Tag Archives: reputation

Reputation damage and calling out abuse

Trigger warnings – rape

A deliberate attack on your reputation from a false accusation of abuse is a terrible thing to have to deal with. I’m not speaking hypothetically here, I’ve experienced it. Alongside this, I see routinely in mainstream culture the idea that an attack on a man’s reputation is as bad, if not worse than an attack on a woman’s body. We don’t take people seriously when they claim to be abused – especially women and children – because they might be making it up as a way of attacking someone – usually a famous and powerful man. The people with the most scope, power and opportunity to abuse are the ones whose ‘reputation damage’ is often taken most seriously. It may be more about power than gender in essence, but power and masculinity still align more often than not.

Reputation damage hurts. There will always be people who want to believe the worst of you, and people with axes to grind who take it as an opportunity. Which you may or may not deserve. A reputation can be a key thing not only in terms of your personal relationships, but your professional life. Your job, your scope to pay the bills, your place in society may all hang on your reputation, and a loss of reputation can have a very high price tag.

I’ve seen two guys who were friends of mine deal with rape accusations. One was proved innocent because physical evidence taken at the time in no way matched the accusations. He went through a great deal of stress and anxiety, followed by relief and getting over it. Another friend dealt with accusations that were directed towards his work life, and not to the police. I saw him sickened and distraught, and it cost him dearly, and he survived. I suspect it has changed his behaviour in some ways, but it certainly didn’t ruin his life or damage any of his closest relationships. False accusations happen, and they certainly do cause a lot of pain and misery. I know far more people who have been raped and assaulted than I know people who have had to fend off a false accusation.

I’ve spent time with a lot of women who have experienced rape and assault. I was there one morning when another woman came in covered in bruises from the night before. I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories. Most rapes do not involve strangers with weapons, they involve someone you trusted enough to let get close. Friends. Partners, Husbands. Rarely first dates, but sometimes that. It’s not just the physical assault that does damage, but the absolute betrayal of trust. Some victims will never get over what happened to them. Some victims will die, because assaults of all kinds can prove fatal.

Assaults on reputation tend not to prove fatal.

Knowing perfectly well that false accusations happen, and are damaging, I still believe firmly that the default response to an accusation of any kind of abuse, is to listen and take it seriously. As individuals, we are not equipped to deal with these kinds of accusations, what we need to do is actively support victims and get the police involved, and get it investigated. Most rape allegations don’t result in court cases because unless the physical evidence is collected quickly, it is just one person’s word against another, and impossible to prove the way our courts work. But, police involvement can persuade someone that what they did is rape, and wasn’t ok, and isn’t a good idea. It can persuade them they may not get away with it next time. If a person stacks up enough rape allegations, the odds increase of it being taken seriously. The same is true with other kinds of assault as well.

The really problematic false accusations are not the ones made against powerful men, but the ones used to keep victims under the thumb. My go-to example here is the man shouting ‘you’re abusing me’ while breaking his partner’s bones. A short version of a true story. I’ve witnessed this done – where a bully attacks a victim and then plays the victim and draws people around into supporting them. As a quiet witness to one of these I was able to put the lie to it, but many bullies are cleverer than that, and don’t make their methods quite so obvious.

It is better to take allegations of bullying and physical assault seriously than to ignore them. It is better that someone take reputation damage than that bullying and assault go unchecked. It is as well to look closely, because in situations of abuse you can be sure someone will be lying, and it isn’t always obvious as to who.  Most often, victims are frightened and seeking safety, whereas people making false accusations will present demands and seek revenge.

I’m still dealing now and then with the fallout from being accused of bullying. At the time, I did not put in a lot of work defending my reputation. I spent a lot of time pointing out how important it is to take bullying accusations seriously and not just sweep it under the carpet and pretend everything is fine.  It was a strange, and deeply ironic situation to be in. I don’t regret my choices. Having experienced both abuse, and reputation damage, I can say with confidence that abuse is life destroying, whereas reputation damage is unpleasant, and that risk of damage to reputation should not be the priority issue, ever.


Reputation

Who we are in the eyes of the world is something most of us care about. How we are seen, valued, judged and whether we are accepted. In theory, a reputation should be the consequence of who we are and what we do, and thus something we have control over, but in practice it is seldom that simple.

