PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Amid the shouting heads of 24-hour news, the anonymous slurs of comments fields and the single-digit sign language of the daily commute, is there any corner of the globe where decorum is still alive and well?
Look no further than the world's Top 1%.
As international financial advisory agency deVere Group discovered while conducting a survey, civil conversation and social taboos apparently have become luxury items. It recently asked 1,125 clients with investable assets of more than $1.5 million which subject was the most difficult to discuss with family, friends and colleagues. Answers came in from the United States, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa, but general consensus worldwide is that there are just some things you don't talk about even in close company -- never mind in a mixed group that might not be so careful with what you confide.
Though deVere seemed to have a vested interest in one particular survey answer, we found all of the survey's Top 5 answers fascinating in their own right. With just about all of them fair game on message boards, panels of pundits and long holidays where each family dinner becomes a conversational minefield, we take a look at just why some of the wealthiest people still consider them socially inappropriate:
5. Health issues
Percentage of responses: 6%
Every holiday, there seems to be at least one family member hell bent on monopolizing at least a 15-minute block of conversation by telling the room of the various pains, probings and procedures they've undergone within the past year.
It rarely has any direct link to their ability to eat dinner or discuss other topics, but it almost always puts every intimate detail on the table and makes you think twice about filling your plate with seconds. The folks at the table are getting off easy, however. For every one-off family dinner ruined, there are countless hours in the break room, before staff meetings or on the job itself that hapless co-workers are being regaled with the same tales.
That said, it occasionally helps to tell someone when your health is going a bit squiffy. A study by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave found that 31% of those 50 and older don't want to broach the topics of health care or retirement because they don't want to feel like burdens on their children. With plans for their accumulated wealth both after retirement and beyond having direct impact on those around them, though, it's a good idea not to treat every health issue like the equivalent of a Christmas chat about Obamacare.
Percentage of responses: 8%
Any good bartender knows that this is one of those topics of conversation you need to squelch as soon as it arises.
It's easy to understand why wealthy people would want to take that stance as well. It's a polarizing topic that could sever business and personal relationships and, perhaps just as importantly, shut off entire streams of revenue.
Think we're blowing this out of proportion? Just ask National Football League owners, who are among the wealthiest people on the planet. When Arizona's state Legislature managed to push through a "religious freedom" bill that would have allowed businesses to discriminate openly against whomever they chose based on religious beliefs, the NFL and its owners pulled top Arizona officials aside and made it clear that they wanted the bill dead and the conversation over.
Companies including Google and Apple came out against the bill, just as they had come out for gay marriage proposals in Illinois and elsewhere, but the NFL has just as broad of a following and doesn't like being tied to legislation that would cost it a single fan or viewer. Just to send that point home, they reminded Arizona that the state is slated to host the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl in 2015. The league may have also reminded the state it had no problem taking a Super Bowl away from Arizona during the 1990s, when the state refused to honor the federal holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Shortly after getting a statement from the NFL and meeting with the state's Super Bowl host committee, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill. It's just one example of how religion and the business of the wealthy don't tend to mix, but it's the strongest one in recent memory.
Percentage of responses: 11%
There's little to be gained from shifting pillow talk out of the bedroom and into the breakroom, especially when you have a lot to lose as a result.
Sex cost Brian Dunn his gig as chief executive of Best Buy after the company found out he had an inappropriate relationship with a female employee. Mark Hurd had to resign as CEO of Hewlett-Packard in 2010 after a letter came to light that accused him of sexually harassing a company contractor.
Former Boeing chief Harry Stonecipher, ex-Stryker CEO Stephen MacMillan and one-time Lockheed Martin president and COO Christopher Kubasik are just some of the other powerful figures whose sex lives ended up costing them their jobs. Whether it's an ongoing relationship, a one-off tryst or a blatant case of marital infidelity or workplace impropriety, there's just about no situation in which crowing about one's sexual exploits makes millions instead of costing millions or worse.
Percentage of responses: 14%
This is what political action committees and donor rolls are for, people.
Airing one's political beliefs is a dicey proposition when your millions depend on a broad base of support from both sides of the aisle. If you're fairly secure in your niche clientele and feel they're likely to respond positively to your views, you can make political donations to anti-gay groups as Chick-fil-A did in 2012 and make anti-gay statements like Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy did that year and still see a spike in sales. If you're an NFL sponsor and rely on U.S. pizza buyers from all walks of life to bolster your business, it's much tougher to come out against Obamacare and not see the same sales slides Papa John's founder John Schnatter did in 2012.
Then again, when you have enough capital amassed and have a diverse collection of holdings that are nearly boycott-proof, it's far easier to make your beliefs public. Just ask the Koch Brothers and George Soros.
Percentage of responses: 61%
This was the answer deVere was looking for. It was also way too easy to find.
Even with the global financial crisis winding down, flaunting wealth is still largely frowned upon outside of Dubai or Monaco. The aspirational, luxury-oriented 2000s are still viewed through a veil of regret here in the U.S. thanks to the housing crisis, bank collapses, bailouts and the deep recession that followed.
It's to the point that even items indicating even marginal excess -- such as wearing Google Glass beyond Silicon Valley, MIT's campus or the nation's various tech corridors -- warrant strenuous debate and yield the conclusion that we're probably still not ready for public displays of wealth as of yet. Even deVere founder Nigel Green agrees, although he's of the mind that wealthier global citizens have earned the right to get over it.
"For many, wealth comes with plenty of intense emotions, so perhaps it's little wonder that even the 'better-off' prefer to discuss almost anything else -- including those famous dinner party taboos of politics and religion," Green says. "I think the survey's findings suggest that there is perhaps some degree of misplaced guilt or embarrassment surrounding money by those who have accumulated it -- despite the fact that high-net-worth individuals are typically likely to be society's primary wealth and job creators and major tax contributors."
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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