Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Destroying Your Credibility

Some time ago, when I was a young pup of a blogger, I read a post by another blogger, AWB, about how important it was to protect your brand. (I might not have the phrasing exactly right here; I can't find that post now. Lost in the mists of the blogosphere.)

The basic thesis: mind what you say, the arguments you make, what you publish, the words you put out in public. These will become your brand. They will become what you are known by. It will be hard to escape that brand.

This was one of those watershed moments for me (thanks, AWB!). Maybe it's hard to believe, but that was something I'd never thought of before. I'd been functioning, up to that moment, as though my life were something like a white board*. I could say things one day, and then erase them, and write something new the next. Who would remember? Certainly not me!

But from that point on, I began to see that we all, whether we know it or not, build brands (ideas, Plato would have said; images, if you like) for ourselves in this world. What we say to our friends, our students, our kids; what we write in stories and papers; what we post on our blogs, in comment sections, on FB, on Twitter: these things tell people in the world who we are.

Clearly one fuck-up isn't that important. Who doesn't fuck up, once in awhile?

It's the pattern of behavior that will shape your brand. If you constantly strive to tell the truth as well as you can; if you check your sources; if you make sure you're representing all sides fairly; if you dig deeper and work to be fair -- well, then, that will be your brand.

On the other hand, if your speech and your writing shows that you have made no attempt to learn the truth, that you haven't checked or sometimes even read your sources, that your "examination" of the ideas in question is appallingly careless -- well, that will be your brand. Now when you make claims, people will snort and roll their eyes.

I'll admit I used to be more like Person #2 than Person #1, previous to reading AWB's post. Making cutting remarks about how stupid people I didn't agree with were was more important to me than checking my own sources, or thinking through whatever subject it was we were discussing, or making sure that I did, truly understand the facts.

Scoring points, in other words, was my modus operandi back then -- rather than understanding and then explaining as clearly as possible what was true.

First of all, though, you don't convince anyone except the ignorant (or those who are already on your side) when you argue that way. And second, boy, do you damage your credibility -- which is another way of saying you damage your brand.

To put it in English professor terms, it's a terrible rhetorical move. Even a fatal one.

*very different from a white bear

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