The easiest place to point for examples is the arts. Look at any breakthrough creator who changed things radically – Beethoven, Van Gogh – they were criticised far more than they were loved in their lifetimes. Even The Beatles were considered rowdy bad boys when they first appeared, and it’s only after decades that they’ve become something more ‘establishment’. The first impressionists were mocked. The reputations of many creative people aren’t defined until after their death, and there many ‘greats’ who, during their own lives, were never recognised.

On the flip side history is also full of people who were massively popular at the time, and have faded into obscurity since. Name a composer of Music Hall songs, or the kind of gothic romance author Jane Austin was mocking in Northanger Abbey, or any of the chivalric novels Cervantes took the piss out of with Don Quixote. Ten years hence, most of the ‘pop idol’ reality TV show folk will have been forgotten. Some reputations are vastly inflated for short periods – undeserved (to my mind) attention went to Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray recently, but they’re already slipping into the shadows, and I doubt in a hundred years time, anyone will have heard of them.

Reputation, therefore, is not always deserved. It’s also not something we can control, no matter how good our PR. Most of us of course will never have PR, never have to worry about posterity, or how history will judge us, and that too is a sort of judgement. Most of our ancestors are not in the history books.

Regardless of how many people we’re dealing with, reputation is a key part of how we interact with others, and reputations can be nothing more than a web of lies with a sugar coating of sparkly misdirection. We all make up stories and myths about ourselves, and other people make their own stories about us, too. Reputation is the unnatural child of these stories.

Those in the public eye can spend a fortune trying to manage their reputations and appearance. The rest of us may be no less obsessed, but less well funded, and with a smaller audience to play to, we have to make our own fun…  Social media may have made us far more conscious of how we construct our public personas, but it doesn’t put us in charge.

There is a part of ourselves we may never truly know, and certainly can’t do much to control, but which will influence our lives and options in countless ways. That aspect is who other people think we are, what of us they latch onto, what of other people’s stories they choose to believe, what they forgive, and don’t forgive, what they think was deliberate, and what they think we did by accident, or by mistake.

Or we can do our best to meet each other without assumption, to take each other at face value, to deal with the reality of what’s going on, not second guessing based on what we think we know


When not to be angry

Every day brings things to get angry about, from human apathy destroying the planet, to global injustices and political stupidity. We need to get angry enough about these things to get up and challenge them. All too often what happens instead is that our energy and rage is focused on much smaller and more personal issues. There have been some great comments here on the blog recently about the importance of assuming people online mean well, and being willing to listen so as to develop our own compassion (Andrew and Sean, and thank you!).

Every kind of opinion and belief is out there waiting on the internet to offend and frustrate you, and any number of trolls lurk in wait for victims. There is simply no point getting angry about this one, it just feeds them. I think we mostly know that, even if we do still get drawn in.

Then there are those situations when the other person goes that bit further, making accusations, getting personal, dishonouring you. Whether those are public situations with strangers, or private situations with people we know, those are hellish, and the desire to wrathfully defend honour is enormous. This is the point at which we may look to our wider community for justice (by which we invariably mean support for ourselves). From observation and personal experience, this is not reliably forthcoming, for all the reasons I was talking about in the Druid in conflict post. Then what? A tattered reputation, recriminations, anger, sometimes bad enough to tear whole communities apart. It’s rare that anyone wins one of these, whether they deserved to, or not.

What happens when we get angry? We assert our case, make accusations, take the dirty laundry out into a public place… The thing is that when you arrange it so that shit hits the fan, pretty much everyone ends up wearing it. Often these things start small, a word out of place, an angry exchange, then digging up some history, and an escalation, often enabled by the wider community, until you reach a point of no return. By the time you’re venting angry words online in defence of your knowledge, skills, status, beliefs… it probably is too late. Part of the trick, I think, is nipping this sort of stuff in the bud before it gets out of hand.

Here’s an example. Last week, in a public forum, someone said something that most definitely implied I was stupid and irresponsible. As it happened said critic had made some wholly wrong assumptions about what I’d just posted. I could have got angry and defensive. What I chose to do was apologise politely for any confusion caused, and then explained. There was no come back, no escalation. I also had the pleasure of making said critic look like an idiot without actually being rude. Win!

I thank people who tell me things I did not know and offer counter-arguments because I am genuinely grateful for those. I learn a lot from the folk who see things differently, and am pro difference, not threatened by it. I don’t get any heated arguments there. I also like offering people free use of the blog to expound on different perspectives. I find that sees off the trolls. It’s very easy to write ‘here’s a total over simplification of the issue’ on someone else’s work, a lot harder to come up with the goods when invited to do so. And of course if they did, that would be win all round, and we’d all learn something.

