Personal experience has taught me how reputations can make or break someone. When I was at sixth-form I had a reputation for being chronically disorganised. It'd be quite easy to say at this point that I was disorganised because people labelled me that way, but I probably need to take responsibility for my own actions.However, when I left for university I bucked my ideas up. I bought an academic diary, I made myself a colour coded timetable, I got a pencil case properly prepared, and put my clocks five minutes fast. Then I began to get the reputation of being organised. So, in order to maintain this facade I worked harder at being organised. I put various systems in place like I would staple my library receipts into my diary so I knew when the books were due and for every essay I read I created a cover sheet with the bibliographic information, key quotes and links to other articles. I was the one that always knew what was going on, to the extent that people will ring me and ask me if they didn't. People started making comments like, "I wish I was as organised as you were." I can now safely say that I am pretty organised.
Probably linked to this reputation and being forced to manage other people's life as a result, I also gained the reputation of being in control. I was never worried, never phased by things and took everything in its stride. In Mosaic, however, I have somehow gained the reputation of being neurotic. One off-hand comment by someone stuck and now I'm seen as a worrier. This week I realised that, actually, I have been worrying a lot, and far more than I used to. I spoke to my friend at university about my reputation for being neurotic and she pretty much scoffed at the idea. Since then, the things I was worried about seem far more manageable and I've found myself less stressed.
I think we see an instance of how Jesus uses the idea of a reputation to shape someone. In Matthew 16:18, he tells his disciple Simon, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Jesus changes someone's name to "Rock". He is publicly declaring, "you are stable, a firm foundation. I believe in you." If we look at what Peter was actually like, he probably didn't deserve that reputation. He was a bit unsteady, brash and unreliable. Jesus saw the potential in him and gave him the reputation of being stable enough to build his church on. And history has shown that the gates of Hades have yet to overcome it.
This has quite a few implications. We can build people through giving them a positive reputation, but equally we can destroy their potential. Ephesians 4:29 states:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.We can work, through the words we say, to dismantle negative reputations of people. We can help people fulfil their potential by shaping what others think of them and what they think of themselves. So remember:
Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)
- What do you have a reputation for?
- What would you like a reputation for?
- Has a reputation ever shaped how you've behaved?