I don't give a damn 'bout my reputation
What is "reputation" worth in a world adrift and boundless?
My name is Stephen Kent, and I care a lot about what people think of me. More than most, I’m afraid. This is something I have admitted to myself, prayed over, meditated on, and tried to minimize where I can. I’m not sure where it came from. My Mom always said that I didn’t ever need but one spanking in my career as a child. The self-loathing and shame I heaped on myself, she always felt was sufficient. Except for that one time, I exploded up a TV with magnets. Oops.
In adulthood, I’ve spent a great deal of time doing TV, speaking publicly, and being a pretty public person. In this world, you’ll come across different types of people. Those who don’t give a damn and speak their truth, and those who are hyper-aware of the setting, the mood in the room and modulate as such. Neither one has a monopoly on virtue or courage. As a reader of This Is The Way said to me recently, sometimes “Discretion is the better part of valor.” So being loud, proud, a straight shooter, or open-book may not always be brave, if that is the thing you find most easy and expedient to do.
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For me, courage looks more like letting go. Loosening my hold on the reins of “reputation”. What about you?
Here’s another question. Is your reputation something that you can control? I have said for years that “yes, of course, it is.” I was raised in the Boy Scouts and when we say “The Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent” we’re making a statement as to how we’ll behave as Scouts. We choose to act in these ways, and not in other ways. Therefore, if we’re choosing these behaviors, we’re cultivating a reputation.
Makes sense. But what if you’re in a club, and you personally live by the virtues of being “cheerful, thrifty and reverent” but the club has no virtues at all? What if what they value is only growing membership, raising money, and group cohesion?
If your values don’t mesh with the society or group you’re part of, will you have control over your reputation? No. You will not. People will talk, whispers will be whispered and your brand, reputation, and standing…will be subject to the whims of the people around. A reflection of what they value. If you live by the code of Honesty (Never Tell A Lie), you may quickly find you have a reputation for cruelty. If society values sensitivity over honesty, your commitment to speaking truth will make you the town troublemaker.
Something else to consider….
Being pegged as the town troublemaker is something that cuts deep at my psyche. It’s hard for me. It’s not as hard for my wife, who I wrote about last week. The way she carries herself when arrows are coming out of nowhere when stones are being cast is remarkable. It’s a courage of a very unique variety. A commitment to one’s self and the confidence found within, rather than in the validation of disinterested strangers.
Are you in control of your reputation? Do you prize your reputation?
Years ago someone wrote on Medium, “The hardest thing about being true to myself was being afraid of not pissing off my ‘followers’, the ‘internet.’ This is why James Bond is a permanent bachelor. This way, he cannot be coerced to doing something that he doesn’t ethically/morally believe in — because he has no family, kids, or college bills to pay. Of course, though — the biggest weakness he has is when he falls in love, and the villain threatens to kill Bond’s lover.
True. I’m a Star Wars guy and in reading that I immediately think of the Jedi Code disbarring members from romantic attachment. When you have a person in your life you’d fear to lose, your ability to make sound judgments will be compromised. Full stop. "Attachment leads to jealousy, the shadow of greed, that is,” said Master Yoda to a tormented Anakin Skywalker in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
I’ll close out this post today by saying clearly, that you can be attached to your reputation, blinded and misled by it even. If reputation is what you covet, you’ll find it very difficult to muster up courage when the time comes that it’s needed most. Reputation, despite all your efforts, all your good behavior, and good choices, actually has nothing to do with your outputs. It has everything to do with the world, community, or society you’re interacting with.
This week I am going to be doing the hard work of letting go of my attachment to reputation as the highest good. One bit at a time. Will you join me?
Related Food for Thought
Sitting in a Russian prison for much of 1937 to 1951, doomed to forced-labor in the Arctic region of Kolyma, for his support of Leon Trotsky and praise of the anti-Soviet writer Ivan Bunin, Varlam Shalamov wrote:
“I discovered that the world should be divided not into good and bad people but into cowards and non-cowards. Ninety-five percent of cowards are capable of the vilest things, lethal things, at the mildest threat.”