If someone imputes your honour, and you respond by yelling abuse at them, threatening them or calling them stupid… the odds of coming out of that looking good are slim. If you can draw a deep breath and try to respond with compassion, politeness, and patience so much the better. It’s not easy to avoid being patronising, but worth a shot. If you persistently uphold your politeness, people are much less likely to take against you, less ammo is handed to those who would use it, and sometimes, the whole problem goes away. You have upheld your honour, by acting honourably. I’m amazed how many people seem to miss that one online. Everything we do is part of our Druidry, including what happenes when we’re really pissed off.

Leaving us time to go back to the much more important business of challenging governments and big business and trying to save the world.


Reputation, Celts, Druids, Zen and the title that has just run away from me

I’ve just read a most excellent post from Jo over at http://octopusdance.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/is-that-so/looking at Zen attitudes to the opinions of others, pragmatic action, peace of mind and the relationship between them. On the whole, I agree with her – being at the mercy of other people’s opinions is not a great deal of help in life, and focusing on what needs doing is a very good way of doing the right thing.

But, where are the Celts in all of this? I’m not a great historian but my impression of the Celts includes a fondness of showing off, a desire to be thought well of, not just to be heroic, but to be seen to be heroic by those around you. It’s not enough to live an excellent and blameless life, someone should notice and write a song about it. My impression of Celtic culture would include an idea of vigorously defending your honour from attack by others, both in word and in deed. My notion of the historical Druids sits them in that Celtic culture. I don’t imagine them being entirely self effacing!

I’m also conscious that in a Celtic tribe, or village, with honour a consideration all round, there would be wholly different social structures and mechanisms to our contemporary circumstances. A culture that actively praises honourable and heroic behaviour, and where reputation is far more of an issue than bank balance, is very different to our way of life.

The more I think about it, the more interesting I find it. From a perspective of my own wellbeing, there is much to be said for cultivating a disinterest in the opinions of others, in favour of considering only what it is right and necessary to do. However, that either assumes that ‘right’ and ‘necessary’ are going to be easy to identify, or that I am comfortable trusting my own judgement. Jo’s blog has a story of a Zen Master, someone who pretty much by definition is going to be able to trust their own judgement. I’m a long way short of that, and the feedback I get from other people is part of what helps me decide whether I’m making good choices and decisions, and what is actually needed.

Experience to date suggests that verbally defending my honour to those who think ill of me, has been a total waste of time. I can’t think of a single instance where someone has really taken against me, and been persuaded otherwise by my own words, offered in my own defence. Admittedly, my life is not awash with examples to consider. But I can’t think of many instances where words alone seem to have swayed anyone’s opinion much. Partly because anyone can say anything, with very little effort and a minimum of imagination. “Oh no I didn’t,” can be offered as a defence against any accusation.

Actions speak in a wholly different way. The quality, consistency, usefulness, well-consideredness and the like of a person’s actions speak for them. Someone who apologises and then works to make up for their mistake, is far more credible than someone who merely speaks. Someone who acknowledges error is far easier to believe than a person who always thinks they are right in all things and cannot hear alternative perspectives. Your bombastic, boasting Celt is only going to be able to stand on the table and loudly defend his honour if he can say things like ‘you know I was right at the front in the last cattle raid. You know I am a generous host, a good friend, a brave warrior and that I once strangled a wild boar with my bare hands.” Really, it’s the actions that are speaking, the words are just a reminder.

And the right actions, only come if you’re focused on doing the right things, for the right reasons. That’s not about being deaf to other people’s opinions, it’s about working out which bits are important, what needs responding to, where to stand firm, where to be compassionate and so forth. It’s about getting under the surface to the essence of the issue. Jo offered a story in which there was a surface tale of honour attacked, and a more essential tale of a vulnerable child in need of protection. Humans are very good at noise and surface. Until we try and dig deeper, to find the heart of a matter, it’s difficult to act well. It’s taken me a long time to really learn that people who seem controlling and domineering are often fearful, for example. It’s so tempting to respond to the surface behaviour and be defensive, or even aggressive in return. But responding to the underlying fear and giving reassurance instead, changes everything. Not taking things too personally is, as Jo points out, is a good place to start.