“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” — Benjamin Franklin

by Sue Russoniello

The news is really frustrating to read these days. Everywhere you look there are headlines about people and organizations behaving badly — ponzi schemes; inadequately funded pension funds; the sub-prime mortgage debacle; society’s leaders cheating on their spouses and families or abusing their constituents; sports heroes using illegal drugs to enhance their performance; the lack of cleanup plans for the oil spill disaster in the Gulf, to mention a few.

Closer to home we have all seen a classmate or colleague cheat on a test or job application, take credit for something they didn’t do or shoplift even the smallest item. I’m sure you can think of numerous other examples in your own lives and in the headlines. I find it exhausting to be bombarded daily by news of people behaving in unethical, self serving fashion.

My sons used to lament how they did something once and got caught, when all their friends did it “all the time” and never got caught. Why was life so unfair? We reminded them that they knew it was wrong, they were aware of the consequences and they did it anyway. If they got caught, there was no one to blame but themselves. Yes, life is sometimes unfair, and some people get away with behavior they shouldn’t. Others are prone to get caught. “It keeps you honest” my dad used to say.

Along with this lesson comes the realization that the most important thing you have to show for yourself, especially as a young adult, is your reputation. You should be doing everything in your power to build and preserve a good reputation. Also, at the end of the day you have to feel good about yourself. Have you ever laid awake in the wee hours of the morning fretting about something you did or said, whether it was cheating on an exam or lying to a potential employer or being mean to a friend, realizing the transgression of the day was not worth the pain it caused?

I want to believe that we can turn around the growing unethical direction in which our society seems to be going. If each and every one of us pauses to think about our words and our actions for just a fraction of a second, making sure we’re being honorable and good citizens, thinking about the effect of our words or actions, it will carry over to other aspects of our adult life.

Let’s start with the everyday things. Don’t cheat on tests. Don’t lie on resumes or applications. Don’t try to blame someone else for your mistakes, or take things that are not yours. Admit when you’ve done something wrong and accept the consequences for your actions. Work hard for what you want to achieve, and be proud of the honorable and honest way you achieved it. This will result in a more ethical world. The anger and frustration that makes one think, “everyone else does it, why shouldn’t I?” will diminish. It will certainly let you sleep better at night knowing that you have done the right thing, you have a good reputation among your colleagues and friends, and you are doing your small part to make this a better place to live.

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One thought on ““It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” — Benjamin Franklin

  1. I don’t think people/organizations are acting more badly or there is more bad behavior. All behavior is just more public or transparent. While we may lose some privacy in the process, I think there is great benefit to society and the individual with more personal responsibility.

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