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Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Laws of Power (5)

My son Alton and I are reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and sharing our responses to the readings.

Robert Greene’s 5th law of power is:  So much depends on reputation—guard it with your life.  Reputation is the cornerstone of power.  Through reputation alone you can intimidate and win; once it slips, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides.  Make your reputation unassailable.  Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen.  Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations.  Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.

Reputation: “Something that somebody is known for—the generally accepted estimation of somebody or something as having particular qualities or attributes.  The new manager has a reputation for being a stickler for details” (Encarta Dictionary). 

Reputation is a good thing, so long as it does not become the tail that wags the dog.  In other words, man is made to be free.  He must have freedom at every turn to do the right thing.  Sometimes reputation can be a hindrance to freedom.  Say I have a reputation for being a “nice” person—I “go along” to “get along.”  This can become a tail that imprisons me—the tail that wags the dog.  It is a reputation that can enforce a silence upon me when in fact my conscience challenges me to break the mold and insist on another contrary action. (A decision that Rosa Parks faced on a bus in Montgomery when in 1955 she was challenged by her conscience to no longer uphold a subservient “go along” to “get along” reputation.) Another reputation is respectability. This ties my hands if I should be called upon to do the unrespectable. Just as “good reputations” can unacceptably limit freedom, so can “bad reputations.”  The Mafia boss can have a “bad reputation” that must be lived up to no matter how high the costs.  The boss is constrained to do bad things—he lacks the freedom to choose another course of action because he has a reputation that must not be compromised.  A reputation should flow from the actions of man and not vice versa.

It really comes down to what anchors you—the “generally accepted” opinion of others or your own conscience?  Should we be a slave to generally accepted perceptions of the past or instead should we evaluate new options presented to us on their own terms with a fresh and new light from Providence?  Consistency can foster conformity rather than excellence.  While reputation is founded on the past; God asks, “What have you done for me lately?”

This week I had an appointment with Dr. Brady, my primary care physician.  I have a reputation for being overweight.  I have been overweight for years.  But Dr. Brady insists that I forsake this reputation and claim a new identity—one that has me weighing 90 pounds less.  Now reputation is a real drag on this change—I have a reputation (a concept of me shared by others) that abhors change.  I am the jolly overweight Uncle Wayne, not the lean and hungry Wayne.  One should not underestimate the inertial force of reputation—of this past concept of me which I like despite its drawbacks.  To lose weight I must deny this old image and take on a new identity.  This change requires effort, discipline, and a new perspective.  Dr. Brady recognizes this and provided me a discipline—I am to regularly weigh and record my weight on a calendar.  I am to lose at least one pound every week.  For this plan to work, it must have one essential ingredient—my willingness to forgo a comfortable and perversely attractive reputation based on the past and change my thinking in this regard.  Since God loves me and abhors self-abuse, the time to choose an alternative reputation has arrived.  It is time to destroy an old reputation and replace it with another.  Only time will tell if I am a slave to the past—if I am driven to indeed guard the old overweight reputation with life itself.

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