Wednesday morning my daughter Abby had an appointment with the dentist. It was a quick visit, just a cleaning, and everything checked out fine. Since we finished earlier than anticipated, I thought I’d see if the orthodontist in the same building had time to check on Abby’s retainer. She’d had her wisdom teeth removed in June and Abby felt like an adjustment might be in order.
They worked us in and, after a quick look, suggested we come back in a week or so for some additional tweaking. Then the orthodontist looked at me and said something that’s stuck in my head ever since. “You know, Dr. Roger and I were just talking about Abby the other day. She is such a great patient and we just love seeing her!”
I was floored; not by my daughter’s behavior, but by the fact that she was the subject of conversation by these two professionals. There wasn’t any specific dental issue on the table at the time of their discussion. In fact, neither of them were scheduled to see her any time soon. The dentist wasn’t involved in her care that day aside from a quick check-in after her cleaning. The orthodontist hadn’t seen her in almost a year and no follow-up was planned. We were a last-minute walk-in.
But for some reason, Abby’s name had popped up during a random conversation. She had made an impression on these people. And that impression was significant enough for them to have a pointed discussion about her. In other words, she had a reputation.
Merriam-Webster defines the word reputation as “overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general.”
Few things are as important as your reputation. Just look at how many public figures have had their careers ruined by allegations of bad behavior. Once your reputation takes a hit, it can be extremely difficult to recover. Entire organizations have folded as a result of one individual’s tarnished reputation.
Of course, a favorable reputation can be an incredible asset. Back in the first century B.C., Publilius Syrus wrote that “a good reputation is more valuable than money.” He would know. Publilius was a Syrian slave who so impressed his master that he was not only freed, but provided a level of education typically reserved for nobility. His good fortune came as a direct result of the reputation he had built.
As I thought about my daughter, and the discussions people were having about her, I was reminded of an email I received from her school just a few weeks ago. The subject line read “Abigail Voland – Incident Report.” As you can imagine, my spirit dropped when I saw that message pop up. It took me back to the years we struggled with Abby’s behavior at school. Her autism had led to all manner of problems during grade school. Over time, she had learned to control her emotions and impulses. She became a model student and now, as a Junior in high school, she seemed to be doing really well. I thought we’d left the behavior issues behind.
I opened the email and read the description of this new “incident.” One of the teachers described her joy at having Abby in class. She shared the pleasure she took in watching my daughter eagerly participate; even to the point of assisting other students who were struggling. My embarrassment turned to pride.
We all have a reputation. People are talking about us, whether we know it or not. It’s up to us to decide what they are saying. It is our behavior, compounded over time, which determine the course of our future. Publilius Syrus understood that. I think my daughter does too.