Some book titles provide value even if you never read the book. (It’s quite possible that for some books, the title is the best part.) I never read All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum, but the title sticks in my mind as a clever one.
I don’t know if, “Reputation Matters,” is one of the lessons that Mr. Fulghum includes, but it is certainly one of the crucially important messages we strive to teach our children. That lesson is front and center in politics today and worth discussing.
This message resonates on both sides of the political divide. Personally, I think that President Trump has been an outstanding president when judged in terms of policy results, both domestic and international. His unique personality and methods of communicating may not be my cup of tea but his bluntness and lack of polished political skill well may be the reasons he was elected. However, he knew that he faced a hostile press and many hate-filled enemies both in politics and the general media. For four years, the president’s persona was presented as a caricature, downplaying any speeches and events that contradicted that view. In my opinion, he made a big mistake when much of his re-election campaign, including the first debate, served to emphasize the negatives that these enemies presented as the whole picture. For too much of the past six months, he didn’t recognize the need to meticulously advance the more nuanced side of himself and to aggressively promote his many accomplishments that needed to be highlighted.
On the other side, newspapers, media outlets, and Democratic politicians were openly consumed with hatred for the past four years. When California Democrat, Maxine Waters, called on Americans to “tell them [those who work in the Trump administration] they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” and that was one of the milder displays of contempt, calling for unity in a contested election is futile. When you lie to the American people, publicizing debunked stories of Russian collusion and others with little chance of veracity while suppressing stories that are undoubtedly true, you don’t get to ask people to trust your judgment about whether or not the election was fraudulent.
We explain to our five-year-old that if she upsets a board game because she is losing, her friend may not want to play with her the next day. We tell our nine-year-old how important it is not to breach a friend’s trust. These are normal opportunities to talk about developing a reputation for fair play and trustworthiness. When it comes to our teens, the stakes get higher and our lectures get heard less.
We can take advantage of the real-life examples in front of us to spark discussion and spur thought among our young adults. No matter who you supported in the last election, reputations have been shredded and trust has been eviscerated. We may not be able to stop people from lying about us or control the words and actions of those with whom we generally agree, but that only means that we need to be more careful about developing and projecting a reputation we are proud to claim.