Still Waters: Reputations: Fragile, handle with care

A reputation can be a lifetime in the making and a few moments in the breaking.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

Someone who has been trusted and respected in a community or in a nation can suddenly become a persona non grata, falling from grace over a slip of the tongue or a slip of the conscience.

We have seen it on a national level as well as locally. The most recent figure to fall from grace has been Harvey Weinstein, well known in the movie industry but not so much to the rest of us. Stars are coming out of the woodwork to denounce him for sexual harassment and assault. Last count, there were 40, beginning with Ashley Judd. Weinstein’s fall from grace may just now be occurring, but his actions contributing to that descent have apparently been ongoing for decades.

That is sometimes true of others who suddenly drop from favor, like Bill Cosby, America’s favorite dad of the 1980’s. Like Weinstein, once ladies started coming forward with sexual assault accusations against Cosby, many who had never spoken up before began adding their voices to the swell of accusations.

The reputation of Bill O’Reilly, Fox News anchor and author, also plummeted downward after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced. Again, the accusations dated back over time. The reputation may have been shattered quickly, but the alleged accounts had been building for some time.

In a different vein, the reputation of beloved cooking show host Paula Deen took a downward dive a few years ago when she admitted during a deposition over a lawsuit involving a former employee of her restaurant that she had used the “n” word for African Americans at some point in her life growing up in the South.

Farther back, beauty queen, singer and former Florida orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant fell from favor, at least with some folks, over her stand on homosexuality.

A reputation is a fragile thing. We talk about people with “solid” reputations, but no one’s reputation is untouchable. Even reputations of those long dead, who once were respected historical figures, can be tarnished with changes in information and popular opinion.

Locally, too, we have had folks who were once respected fall off the cliff of public admiration, sometimes very quickly. I remember years ago a public official whom I interviewed one week for having a place of honor in a statewide organization and the next week put on the front page for committing a crime while in office. The reputation of that elected official plummeted. A lifetime of respect evaporated overnight.

We’ve had more recent examples in our Valley communities as well, with no one immune. Sometimes a reputation can be tarnished by undeserved negative opinion or unfounded allegations. Unfortunately, though, most folks trip themselves up with their own actions and words, because when it comes down to it, we are all human, capable of making monumental mistakes.

Once broken, a reputation is difficult to mend. Folks will always remember the moment of downfall for a person. That, unfortunately, is another flaw in our human nature.

Joseph Hall said, “A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was.”

That is why it is so important to live our lives as conscientiously as possible abiding by principles that build a reputation on a strong foundation.

And finally, I don’t know who gets credit for this quote, but it’s a good one: “Live in such a way that if anyone should speak badly of you, no one would believe it.”