How Good Reputations Die!
By Stephen Doherty
“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation,
and only one bad one to lose it.” –Benjamin Franklin
We’ve all seen the video of last week’s horrific attack by Myles Garrett with a football helmet to the unprotected head of Pittsburgh quarterback, Mason Rudolph. Had Garrett had the helmet turned over so that the crown of it hit Rudolph’s head–God only knows the damage it could have done. As bad as this incident was, I was more disturbed by what the announcers said immediately after Garrett’s attack. They said, “For the rest of his life, the name Myles Garret will live in infamy and any mention of him will always be attached to this incident and the video of it that will play for the next 100-years! I want you to think about that for a moment. The entirety of this young man’s life, before and after these 15-seconds of blind rage and stupidity, will now be defined by this single moment. I find that sad and tragic despite the fact that it was 100% avoidable and 100% self-inflicted. It also reminds us that despite the priceless nature of our personal and professional reputations the fragility that accompanies it is often staggering.
A good reputation is one of the most important things you can have in life. A good reputation may decide your whole life and decide how successful you may become. Many people may say that the way a person or people view you doesn’t matter or doesn’t affect you in life but it does drastically. Over time, your good reputation is the sum total of the good things you’ve done and the trustworthy and honorable way you’ve conducted yourself. A good reputation is made up of the thousand times you kept your word, showed up on time, fulfilled your commitments, and defied any and all temptations to be morally compromised or ethically undone. A good reputation is the combined perception by all who know us that we can be trusted to do the right thing..always. A good reputation is also a reflection of, but not a guarantee of, a commensurate amount of strong character. As Thomas Paine once said, “Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us.” Perhaps this goes a long way to explaining the many shocking falls from grace we see daily from men and women we perceived to have impeccable reputations. We can craft and build and groom and maintain our good reputations..but sooner or later, our character will have the final say in the end product. P.T Barnum was right. “You can fool all of the people some of the time.”
“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be
what you desire to appear.” —Socrates
The bottom line is that character is who we are while reputations are merely what people think we are. Is it any wonder that it takes so little to damage or stain our reputations and that it takes so much to rebuild them? Public perception is nearly demonic in its unwavering refusal to forgive and forget. Will Bill Clinton ever live down Monica Lewinsky? Will Ron Artest ever be remembered for anything but his raging attack on several basketball fans in attendance? Will Bernie Madoff ever be mentioned for his charitable contributions? Will Bill Cosby ever do family television again? Will football ever define OJ Simpson again? Joe Paterno? Harvey Weinstein? Lance Armstrong? No–their reputations are shot because eventually, their absence of character exceeded their ability to hide it.
So the lesson for my kids, for all of us, is that character far outweighs reputation for strength and longevity. This matters because it removes any single event as defining our lives in favor of the sum total of our lives. This doesn’t guarantee absolution or forgiveness from those we’ve hurt, it merely reminds us that ultimate forgiveness is above the pay grade of our fellow flawed human beings. As the famous UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden would frequently remind us, “Tough times don’t test our character. Tough times reveal our character!” My children are growing up in a strange time when society and culture are increasingly judging our value and worth by our worst moments. It’s important that they always remember that each day they’re alive is merely a new classroom to excel and learn in. No victory is permanent and no mistake is insurmountable. As someone who has stumbled more than most, I live my life by a very simple edict. Seize the day! We are but mere mortals with new and exciting opportunities to be better any and every day we are privy to another sunrise.