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Posted July 29, 2010

The Fragility of a Reputation

Eugene Hemrick

“I used to marvel at film clips of Tiger Woods’ that portrayed his triumphs. Now, I have lost my taste for watching them.”

Sad to say, a stellar reputation has been stained that will take enormous efforts to erase. British business executive Anita Roddick once said, “Seventeen years of reputation doesn't really matter to a media that sniffs blood.” As the press digs deeper into Woods’ character, no doubt, his achievements will lose a large amount of their pristine attraction.

The word reputation comes from the Latin meaning consideration, denoting it relies on how we are considered by others, our self and by God. How well we are reputed to be is of the essence for good self identity and happiness. U.S. abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher once said, “A reputation for good judgment, for fair dealing, for truth, and for rectitude, is itself a fortune.” Spanish dramatist Miguel de Cervantes takes this a step further than fortune, “A good name is better than riches.”

Maintaining a good reputation isn’t easy. In the bible we hear Christ say, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” implying none of us is without guilt. We enter this world innocent, but like beautiful fresh flowers blooming in spring and fading in winter, our journey through life becomes filled with many weary, wintery nights.

It would be wonderful if our reputation was forever growing in the eyes of others and our self, but often life doesn’t go that way. Rather, it consists in continuous conversions: we fall, get up, resolve to do better only to fall again. In these instances, admitting our faults and striving to do better are all God desires of us.

The loss of a reputation comes with a big price: shame, guilt, scorn, a soiled image, and regrets. It can also contain a valuable lesson about true happiness.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that joy is to desire as rest is to motion. We are happiest when we possess a true goodness we desired. When this goodness is achieved, peace of mind and rest follow, and we become delightfully motionless and tranquil.

Hopefully any of us whose reputations have been soiled will come to see that the happiness we were pursuing wasn’t true happiness, but rather it was strangling us with emptiness and endless motion that caused more anxiety than rest. Nothing is more liberating than realizing a better life exists beyond what we falsely thought was the epitome of life, and worst of all tarnished our reputation for being a person of character.