The Muse

The sheer variety of symbols and artefacts in use across the ages and geographies does not necessarily point to a multitude of assumptions and values from which they spring. The study of mythology and folklore then, is a reverse approach to anthropology. This blog is dedicated to my favourite symbols, tales and artefacts - both ancient and contemporary.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Concept of Reputation

This article is a companion to my answer to Ramayana: Was Lord Rama right in sending Mata Sita to the forest?

Reputation is a resource. There is no denying it. Individuals and organizations can and do learn how to weaponize/market this resource, and it is the only resource available to the utterly destitute. Like any resource, reputation by itself is a source of power.

e.g. Brand Equity is defined as the amount of money that can be raised by an organization solely based on its reputation. Coca Cola is said to have the highest BE in the world - exceeding several national economies. Building BE is a legitimate and vast area of study in management.

Reputation is also not real. To stretch this metaphor from a quote by Abraham Lincoln, reputation is a product of the character of the individual, the circumstances surrounding her, and the decisions taken by her. It is a shadow of the tree, where the individual is the tree.

The concept of reputation goes hand in hand with Plato's allegory of the cave. That is to say, at any given point of time, we do not see people as they are, but as a combination of
  1. What we want to think about them,
  2. What they want us to think about them,
  3. What we have heard about them, and
  4. What we actually see them saying and doing
Simply put, we cannot see the tree, we can only see the shadow. And in order to get a correct idea of the tree, we have to see multiple shadows cast under multiple lighting conditions. And then there's the added complication of the tree being a living being (i.e. growing, aging, changing with the seasons, falling ill, dying).

Thus the quest for keeping up and seeing through a reputation is never-ending, extremely important, and ultimately futile.

But when the need to maintain and increase one's reputation becomes a greater drive than using that reputation for some purpose, we call that condition vanity, pride and ego.

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