In Canada, we are having a reputational meltdown. In the past week, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney tried to explain away large, unreported (for six years) cash payments that he received from a German-Canadian businessman, three years after he left office.
A Liberal Member of Parliament, Ruby Dhalla, responded to allegations that she illegally employed and mistreated three foreign workers. She refuted the charge, saying this is a smear campaign to "wreck her reputation."
I have no special knowledge of these two cases.
I'm closer, however, to the background of a local personage recently profiled in a book. Her story is dramatic tale of adversity, courage and eventual triumph over the most destructive and repugnant forces of recent history. Though I have not yet read the complete piece, excerpts are compelling.
Some of my friends and acquaintances were her business associates and employees. Their experiences over decades has led them call her "greedy", and "mean"; the saddest remark I heard was, "She is alone. No one will have anything to do with her."
Who is she, really? The triumphant survivor? The woman so difficult her own family avoid her?
Few of us have but one reputation.
My father, for example, was adored by his patients, and I saw him demonstrate unfailing kindness to them. But at home he was often cutting and difficult. Some variation between the public and private person is inevitable- we contain both noble qualities and a dark side, and are usually more inhibited or careful when we display our public persona.
A key challenge in mature adult life is the realization that I can no longer excuse certain behaviours of mine as "immaturity" or "finding myself". It's time to consider whether I will, despite my flaws and failings, make a contribution to others' lives or take them down.
My friends' and acquaintances' response to the hagiographic profile was a wake-up call. People have long memories, and if someone has been cheated, deliberately hurt or views the representation as notably inauthentic, they'll say so. A reputation is a collective judgment.
And some people don't care what anyone thinks of them. "That's life", they'll say quite blithely, as they smash into someone's car door in a parking lot, and if they think no one looking, drive away. (I saw this happen.) But in my work, reputation is essential, and in private life, I'd rather be appreciated than avoided.
Time for me to pay renewed attention to both the inner and outer person, to what the world receives from me as much as what I desire from it. As Socrates said, "The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear."