Saturday, August 18, 2012

Young Men, Guard Your Rep!

How do people see you? 

Think about the different circles of people that you interact with such as classmates, teachers, teammates, coaches, principals, counselors, close friends, girlfriend, internet acquaintances, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, sisters, brothers.  This list would include all people who remember something about you even though you may not be aware of them.   

What if all of these people were to gather in a large room and in this room is a large whiteboard. The first person comes up and writes words that describe you. The next person places a check-mark next to any words they agree to and adds to the list.  The group lines up in a huge circle going round and round until everyone has a chance to check any words they forgot to list. 

Some of the words would probably have many checks, some might not.  Your girlfriend might write great kisser but obviously others wouldn’t check that term.  What would that list look like for you?  What we are talking about is something called integrity.  Integrity is maintaining a consistent character in all aspects of your life.   It is normal to adjust your behavior to the situation, but your basic character should be reliably similar regardless of the situation.  The problem is that many people have serious inconsistencies in their character.  They lack integrity.

The things you do will be the evidence for the judgments people make about you.  If you are caught lying, then you might be deemed a liar.  If you tell the truth 99 times and get caught lying one time, you are a liar.  Luckily people will cut you some slack.  When you screw up with people, apologize and don’t screw up and people tend to forgive with time. 

The secret to a healthy reputation is to consistently treat strangers kindly.

Our school has a no-hood policy.  Unless it is raining, sweater hoods must stay off the head.  Most of our students think the rule is really dumb, but a simple hood renders all of our security cameras as useless.  A hood also allows students to effectively avert and cover their eyes so that class discussions become less manageable.  I believe that the hood is also symbol of disrespect towards our school, so I enforce the rule wherever I walk on campus.  

What I have noticed is that when I am correcting one of my students in the hallways, there is compliance without complaint and the hood goes down. If; however, it is a stranger the reaction is very intense for some kids.  “Who are you?  You can’t tell me what to do (insert explicative here)!”  All schools have knuckleheads, so I try not to take it personal.  Since I teach freshmen and seniors I might have multiple run-ins with a kid before they walk in as a senior.  This is always an interesting thing in that their world is crashing around them, they are nice to those they know and jerky to strangers.  This is a lack of integrity. If you are a respectful person, you are respectful at all times and not only when people are respectful towards you.

This type of behavior is extreme, but you need to know that highly respectful people are more likely to benefit.  You never know who somebody is and whether they will hold the key to something you want.  Every adult you see on campus could be a potential recommendation letter or a single voice against you in a scholarship committee.  You never know who somebody may be, so make it your policy to be respectful and follow directions from any adult on campus.  That teacher or counselor may be next year’s vice principal.  That campus supervisor could become the principal’s secretary (the most powerful person on a campus).

He looked me dead in the eyes and with a look of pure hatred retorted, “You have to give respect, before you get respect!”  At that point it was clear the discussion was going nowhere.  I had just tried to explain how his lack of a respectful attitude towards me and his classmates was hurting his reputation.  He wasn’t getting that it.  As we sat together I could feel the anger dripping from this young man, and his attitude was going to be a death sentence for whatever aspirations he harbored.  I can’t remember anything else from the conversation, only that I think I have tried to tackle this conversation a million times.   Sometimes I get through to them, most times I don’t.  I think truth has a way of working itself into a person’s heart over time, so it’s possible that many of these hurting souls later got it.

That phrase: “You have to give respect to get respect” is interesting in that there is some truth to this.  It’s a half-truth.  We can earn respect when we are respectful to others, but not always.  Some people take a respectful attitude as a green light to be abusive towards us, but we can still be respectful in the face of disrespect.  The point is not to focus on how others treat you; it is to focus on how you treat others.  

Don’t wait to decide whether a person is worthy of your respect before you extend it to him or her. Make it automatic and you will have a healthy reputation as a person of integrity.

If you are disrespectful to those you feel are mean, then others will see you being disrespectful when they disagree with your assessment of that other person.  When I hear that one of my star students was disrespectful to another staff member, then that student has lost some of my respect for them and I will be less willing to back them in a scholarship committee or write a letter of recommendation.  I can only write a recommendation letter for people who are respectful in all situations to all people.  This is because the purpose of a recommendation letter is to vouch for a person that is not known by the college.  If I see someone who can be respectful to all people regardless of how they are treated, then I know for sure they will behave well  towards students or professors at that college.

Image: By The U.S. Army ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons at