Law 5: So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life


Why is Reputation Important?
Reputation is the cornerstone of power. In the social realm, appearances are the barometer of almost all our judgments. Your reputation will protect you in the dangerous game of appearances, distracting the probing eyes of others from knowing what you are really like, and giving you a degree of control over how the world judges you — a powerful position to be in.
A strong reputation increases your presence and exaggerates your strengths without you having to spend much energy. It can also create an aura around you that will instill respect, even fear. In the fighting in the North African desert during World War II, the German general Erwin Rommel had a reputation for cunning and deceptive maneuvering that struck terror into everyone who faced him. Even when his forces were depleted and the British tanks outnumbered his by five to one, entire cities would be evacuated at the news of his approach. As they say, your reputation inevitably precedes you, and if it inspires respect, a lot of your work is done for you before you arrive on the scene, or utter a single word.

During China’s War of the Three Kingdoms (A.D.207-265), General Liang was able to fool his rival Sima Yisimply by letting his track record for being an undefeated leader in battle do the work for him. Liang’s troops were far outnumbered by Sima Yi’s, yet he devised a clever last resort plan. Liang donned a Taoist robe and played the lute upon the wall of the city he was defending. His soldiers opened the gates and hid. When Sima Yi’s troops advanced upon the unguarded city, Yi recognized his opponent sitting alone upon the wall. Fearing a trap, Sima Yi called his soldiers to retreat.

How To Build A Reputation?

In the beginning, you must work to establish a reputation for one outstanding quality, whether generosity or honesty or cunning. This quality sets you apart and gets other people to talk about you. You then make your reputation known to as many people as possible (subtly, though; take care to build slowly, and with a firm foundation), and watch as it spreads like wildfire. Reputation is a treasure to be carefully collected and hoarded. Especially when you are first establishing it, you must protect it strictly, anticipating all attacks on it.

Make your reputation simple and base it on one sterling quality. This single quality—efficiency, say, or seductiveness—becomes a kind of calling card that announces your presence and places others under a spell. A reputation for honesty will allow you to practice all manner of deception. Casanova used his reputation as a great seducer to pave the way for his future conquests; women who had heard of his powers became immensely curious, and wanted to discover for themselves what had made him so romantically successful.

4 Ways To Safe-Guard And Grow Your Reputation

1. Never appear desperate in your self-defense against the slander of others
Do not let yourself get angry or defensive at the slanderous comments of your enemies, it reveals insecurity, not confidence in your reputation. Take the high road instead, and never appear desperate in your self-defense.

2. Sow doubt and spread rumors about your rival
An attack on another man's reputation is a potent weapon, particularly when you have less power than he does. He has much more to lose in such a battle, and your own thus-far-small reputation gives him a small target when he tries to return your fire.
P.T. Barnum used such campaigns to great effect in his early career. But this tactic must be practiced with skill; you must not seem to engage in petty vengeance. If you do not break your enemy's reputation cleverly, you will inadvertently ruin your own. Even if they vehemently deny it, people will still be wondering why they are so defensive. Barnum used this tactics to ruin his competition's Peale's reputation by sowing doubts about Peale's museum stability and solvency. Doubt is a powerful weapon: Once you let it out of the bag with insidious rumors, your opponents are in a horrible dilemma. On the one hand they can deny the rumors, even prove that you have slandered them. But a layer of suspicion will remain: Why are they defending themselves so desperately? Maybe the rumor has some truth to it? If, on the other hand, they take the high road and ignore you, the doubts, unrequited, will be even stronger. If done correctly, the sowing of rumors can so infuriate and unsettle your rivals that in defending themselves they will make numerous mistakes. This is the perfect weapon for those who have no reputation of their own to work from.

3. If you go too far in attacking another’s reputation, it draws more attention to your wrongfulness than to the person you are slandering.
Thomas Edison, considered the inventor who harnessed electricity, believed that a workable system would have to be based on direct current (DC). When the Serbian scientist Nikola Tesla appeared to have succeeded in creating a system based on alternating current (AC), Edison was furious. He determined to ruin Tesla's reputation, by making the public believe that the AC system was inherently unsafe, and Tesla irresponsible in promoting it. To this end he captured all kinds of household pets and electrocuted them to death with an AC current. When this wasn't enough, in 1890 he got New York State prison authorities to organize the world's first execution by electrocution, using an AC current. But Edison's electrocution experiments had all been with small creatures; the charge was too weak, and the man was only half killed. In perhaps the country's crudest state-authorized execution, the procedure had to be repeated. It was an awful spectacle. Although, in the long run, it is Edison's name that has survived, at the time his campaign damaged his own reputation more than Tesla's. He backed off. The lesson is simple—never go too far in attacks like these, for that will draw more attention to your own wrongfulness than to the person you are slandering.

4. Use humor or gentle mockery at your rival’s expense
When your own reputation is solid, use subtler tactics, such as satire and ridicule, to weaken your opponent while making you out as a charming rogue. The mighty lion toys with the mouse that crosses his path—any other reaction would mar his fearsome reputation. Once Barnum did have a reputation of his own, he used the fake hypnotism demonstration: He ridiculed his rival Peale's reputation. He was extremely successful. Once you have a solid base of respect, ridiculing your opponent puts him on the defensive and draws more attention to you, enhancing your own reputation. Outright slander and insult are too strong at this point; they are ugly, and may hurt you more than help you. But gentle humor and mockery suggest that you have a strong enough sense of your own worth to enjoy a good laugh at your rival's expense. A humorous front can make you out as a harmless entertainer while poking holes in the reputation of your rival.

How To Improve A Bad Reputation?

Perhaps you have already stained your reputation, so that you are prevented from establishing a new one. In such cases it is wise to associate with someone whose image counteracts your own, using their good name to whitewash and elevate yours. It is hard, for example, to erase a reputation for dishonesty by yourself; but a paragon of honesty can help. When P. T. Barnum wanted to clean up a reputation for promoting vulgar entertainment, he brought the singer Jenny Lind over from Europe. She had a stellar, high-class reputation, and the American tour Barnum sponsored for her greatly enhanced his own image. Similarly the great robber barons of nineteenth-century America were long unable to rid themselves of a reputation for cruelty and mean-spirit. Only when they began collecting art, so that the names of Morgan and Frick became permanently associated with those of da Vinci and Rembrandt, were they able to soften their unpleasant image.