The Weekly Dream: Who Do Men Say I Am?
“Reputation is the coin of the realm and the cornerstone of power.”
“A bad conscience is to be beared before a bad reputation”
Question of the Week: Are you a prisoner of your reputation? How did you build your reputation and what is it for?
Growing up, everyone was known for something. You were either popular or you were not. You were cool or you were a square. You were smart or you were dumb. Looking back, we learned to label others and treat them accordingly. However, we were also keenly aware of the effect the opinion of others had upon us. Like gravity, we learned to function under the tremendous weight of conforming to the opinions of others or at least having a desirable reputation. This peer pressure may have relented as we became adults, only to be replaced by the stress of conforming to corporate cultures and the like. Which leads to the question: How do we manage our reputation and what goes into it? In what ways does it empower or shackle us?
The Fat Girl at Prom
I remember a conversation I had with my father when I was in the fifth grade. After months of being teased by the “cool kids” in class, I was complaining to him that I did not want to be smart anymore, I wanted to be popular instead. I was and still am, a bit of a nerd growing up and I knew I was not like my classmates. My dad responded to me that it did not matter what they thought, and just because you are popular now does not mean you stay popular. I thought, that is all fine and good, but how is it gonna keep me from getting teased tomorrow.
Consequently, I grew up not caring what people thought about me, since I knew how fickle public opinion could be. Plus, the expectations of others became more of an annoyance than anything. I watched others who let their lives become dominated by the opinion of others. Yet, what I failed to realize is that even though I did not care, that attitude helped cultivate a reputation of arrogance and insolence. Talk about a Catch 22-can’t win for losing.
The Pin and Fork
Reputation is basically the general opinion and attitude towards a person or organization. Reputation serves as an important signal to others as to how to act, who to associate with and it also sets expectations. Normally, these expectations are set against a backdrop of norms and standards not of our own creation, and our representation is like our report card in carrying out these standards. Like your word, it is one of the bare bone things you have control over. And whether you like it or not, everyone gets one. It is the price you pay for being a social creature in society. If you know someone has a reputation as a gossip that lets you know not to tell them any of your business. In the business world, your credit score is viewed as a signal of your reputation for integrity. Those with good credit have good business reps. Those with bad credit, have bad business reps, and get treated accordingly. Thus, it behooves us to keep one eye on our reputation.
But in a sense, reputation is not fair. As I mentioned, reputation is closely related to expectations and external standards. Take the double standards associated with men and women. It used to be and still kind of is, if a woman messed around with a lot of guys, she was not someone you took home to your mother. But if a guy did it, he was a Ladies Man. As a result, an inordinate amount of stress has been traditionally placed on women to act and behave a certain way.
Furthermore, reputation is often divorced completely from the truth. Like a bad game of Telephone, how you really are is often ovrshadowed by your reputation. And how you see yourself is often different also. Let’s try an experiment. Write down a description of yourself. Then, ask people who hardly know you, those who are acquainted with you and your intimates to describe you and see if it is in line with your description.
Does It Really Matter?
I believe reputation is a tool and should be used as such. It is an imperfect signal. Just as a business card cannot really capture what you do at work, reputation cannot really convey your essence. It can serve as a useful deterrent or attractor, depending upon your purpose, thus saving you a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources.
A story will relay the point. Jesus was alone with His disciples and He asked them a series of questions. He first asked them who did men say He was. The disciples said things like Moses, Elijah, a prophet and all other sorts of stories. Then He asked them who did they think He was, and only Peter said the Christ.
Reputation is just the top layer, although an important layer.
However, it can never capture the real you. So don’t be obsessed with something that is based on something as fickle as public opinion.
Who men say you are is not as important as who you say you are. Define yourself and let the world catch up.