This evening, after getting home, I saw an e-mail from one of the daily devotionals I get that spoke airily about the value of a good name. Honor and reputation is something I muse over often, if unsuccessfully, because I feel myself at a loss to preserve a good name in the midst of the complexity of my life. If not every day, at least then very often I am faced with entirely unexpected and very worrisome threats to and reminders about my reputation and my beleaguered sense of honor that make me despair of ever having a reputation that is above board and without question where it matters the most to me. To make things even more worrisome, I am at a loss for what I could have done better given my own personality and given the situations that I have been placed in, as there are only a few blunders I feel I have made, and nothing of a nature to merit the sort of response that has occurred. None of this gives me a great deal of confidence that matters will speedily improve.
It’s hard to know exactly when and where things went south. Between 2006 and 2011 I was in the grips of terrible major depression, during which time life was difficult on a lot of fronts. In 2010, during a major crisis in the church organization where I attend, I felt under a great deal of constant assault by those who had different organizational political opinions, and in retrospect I feel I was too fierce myself, and not cognizant enough or sensitive enough to the vulnerability and insecurity of the people I was daily arguing with. Soon after that ended I was off to Thailand, and that did not go particularly well, either to my peace of mine or to my good name. In retrospect, I have to wonder if it was indeed a massive blunder to go to Thailand in the first place, for although I am sure that I helped and inspired quite a few young people, it did me few favors in any area of my life, and it was certainly unwise of me to stay a second year, even if I could not have predicted the outcome from the outset. My time in Thailand revealed a lot about myself in the context of others, and what it revealed was not necessarily pretty, namely that being an awkward but decent person is no defense against the horrors this world has to bring.
Whenever and however it happened is somewhat irrelevant, as I am where I am. And yet in looking at my life I feel at a loss to understand how things will get better in the sort of permission paradox I am in. When one is looking for good work, one often faces the paradox that one needs experience to get a job but one needs a job to get experience. The same is true in terms of relationships and reputation. My biggest goal in my personal life is to find myself in a godly relationship making its way towards marriage, and nothing about my reputation is aiding me in that quest. Worse, I don’t know what I can do about this, or if anything can be done except to wait it out and make things that much more difficult for myself as time goes on. No doubt this is a problem for others, which is why one sees people acting in the way that they do, pursuing their goals without any thought to their good name, and making and unmaking relationships in the most alarming ways.
A good name is valuable, but it takes a long time to build and it can be lost with stunning severity and quickness, often vastly disproportionate to one’s own behavior. It depends on the judgement of others about one’s actions, and it is hard to put oneself in the place of judgmental others. There are people, for example, who do not recognize at all my own sensitivity to the patterns of behavior of others or their nonverbal communication. So, in their eyes I would have the reputation of being socially clueless, even where this is far from the case. Other areas of my own reputation are scarcely more accurate, yet if people do not see what is there to be seen, or cannot read what is there to be written, then they simply miss out on opportunities to learn and to judge correctly. Given my lack of trust in other people, it is hard for me to have faith that others will be both kind and just to me, or even either. Yet somehow I wonder if the only way out of this morass is through trust in God, for certainly matters are beyond my power to make right, as much as I would like to.