COMMENTARY 768.2: Rebuilding Your Life and Your Reputation

Larry wrote me the following letter: “I’ve been a small businessman for almost 23 years in a business where people lie, cheat, and steal. I’m sorry to say I became one of them. In the short term it may have helped, but long term it came back to haunt me. There’s no amount of success that’s worth it. I am now 48 years old. I have lost my good name; my values and my ethics have been destroyed. Is there any way I will ever be able to restore my reputation and lead a life of integrity?”

What a pity that so many people delude themselves into believing that traditional ethical principles like honesty and integrity don’t apply in the business world. They govern their daily decisions by pragmatism – what works – without reference to principles – what’s right. And, piece-by-piece, decision-by-decision, they sell their souls and sully their names until they find themselves naked and alone on the barren wasteland of moral compromise.

The good news is that Larry can start leading a life of integrity immediately. He can redeem himself and become a man of character simply by choosing to be honest, responsible, respectful, caring, and fair.

The bad news is that his reputation will take longer to restore. Character is what you really are; reputation is what people think of you. And since people are more likely to judge us by our last worst act rather than our most virtuous habits, rebuilding a reputation can take years of honorable living.

Still, each phase of one’s life brings new opportunities for learning and growth, and if Larry wants it badly enough, the best part of his life is ahead.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 4

  1. Question: After Larry has started to live a life of integrity, and after his reputation has been restored in the community, what of the people he has cheated and stolen from? Are they to be restored also? Or is it sufficient that Larry now lives a life of integrity and now posesses a good reputation and, perhaps not incidentally, continues to live well on ill-gotten gains?

    Or is that what philanthropy is for? Assuage one’s guilt and gain reputation by giving to good causes.

    It’s clear from his question that Larry wants a cheap redemption; one where his reputation is restored. But if Larry truely wants to live a life of integrity, then he needs to give it all back –everything he has until everyone he cheated is made whole. To my mind, if character counts, Larry is in negative numbers. And he doesn’t even get back to zero until he undoes the harm he’s done.

    1. Glenn’s response regarding Larry’s question is missing two very important virtues: forgiveness and reconciliation. None of us are perfect. We are going to make mistakes, some of them bigger than others. Where would any of us be without forgiveness AND reconciliation. If you take this to an extreme, ending a life, one of the most impardonable actions, can be forgiven. Without knowing specifically what Larry is actually referring to, it could be something much less harsh than what Glenn is imagining or implying. Having been forgiven many times in my life for the error of my ways I know first hand what unconditional love and acceptance is all about and how healing it is to the truly contrite heart. Without it, we are all condemned. Larry, you’re forgiven and I hope you continue to seek a life of integrity regardless of how painful your past might me.

      1. Linda’s response misses what I think are some important points. As a third party observer, it’s not for me to forgive or reconcile with Larry. He can only be legitimately forgiven by, and reconciled with, those he has harmed. But the facts that Michael has presented to us show no interest by Larry in, or effort toward, making his victims whole. I think third-party forgiveness is cheap. It values the mere expression of regret as if it were genuine contriteness. But on these facts, Larry’s chief concern appears to be his reputation, coupled with the desire to live a life of integrity in the future. Granted, some harms cannot be remedied. But on Michael’s facts, Larry shows no interest in righting past wrongs. He merely wants to put them behind him. Forgiveness is a good thing; it heals in both directions. And if the victim wants to forgive the transgressor unconditionally, that’s entirely appropriate and his or her business. And I applaud Larry for turning a new leaf. But what of his victims? What solace do they obtain from Linda’s forgiveness? What price has she paid?

  2. The point is that Larry recognized he needs to change and does not hurt anyone else. If everyone strives to truly be a better person, our community will be an even better place to live and work.
    For me, a victim of someone like Larry, I would forgive him if he “really” changed and no longer lied, or stole from another person again.
    Ultimately, Larry will have to answer to someone greater than any of us.

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