You only have one reputation

Photo illustration by Joel McCarthy

Don’t underestimate the destructive force of dishonesty

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Feb. 24, 2015

Journalists getting into trouble—an old story, yet a frequent one. There is not much you can predict these days except that sooner or later some established media figure will stumble off the pedestal they created for themselves and writhe in the filth of their undoing. What happened to Brian Williams, NBC’s Nightly News anchor, could not have happened to anyone. It was not an honest mistake. He did not misquote a subject. He did not make a typo. He made a conscious decision to lie. And although the public may be forgiving, they will never forget.

A person’s reputation is built upon their competence and integrity. When someone compromises it, as in the case of Williams, that reputation is tarnished. The stakes are the same; it doesn’t matter if the person is a 40-year veteran or a newly hired intern. But what can we learn from this incident? After all, we understood at a very young age not to lie.

The reason we lie is not necessarily because we are evil, lazy, hurtful people. The main motivation for lying comes internally from the person telling it. They may have a lack of confidence, lack of ability, or lack of trust. People lie to themselves first in a fake-it-until-you-make-it sort of way. The lies then snowball and eventually what began as a little confidence boost becomes a rolling, unstoppable stone of trouble.

When Williams was called out for his exaggerated story, he admitted to misremembering the situation. And believe it or not, in his subconscious mind, that is in fact true. If you tell a lie enough, eventually it does become true; however, that doesn’t change reality. We need to be aware of what we are lying about and how far we string our web.

It is time we recognize that there is no such thing as a harmless lie. Whether it’s in a professional, academic, or social environment lying can compromise your reputation and destroy your relationships. We must have confidence in ourselves and own up to our mistakes. People are quick to forget errors. We all make mistakes. We all live pretty normal lives. We all work hard. We should stop allowing lies to be an acceptable norm.

Take a look at your resumé or listen to yourself at a party and try to catch yourself when you stray from the truth. Call yourself out on it. The sooner you know you are a liar, the sooner you can stop. You do need to stop. If you don’t, it will destroy your life. Maybe not today. Maybe not 20 years from now. But one day. Look at all the famous people who are now only recognized for the lies they told and not their accomplishments. You don’t want your name on the career tombstone alongside Brian Williams, do you?

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