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.