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Inside looking out: Let’s be real about reputations

Published January 19. 2019 06:26AM

Whenever I hear someone say, “I don’t care what people think of me,” I think to myself, “yes, you do!”

You often find these statements on Facebook, so why is there this need to broadcast that you’re not interested in what others think of you through social media? You’re inviting criticism of your declaration to see who’s on your side and who’s not. To be honest, those who don’t worry about their reputations aren’t publicly making these declarations on social media sites.

We do care about the perceptions people have of us because we have to care. It’s human nature to want to be social and want to be liked. We want friends. We take great pleasure when we receive compliments or gratitude from others. We open our ears when somebody is talking about us.

Everyone has a reputation, like it or not. The truth about our reputations lies somewhere between who we think we are and who others think we are. Rumors spread behind our backs can unfairly destroy our value to the personal world we live in.

Many years ago, I taught in a junior high school where a history teacher was accused by two of his students of sexual molestation. He vehemently denied the charges against him, but was arrested at school and suspended from his job. When placed under serious questioning by the police, both of the 14-year-old students admitted they made the story up because they thought he was too strict in the classroom.

The teacher was reinstated. The following year, when student schedules were given out, the school’s front office was inundated with phone calls by parents who wanted their children removed from the teacher’s class. Despite his acquittal of the charges, suspicion about him was permanently damaging. He became so upset he took leave, and a year later, he was found dead in his apartment.

“A single lie destroys a whole reputation for integrity,” wrote Spanish philosopher Baltasar Gracian.

This sad story proves how reputations, false or factual, define us to our familiar public. According to Jamie Ducharme in Time magazine, even 5-year-olds are concerned about what others think of them, which is why they model good behavior in front of adults.

Dr. Alex Lickerman in Psychology Today reports that we really need to have a good reputation among those who are in our circle of life.

“You give birth to your reputation, but the way it develops depends on the actions of others,” he wrote.

Lickerman makes the point that our reputations have their own existences that are apart from us and they are very fragile in the minds of others. When something negative is said about us, those who believe in our good character will stand up to defend us, which can be very significant in the workplace, where promotions and salary raises are at stake.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are,” said John Wooden, Hall of Fame basketball coach. And yet, others would argue that character and reputation are closely intertwined.

“It is generally much more shameful to lose a good reputation than never to have acquired it,” said Pliny the Elder, a Roman philosopher.

Look at the tragic life of Bill Cosby, once America’s TV father, now a convicted sex offender as a prime example of what Pliny had said nearly 80 years before the birth of Christ.

Teenage years can be an obsession with reputation. Someone once said, “I’ve been so obsessed with what other people think of me, I never became me. I’m a mishmash of whoever they want me to be, the perpetual teenager who wants to fit in.”

But nowadays, the battle cry is to be yourself, and if others don’t like you, well, then the heck with all of them.

The website “Power of Positivity” threw this line on Facebook. “The trick is that as long as you know who you are and what makes you happy, it doesn’t matter how others see you.”

Then almost right below that, they posted again. “It’s been a long hard year of ups and downs and I just wanted to say thank you to all the family and friends who have helped me throughout the year.”

So I question the contradiction. “It doesn’t matter how others see you”? Apparently this does matter if your friends and family chose to help you to get through the year.

Certainly no one says we should be who others want us to be, but to say we don’t care about our reputations is a bit untruthful. Build a bad reputation and life can become an uphill climb. Then we could be left trying to answer a painful question asked by American film director Peter Berg.

“Where do you go to buy back your reputation when you lose it?”

Rich Strack can be reached at

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