Reputation Is Not Character

This is my second post for the Your Turn Challenge.

Status toward my goals:

  • Marathon: On track. No change since yesterday.
  • Two Square Yards of Earth: Behind schedule. No change since yesterday.
  • 100 posts: Behind schedule. This is my fourth post for the year, of a planned eight by the end of this week.

We hear a lot about character from politicians, sports figures, business leaders, and other public figures. Usually, what we hear is about how Fred lacks character for one reason or another, or how Joe is attacking Sally’s character for some real or imagined reason, or how the media is piling on Jerry after Stevie and Perry made some allegations about his character.

When the subject of character comes up, we like to think we know the truth of it. We like to think we know, based on our observation of Fred’s behavior (usually through the same box from which we’re now hearing about his deficiencies), whether or not he is a man of character. We like to think we have some idea of what kind of man he is, based on secondhand observation of a tiny sliver of his life.

The truth is, in most cases we don’t. Because in most cases, what we see in that little sliver is not Fred’s character, but his reputation, the image he presents to the world.

A public figure’s reputation is often carefully crafted. It’s the product, for many, of a deliberate strategy. It’s molded and manipulated through a combination of actions designed to be noticed and moments designed to be photographed or captured on video. Reputation is all about what Fred wants us to think about him.

Character is much more complicated, and usually more difficult to discern. Because character is all about what Fred does when we aren’t watching. It’s the little acts of heroism or villainy that make up who he really is. It’s the parts of himself he tries to enhance or obscure with his reputation.

The good news is that character is much harder to destroy than reputation. The other news is it’s much harder to build, too.

It seems to me we could save ourselves a lot of the effort of building a reputation by focusing on our own character, instead. And we could save ourselves a lot of disappointment by working on our own character instead of trying to discern–or worse, tear down–another’s.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.
  • Great perspective! I have seen individuals of great character make terrible blunders, and I have seen seasoned criminals perform great acts of kindness. You are right – it is complicated, and we are best served at looking inside ourselves.