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Reputation vs. Character

I Googled the word, “reputation,” and it said, “widespread beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something. It is usually spread through word of mouth. Your reputation is how other people see you, not so much how you see yourself. It is like allyship, it’s not something you get to claim for yourself, it’s how others perceive you, and what they have to say about you.

When somebody says your name in a room, or anywhere, your reputation is how others come to understand you. It’s the meanings that they give to making sense of you. It informs whether they can trust you. It influences how or if they respect you. It’s your reputation that lets people know they can associate or work with you. It’s the experiences they’ve had with you, that they then go forth to tell others. They may not even know you. They may be a complete stranger telling others about who they think you are. It doesn’t matter if they’ve never experienced you in person. What they’ve heard about you, what they’ve seen about you online, these are the things that make a lasting impression.

When I was growing up, my mother always reminded me that first impressions are everything. This is because they will shape your reputation.

Reputation is distinct from your actual character, actions, or behaviour. Who you are isn’t always in alignment with your reputation.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, if we’re decent human beings, then there can be alignment between who you say you are, who you actually are, and who you pretend to be outside in public.

In my experience, that is often true. One’s character and one’s reputation match. But this isn’t always the case. What I’ve found is that reputation becomes what is most important, that is what some people focus on, not on actually being good people and following through with the reputation they’ve built for themselves. They don’t actually care about their character, which for the most part is dirty. It’s how people perceive them that’s important, not who they actually are. That’s the difference between one’s character and reputation.

For me, character is more important than one’s reputation. I want to know what you’re really like, and behind closed doors. Who are you when no one is looking? That’s what I want to trust. Not who you show me you are. Everyone puts their best foot forward when they know money is on the line. If people were to see who you really were, would you still have a good reputation?

So many factors come into play with our reputations that we cannot control. Women might not have the best reputation in the workplace because of sexism and patriarchy. Poor people might not have the best reputation because of classism. Black people might not have a good reputation collectively because of anti-Black racism. The mainstream media tells people we’re lazy criminals, etc. Is that the actual case, no. But these stereotypes have circulated for so many generations that racists will believe it and not hire you. Same with disabled people. Queer, gay, lesbian, and trans people. The list goes on.

You cannot control some of these things that precede you because of who you are and what the world has said about people like you. I think some people over-compensate for this lack of control by being too obsessed with their reputation. That’s all they care about is their reputation.

And it makes sense when so much of your reputation is tied to whether you get paid or not, whether you are in community or not, who associates with you, etc. Companies that have good reputations do well. People trust them. People refer others to them. That company is going to do way better than a company with a bad reputation and all people do is talk negatively about them. There is merit in this.

So, I’m not saying reputation isn’t important, or that you shouldn’t focus on building your brand or having people think good things of you. I’m asking us to question how much weight we put on reputation because it forces a lot of people to perform, be inauthentic, and not who they really are. Just so that people think they are a certain way. It becomes about perception. It becomes performative. They might be terrible human beings, with a great reputation.

This is my issue with reputation. Sometimes people who care most about reputation are not the best human beings.

What is a widespread belief or opinion that people have about you? Do you know what your reputation is? What’s your reputation like? Do you have a good reputation? Does that bring in a lot of money? Does your reputation align with your character? If not, why? Do you see the correlation between you having a bad reputation and not being as successful? Have people spread rumors about you or dragged your reputation through the mud in a way that damaged it? Why? Did that affect your reputation? If it wasn’t true, were you able to defend your reputation? Did people see your true character? Did that help or change your reputation? Do you have a publicist or marketing team that is in charge of making sure you maintain a good reputation? See how having money is really beneficial for reputation?

Until next time, in solidarity.

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