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Noblesse Oblige: A Working List for the Low Key Rich

Old Money code is someone who lives by a ‘code’ of behavior. And that’s what we’re talking about: the obligations that come along with the privileges.

Article contribution by Byron Tully

Photo: Martin Luther King Jr. Credit: National Geographic


I’ve made it my mission over the past few years to articulate the fundamentals of the Old Money culture. The way we dress, the way we spend (or, more often that not, don’t spend), the priorities, the values, the habits.

There’s another aspect that I touch on a little less often, and that’s the obligations that accompany this way of life. These are more often left unsaid, understood among The Tribe, and tend to be less standardized, less obvious, but no less important than any other aspect of it.

Old Money isn’t an order of medieval knights or warrior princesses who have a list of commandments emblazoned on their brains, swords, or forearms. But everyone can recognize–in certain moments–someone who lives by a ‘code’ of behavior. And that’s what we’re talking about: the obligations that come along with the privileges.

So let’s run down a list of the usual suspects that comprise ‘noblesse oblige’…

Honor. If there’s one word that sums it up, this is it. To behave honorably in all circumstances. It’s difficult to define, but we all know it when we see it. It is the wellspring of being truthful, being fair, being compassionate, and being loyal. If you’re honorable, you don’t have to say much. Just walk the walk, and your actions will transcend language. Be dishonorable, and all the legal finesse and word games in the world won’t help. We have to do the right thing, even in the most challenging circumstances.

Performance. Do you do what you say you’re going to do? Is your work your best? Do you lead by example? Are you the first one to show up and the last one to go home? Do you leave it all on the field, as athletes say? Are you qualified, competent, and professional? Do you follow through? Performance is honor in action.

Discretion. They say it’s the better part of valor, and they’re right. It’s also kinder to the less fortunate and has been known to be a contributor to survival when the masses have had enough of the classes. Old Money has plenty of advantages, plenty of perks, plenty of luxuries. These include being financially independent, having a network of friends and colleagues who are well-positioned and possibly influential, having access to material goods, and having been raised in a safe, healthy, and literate environment. Millions of people don’t have these advantages. The most you can do is work to make the world a more equitable place. If you can’t do that, then please keep your mouth shut about the pleasures you do enjoy. Nobody wants to hear about the private jet to Sun Valley.

Silence. Nobody wants to hear any complaints, either. Don’t whine. Take the good and the bad with the same shrug and the same smile. You have no right to be bitter because you didn’t get a pony for Christmas.

The Long View. Perhaps more than anything else, it is incumbent upon Old Money to have perspective about life and the world. It’s obligatory that we recognize and address the issues facing the entire planet, not just search for ways to preserve or enhance our quite comfortable position. Given the complexity of today’s society, this will probably moderate our political views, lessen our haste and taste for quick and easy solutions, and open our minds to listening and learning. We’ll be more inclined to negotiate a way forward with the greatest potential upside and the least damaging downside. We’ll also want to make sure that our efforts are designed to benefit people as a whole, not us as a small percentage.

Even the wisest of people must approach a very dangerous place if he (she) is to act bravely. It is a broad, deep, and terrifying abyss whose echoes and darkness generate a reserve, a humbling, even a healthy fear, and a constant, careful consideration of what lies ahead. This element is present in all endeavors, in all times, and in all places. It preys upon the unprepared and the expert alike. It scatters empires like marbles on a sidewalk, and sends fortunes up in flames. It is the unknown, and it awaits us in infinite quantity, even with our best intentions and most thorough plans. So we hope for the best and plan for the worst, with our eyes on a distant, worthy prize, not a quick, worldly profit.

Know that some people hoard money like they’re going to live forever while others spend money like there’s no tomorrow. As Old Money, the caretakers of this society, we have to moderate our personal appetites and be disciplined in our focus. We have to know that the world is going to go on after us and in spite of us. We aren’t ‘all that and a bag of chips’. And we need to leave more than a bag of chips for the next generation to work with.

Old Money, in its best moments, embraces all of these concepts, not as lofty ideals engraved on aging parchment, held in some dusty vault on the family estate. This is a daily, working blueprint for living a full, rich life and leaving the world a better place than we found it.

These are just a few of the concepts I think are important.

About Byron Tully (right)

Grandson of a newspaper publisher and son of an oil industry executive, Byron Tully is an author who also writes for the entertainment industry. His nonfiction debut, "The Old Money Book," was published in April of 2013 to excellent reviews and enjoys consistently strong sales worldwide. His other works include "The Old Money Guide To Marriage", "Old Money, New Woman: How To Manage Your Money and Your Life", and "Old Money Style - The Gentleman's Edition".

Byron regularly contributes to its blog, www.theoldmoneybook.com, which has been visited by over 1 million readers since 2014.

In February of 2020, "Old Money Style - The Gentleman's Edition" was published by Acorn Street Press. This fourth book in the Old Money series reveals the fundamentals of dressing well in a classic and timeless style. In November of 2020, Byron published a 2nd Edition of "The Old Money Book", which expands on his original classic. This 2nd Edition includes vital information and insights for readers as they navigate a very different, post-pandemic world.

Byron speaks frequently about the culture and values of Old Money. He has been interviewed by KABC New York's Financial Quarterback Show, The Huffington Post, and The Simple Dollar, among others.

He lives in Paris and is happily married to an Old Money Gal from Boston.

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