The Root of Reputation

Reputation goes by many other names, with many dimensions: image, honor, credibility, face, respect, fame, admiration, or in business, “brand.” The word “honor” might seem quaint, but not to Southern Italian immigrants. “Face” still means a great deal in much of Asia – and America.

Disparagement or defamation also go by many names – “calumny” if we’re getting fancy, or “slander” if it’s a whisper campaign. And being “dissed” is a serious attack on someone’s street cred, in an area where street cred might be the most important face of reputation.

It’s easy to dismiss attacks on reputation as idiocy or misinformation. This overlooks the hugely important root of a reputation – it is not merely as a part of a person’s image, it is a force-line that runs from past to future, from grandparents forward to grandchildren, and farther. In deeply-rooted cultures a loss of reputation makes your ancestors roll in their graves, and leads your grandchildren to change their names. A secure reputation increases the worth of your family and friends as well as your own self-esteem. In the words of psychologist James Hillman,
So the victors say “Hello, Mom,” and wave to Pop on TV after an Olympic triumph; so they thank the family and bring them onstage on election night’s celebration; so they say “All I am I owe to my family.”1

Americans may take a shorter view than people from more traditional cultures, and be satisfied to link their identity back to the landing of the Mayflower. Or they may take a long view and see themselves as Irish or French or German or African or in part indigenous. In either case, reputation connects to others.

Ultimately, whether is a business issue to be calculated in money, or a personal issue to be measured in your heart and mind, the value of your reputation is up to you. The one certainty is that there are infinite ways to make a bad situation worse, and the only absolute is the need for thinking things through very carefully before acting.



1. “Reputation,” Kinds of Power, James Hillman. (Doubleday, 1995.) pp. 135-140.

reputation noun: the opinion that people in general have about someone or something, or how much respect or admiration someone or something receives, based on past behavior or character.

defamation noun: the act of communicating false statements about a person that injure the reputation of that person: the act of defaming another: calumny.

honor noun: 1a: good name or public esteem : reputation
b: a showing of usually merited respect: recognition pay honor to our founder
[And this is just one of ten meanings to the noun alone; there are more meanings to “honor” as a verb.]

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