had has been thanks in part to others being open about their finances and how they got there. How are employees supposed to know if they are getting severely underpaid if they can’t talk about it with their colleagues?
How are non-OMG’s supposed to learn about best money practices if no one in their real world discusses them?
A friend of mine is in the process of purchasing her first house, and was asking me for advice as it’s truly a daunting process for someone who comes from a family of renters. Both of our finances were discussed as I advised her based on my home-buying experiences. Throughout our friendship at various points in time, we’ve discussed salaries, student loan strategies, taxes, budgeting, and yes sex and politics too. It helps us learn and get perspective from our peers.
P.S. Byron, apologies for writing two similar comments (one on this post and one under the About page). After I wrote the first one, I thought it hadn’t saved, so I rewrote it. Feel free to disregard one or both! 😉
Good point, Katherine. I think a distinction needs to be made: discussing the ins and outs of finance is one thing. Talking about how much money one has is quite another. Financial literacy is key. Discussing such topics in a social setting, like a party, is not the best. But to get together to discuss them in private with friends is a great practice. Learn, learn, learn. – BGT