Despite the fact that it can often be stressful for one reason or another, this afternoon I got invited to dinner by some friends of mine, which leads to all kinds of humorous drama, and blogworthy material. For all of the fact that as a prolific blogger who writes about many areas (though by no means all) of my personal life I do not make an ideal dinner companion if one’s goal is total privacy, I suppose the fact that I am amusing enough company does make me a more enjoyable dining companion than many. One’s patterns of behavior shape the behavior of others. For example, since it is known that unless I have something else already planned, I will generally accept dinner invitations with only a day’s worth of notice, or sometimes even less, I do not always get a lot of notice for such events. Being a person who in general is rather orderly and perhaps not very exciting, I find the spontaneity of such events to be a worthy change from my normal pace, as anything that makes life more fun without increasing my exposure to intense ridicule or embarrassment to be a good thing. The fact that my social calendar is filling out nicely is a good thing as far as I am concerned, even if I do have productive tasks to accomplish in the meantime, like finishing a book, doing a bit of shopping, and doing work on my history of the slave South course as well. I suppose that I have not been too bitten, socially speaking at least, from my reputation.
Today was the start of the main part of the annual ritual known as the NCAA Basketball Tournament, popularly known as March Madness. Over the past two days there were the “first four games,” which determined which of the lowest-seeded at-large and automatic qualifiers would face favored teams, and today the 64 remaining teams of the original 68 started main tournament. It is, as a student of sports and statistics, a matter of considerable intrigue to examine the progress of this tournament, to see how well each team is judged. Even though, in the main, a lower seeded team should win a large majority of the time, there are always enough upsets to throw the orderly predictions into chaos. A large part of this comes from the fact that matchups are so important to the progress of a team. A team may be immensely talented, but have a glaring weakness, like an over-dependence on the three point shot, or a lack of big men to swat shots or grab rebounds, that leaves them vulnerable to a bad matchup with a team that does not have the same level of overall skill but happens to be strong where the other is weak. At other times, teams may be seeded higher because they come from a well-recognized conference, only to find out that their conference was overrated. That appears to have happened this year with the Big 12, which was thought to be the best conference in college basketball but lost its first three games, most of which its teams were favored to win, although in fairness their two upset losses were each by only one point.
What is it that causes people to be bitten by a bad reputation. For one, a reputation is often developed by a few data points in the larger context of a life. A team or an athlete may only have a small number of chances to shine on the biggest of stages, and small chance events can make those experiences unsuccessful, leading to a belief that the person or team chokes and is overrated. The supporting context of general excellence is neglected because it is easy to grab a few high-profile failures and use it to paint an entire life, or a group of lives. This is a danger we can all fall victim to, in condemning people for a few failures rather than looking at an overall picture, even if it might take more work to gain that level of understanding. We can also fall victim to the opposite tendency, to celebrate those who have a few fluky successes but who routinely underachieve and coast through life, only to do their best during the times when everyone else is watching, gaining an undeserved reputation for excellence that is more a testament to coasting than to being able to achieve as an underdog. Whether we work hard normally and have a few high-profile difficulties or we loaf and coast our way through life and only work hard when everyone is watching, we all have a chance to build a sort of reputation that is dishonest, and that does not reflect the reality of our lives. We should, to the greatest extent possible, live in such a way that we show ourselves as we truly are, and that we seek to understand others as they truly are, so that we may be just and kind in our dealings, lest we bite others because of their undeserved reputations even as we curse the times we are bitten by our bad reputations.