It cannot be overstated how pivotal character is to achieving success in life. Character is the fibre of a person; what they are made of. It starts with integrity, which I define as a state of wholeness that a person is able to occupy with their being. Other important qualities of a strong character are honesty, courage, a service orientation, and having the resilience to endure the tough times that life invariably presents to each of us. One of the key qualities that I think distinguishes people who have a high character is that they are thick skinned, and don’t allow others perceptions or judgements to define them. Having a solid sense of self and their place in the world, they are capable of listening to the input of others, and criticism, without feeling the need to go on the defensive or attack others in an attempt to save face. Making decisions with the objective of doing what is right in the circumstances, they know that their decisions will not always be popular with some people, and rather than fighting against this reality, they embrace it and use it as an opportunity for dialogue and bringing people together, so that greater strides in a purposeful direction can be made with the group that surrounds them.
To people who truly have a high character, possessing a strong reputation does not matter as much as it does to individuals who have a weaker character. A reputation is what someone is known for. It is the image that the external world has of who a person is. In most instances it is earned, but in other instances it is not, because despite of the behaviour on which a reputation is based, that reputation is also shaped by how that behaviour is perceived through the eyes of others. A reputation can also be distorted when the observer falsely assumes that the way a person does some things is the way that they do all things.
The lesson that a person of character takes from this is that it would be unwise to allow a reputation to define them. Where they then focus their energy is on the inside out process of developing their character, and allowing the external manifestations of that character to say to the world what it will. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have to be mindful of the impact that their behaviour has on their external environment. They do, and in any event, they possess this awareness and put it into practice as they navigate a way forward. The trap that they don’t fall into however is the one that many of us do, in giving our energy to creating an image or reputation that is consistent with how we want to world to see us.
As a population, we care way too much about what other people think of us, and rather than put our true selves forward in a fearless way, we present ourselves to others in an artificial light, primarily in order to gain the recognition or approval of others. The way that social media is often used illustrates this point well. Rather than posting something truly meaningful in our life as an update on Facebook, for example, we choose to post details of the most exciting part of our day, so that our friends might think that we have a life worth envying, or upload a selfie that took us fifteen tries to get us looking good!
None of these things matter in terms of building character, and engaging in this surface dressing of life will do nothing to improve the quality of the human condition when we most need it. What is required to make this world one that we want to live in, is people who have the will to look into the mirror, not to quaff their hair or cover up blemishes, but to examine their character and do the work to iron it out. When I look in the mirror, I see someone with so much to work on, that it could easily be questioned, who am I to be giving this advice? The most important thing though is that I am open and engaged in the process of becoming more integrated and fully human. If you are reading this, the chances are that you are similarly inclined, and I honour the progress that you are making on this front.
One of the best mantras concerning this notion of being detached from your reputation comes from Wayne Dyer when he said, “What other people think of you is none of your business”. There is great wisdom in this. When we make our business the highest development of our character, then our reputation will take care of itself.