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Reputation management

January 15, 2010

This week I learned about companies like ReputationDefender or Visible Technologies, who handle reputation management for common people like you and me. The fast paced movement of our social media and technological connectedness has changed the way information is available, shared, and managed. ReputationDefender CEO Michael Fertik was quoted by Liz Gannes at GigaOM as saying, “Everybody is now the star of their own movie on the Internet whether they like it or not, and the majority of content about you is not going to be put there by you anymore.” Facebook has received a lot of press lately about recent changes to their privacy policies and their advocacy that people share more information with more people.

What does this mean for our society? Even more, what does it mean for the Church. Are we ready for this change? As believers we present an attitude and appearance that we are living in a such a way that  we are people of integrity, but is that true? If your life was created into a movie and shared with others to see without your permission would there be things to hide?

A couple years ago a co-worker shared with me about a friend who had a sexual addiction. He had kept it hidden even from his wife for a long time, but the truth finally came out. Recently I learned about someone I know who has been addicted to prescription pain medications and is now in rehab to deal with the addiction. These may seem like extreme cases, but they are stories from everyday life of things people are trying to hide. Whether it is the fact we are in debt, a strange habit we have, an addiction we struggle with, our grumpy or angry attitude, or just the way we clean our house, I think there are things that all of us would not want shared with the world. Some of those are understandable because we all share them, but what about those things like the addictions, abusive behavior, illegal activities, or injustices that some people are hiding? Should those be shared? Are we as a culture and as a church ready to have them shared?

I know of a church leader right now who doesn’t want the truth regarding how they handled a situation to be shared because it could affect their reputation. As with any situation there are different perspectives with which you can look at things, but no matter how you look at this situation you can see that the decisions made have resulted in hurt, broken relationships, and many people would say there are actions taken that were abusive. Should the truth be shared? It could hurt a church leader who is doing good in so many other areas. Should the other person/people involved be trusted and believed? What if they are telling the truth and we don’t believe them and the church leader is not held accountable? What if the leader is hiding an ongoing problem and has hurt others?

A few years ago a co-worker faced accusations from a student we worked with. Despite the structures and policies of the organization we worked for, my co-worker had little ability to defend himself because witnesses were not present in the situation. Criminal charges were never made, but he lost his job, his family suffered enormous turmoil, and his life was virtually destroyed. Questions were asked about who to believe and what it meant to believe or not to believe the student involved. In this case many people the student made things up and shattered this person’s life without cause.

As a Christian I have made a public declaration to believe in and live by God’s word, the Bible. I do not believe it is just a book of stories, but instead is a book of guidelines for the best way to live our lives. If we follow it, all of it, we will experience fewer problems with integrity, relationships, and character. When I look at the life of Christ I don’t see much of anything that was not shared. He lived in direct daily relationship with others. He didn’t send text messages hoping his wife or girlfriend wouldn’t see them. He didn’t have business schedules that would allow him to visit with someone or go somewhere that he didn’t want others to know about. He didn’t have to worry about censoring filters being placed on his Internet searches or cable channels to protect his reputation when he stays alone in a hotel, or goes home without a roommate or spouse. He didn’t go out drinking, partying, or doing things that might damage his reputation.

Rather than worrying about what others post about us online or how our Facebook privacy settings are configured, maybe we need to take a different approach to life. If we started to live as if we didn’t need to worry about our reputations because we didn’t have things to hide then we would not need hire someone to manage our reputation. We could teach our youth that what they do at 14, 15, 20 years old will follow them for a lifetime and could affect their ability to get a job, buy a house, or have a healthy relationship in the future. We may still struggle with the reality that we don’t clean house enough and are grumpy in the morning. We still may not deal with the dog digging under the fence or the pipe bursting and causing a flood with the best attitude, but our reputations do not usually hinge on those daily things that are a part of life. It is the things that we are actually seeking to hide, distort, erase, coverup, and ignore that are the problem.

What is it you don’t want anyone to know about? If anything came to mind it is time you stop the behavior, dispose or anything you need to get rid of, and change your ways today. Don’t put it off! If you need to come clean and share it with others, then do that. Stop hiding. Stop deceiving. Walk in truth and become the manager of your own reputation. What you do, say, believe, think, and especially what you hide is represents Christ in your life (or not). Do you love him enough to make a change and to be the reputation defender for his reputation?

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