This Commentary Approved for All Audiences
The last time you watched a movie, whether it was in a theater or in your home, you probably noticed its rating—a set of letters and numbers designed to alert a moviegoer to potentially undesirable content in a film. In the United States, these ratings range from “G,” for “General Audience,” all the way to “NC-17,” for “No One 17 and Under Admitted.” A rating above “G” is usually accompanied by an explanation of what content prompted the rating.
The concept is simple: If you’re about to watch a movie you’ve never seen before, you can look to the rating. If it’s rated “R” for sexual content and strong language, then you have to make a decision—is that kind of content something you want to expose yourself to, or should you find something else to do?
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a similar rating system for people? Imagine being able to look at a crowd of people and see messages appear: “Warning! Has a mouth like a sailor,” or “Warning! Extremely dishonest,” or even “Warning! Never returns what he borrows.” You’d know in advance what kind of content you’d encounter before you even say hello, and you could choose to avoid it before being exposed to it.
As it turns out, there is such a rating system. You might know it better as “reputation.”
There are probably people in your life whom you heard about before you ever met. Their reputation preceded them and, before they ever spoke a word, you had expectations about who they would be—what kind of person they were.
A reputation is not always accurate. Thanks to the tireless grinding of the rumor mill, it’s not uncommon for an event to be blown out of proportion, a character trait to be skewed, or a personal view to be distorted. Unfortunately, accurate or not, reputation is the de facto rating system most people use in their dealings with others. That’s probably why the Bible notes, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1, English Standard Version).
So how do we make sure our reputation is a good one? We work on developing what sits at the core of our reputation—that is, our character. This starts early in life. The Bible again points out that “Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right” (Proverbs 20:11). All through life, who you are and what you do inevitably feeds into how other people perceive you. In other words, our primary focus shouldn’t be improving how other people see us—it should instead be on improving who we actually are.
The process is one that will span a lifetime, but if you’re looking for a place to start, then take a look at the words of the apostle Paul when he wrote, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
When we adopt this view as our own—when we become people who strive to develop better and better character—a good reputation is simply part of the package.
For Life, Hope and Truth, I’m Ralph Levy.