Monday, July 14, 2008

...And I'll Show You a Liar

Show me a person who says, "I don't care what other people think about me," and I'll show you a liar.

We all care, just in different ways. There's no one who doesn't care. If someone just absolutely insists that they're somehow the exception, plaster flyers all over town stating that they're a twice-convicted serial killer/sex offender and see if they care about the way the neighbors react.

Trust me, they'll care. And they should.

Because your professional and personal reputation may be the most important thing you have. If someone knocked my professional integrity, work ethic, or sense of purpose towards work, I would care quite a bit, given the importance of reputation in my field. I would want to nip whatever was being said in the bud before it took root.

So to reiterate, yes, I would care.

Qualitative statements that can't be proven right or wrong are a little bit different, I'll admit. For instance, let's say someone said, "No one can be that friendly all the time. He must be fake." (If you're wondering, this has been said about me...more than once).

That's a hard one to respond to, and honestly I don't really get all that worked up over it. No one can define what makes someone 'fake' and there's nothing that could be said, or maybe even done, to challenge that opinion.

But if someone said something factually false (i.e. 'I heard that guy plays Nintendo in his office and takes a three-martini lunch every day at the Officers' Club') I would feel an absolute compulsion to find the source and shut him up.

To not care about something like that would be downright irresponsible.

So as a small step forward, let's all just start by admitting that we do -- and should -- care what other people say about us, and then we can start to diverge when we get down to the specific nature of the speech in question.

2 comments:

Chris said...

In a world where the white collar criminals are rarely caught and almost never punished, I am fascinated the way "legal" versus "social" consequences affect peoples decisions and actions in modern times. We must remember our social roots (whether that be a Massai community in Kenya 10,000 years ago or an old coal town in Tennessee 150 years ago). With a small population and low migration rates, your reputation was really all that mattered, and it affected every facet of your life, practically delivering or denying success ever step of the way. If you screwed up even once AND people found out about it (say, you slept with someone of a different tribe/race respectively), your life was effectively over because you would forever be a social outcast and no decent employment or romantic partner would ever come your way. (Think Hawethorne's "The Scarlet Letter", for example) And it was precisely this SOCIAL risk that persuaded folks to act in ways they otherwise might not, legality notwhithstanding. Remember too the classic "duel" where folks were fast to kill or die simply to to defend their reputation and honor.

The New Englander said...

Chris,

Awesome response, I loved it from top to bottom. If you think about it, our society is way more open and fluid, so you can have more anonymity than before (and very few people we know today knew us during our formative years, which I'm sure for most of us is a huge plus)...But then within our own little "tribes" -- our workplaces or schools or buildings -- the old-school principle you talked about is still in effect..if someone said I royally screwed something up -- rightly or wrongly -- it would make its way around my building like wildfire and not necessarily ever go away. So even though we have more leeway in the long-run big picture, reputation is still the main thing within our little mini-societies..

-gp