Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Guard Your Children From A Reputation

“It was a recipe for disaster…” —Barenaked Ladies

Until they begin school, children are not too concerned about what other people think of them. They are who they are…screaming for a treat in a store or laughing out loud in church or farting at the dinner table.

School is the great teacher of expectations and rules. Beyond our parents, we learn in school how to behave in groups, respect personal space and property and meet learning goals. Our reputation begins to develop as either a well-mannered, quiet, helpful and attentive student or perhaps an inattentive, anxious, bullying, loud or enthusiastic rule breaker. There is a rainbow of reputations in between, but you get the picture.

Reputations are a slippery slope. If your teachers constantly call you quiet, smart and serious (as mine did), then the little rebel in you begins to plot her escape. If you are praised as a top performer or perfectionist, you might spend loads of energy and adrenalin worrying about the day you are knocked off the mountain. If you are labeled a failure, you might never consider climbing the mountain.

Families, communities, companies and countries have reputations. Families call it a legacy or a curse. Communities call it tradition or blight. Companies call it a brand or a crisis. Countries call it patriotism or terrorism. Society is grounded in reputation. Either you have a “good” one or you don’t…and you should be greatly concerned about that. Um, shouldn't you?

It takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears and aging to realize that reputations are like the shadow of a tree. As old Abe Lincoln said, “The tree is the real thing.” If you could really see the tree instead of just its shadow, what would you think? What would other people think?

If we want to raise future leaders, we should guard our children from the reputation trap. Reputation is the face we show to the world that gets us noticed, attracts a certain crowd and helps us achieve our “place in society.” Reputation makes us believe that once we’ve arrived in that place, we should live there forever. We don’t have a choice…people expect us to be this way. Good. Bad. Ugly. Sick. Spectacular.

But far better than a person of reputation is a person of character. People of character are messy and complex and human. They’ve faced themselves in the mirror and decided that no matter where they’ve been or what they’ve done or who the heck people think they are, they are really a sparkly piece of life — a purity and truth that only they can really know. And they can change and share that truth.

People of character also own up to their failures and more easily forgive the failures of others. They take the risk of showing who they really are — by how they live, love and let go. After the humiliations and silences and confusion and praise that may result, people of character discover that their place in society was just the shell on a delicious peanut. Shuck it.

I love the quote that says, “What people think of me is none of my business.” Imagine if our children kept the freedom that they had as toddlers…just being alive in every moment and discovering new talents and loving to help others. Imagine if we were more concerned with the heart of a person than what that person has done or failed to do. It's easier with little kids, isn't it?

Society may continue to move to the beating drum of reputations. But my dearest prayer for my children is to walk in the light and freedom of character…even if that means they laugh out loud in church sometimes. (Farting is accidental...I hope.)