At first glance, it’s easy for the casual passerby to label the Old Money way of life as ‘conservative’, in the financial and behavioral sense, and maybe half the time in the political sense, and ‘traditional’, in the sense of having long-held rituals and rules that rarely change, and change slowly if they do.
The hidden irony of that quick assessment is that the Old Money philosophy actually challenges us to constantly change, mostly in the arena of self-improvement. This reality results from the fact that this philosophy is based on values.
Most of you know these Core Values by heart because I’ve written about them in The Old Money Book and I talk about them frequently here on this blog. For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, these values include Health, Education, Financial Independence, Family & Marriage, Manners & Etiquette, The Work Ethic, and Privacy.
The problem–if you want to call it that–with values is that they are not tangible. They are not pieces of real estate we acquire and then sit on. They are concepts we embrace…and then run with.
Because they are ephemeral, they can only be measured by their impact and influence on our daily lives. For example, if we say we have Health as a Core Value, then we’re exercising and eating fresh foods, not abusing alcohol, and not doing drugs.
That’s pretty straightforward. Our thoughts, words, and deeds match up when we are living our values or living our truth, as some modern day gurus say. The issue arises when we realize that we can almost always improve. We can exercise a little harder, a little more consistently. We can lose a few extra pounds. (Well, I can’t, not without looking like I’m on the Crystal Meth Diet.)
And it’s that way with every Core Value. We can all be more productive. Not spend so randomly. Not be on social media as much. That’s the nature of the beast.
The second beast we battle is the constantly changing world. How do we hold onto enduring values–which too frequently boil down to moral choices–in a world that seems to be a little more immoral and a little more ruthless every day?
Full disclosure: I’m not a pessimist. The world was not paradise when I was young. It has not gone to hell in a handbag during my lifetime. All will probably be more or less well/a little different/kind of the same/hopefully improved after I’m gone.
But I do remember my parents often leaving the front door to our home unlocked while we were all at work or school. Who’s going to break into your house and steal things?
It was, obviously, a different time, in a particular neighborhood, with plenty of variables. (One of them being that thieves may have been familiar with my family and knew that there wasn’t anything in the house worth stealing. WASP residences can be spartan in their furnishings.)
But I digress. The beast of the changing world is one in which we are also constantly asking ourselves if the people we’re dealing with share the same values we share. If they do, how will we recognize that? And if they don’t, how do we respond? If we hold onto practices or beliefs that become antiquated, even if well-intentioned, will we fail in our endeavors?
The old markers of an Ivy League education and preppy clothing may or may not be present (as we discussed with Bryce recently) but the Old Money Core Values may still be present, vibrant, and strong.
Maybe we could revamp a secret handshake, but the pandemic has left me still bumping fists with half my social circle and kissing cheeks (it’s Paris!) with nobody. So maybe that’s out, but we need some way to recognize each other, right?
I digress again. Seriously, how do we practice what we preach in a world that literally seems to make up the rules as it goes along?
The first part of our dilemma is easy: we simply try to do better every day, every month, every year, with our health, with our work, with our money. These are things we control.
The second part is less cut and dry. Sometimes we instantly know in our gut if we’ve done the right thing, difficult or not. Often, we only know if we’ve made the right choice–applied our values appropriately to a situation–much later down the road, farther in the future, when everything shakes out and all the dust settles.
Just remember: the Old Money way of life is a constantly challenging–and a constantly changing–thing, even if some of the more visible components of it seem to remain the same.
Of course, your thoughts on this–how you honor your values in the modern world–are welcome and appreciated.