character, narratives, and reputations

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what a week it’s been.

what a month it’s been.

i’ve spent a lot of my recent blog posts talking about change and the lessons i’ve learned lately (more so than my outfits) because as cliche as it sounds, i’ve started to think this is the year of being hit in the face by life with a lot of important lessons.

that sounds a little extreme, but i’ve always been a little more aggressive and (slightly) overdramatic in what i say. trust me, i’ve loved every minute of it.

one of the most recent lessons i’ve had to learn is in regards to character, narratives, and reputations.

i am the first to admit that i don’t know much. sometimes i feel so young that i don’t even know what i don’t know.

i think i change so much from one minute to the next that i hesitate to make blanket statements that define who i am or what i want.

but what i do know right now, and what i have learned to be true lately, is this:

we’re living in a time of near constant documentation - pictures, tweets, blogs (!), emails, things that don’t delete no matter how many times you empty the trash at the bottom right of your screen. and when it comes to who sees what, “public” is a word that changes definition almost as often as one changes the filter on a photograph, or the location in their bio.

we curate feeds and create brands out of our individuality (or lack thereof); we “like” carefully posed snapshots of each other’s lives for hours on end. rinse and repeat today, tomorrow, and the day after that, too.

i wouldn’t say that i’m criticizing it, and that’s not mutually exclusive to the fact that i engage in it, either. it just is. even the people who swear they “don’t use social media, like, ever” have been known to snoop at least once.. or twice (again, no judgement here). 

we make decisions all day, every day - where to eat, what to do, who to follow. and sometimes we unfollow people, too, in the heat of a moment or for our own peace of mind.

within these decisions, we’re making judgements. we have to. it’s part of how we have survived as a species for so long. which road to take, who to trust, who to befriend - these are some of decisions that we have in common with the people who lived thousands and thousands of years ago.

it blows my mind to think about that.

although when we make these decisions today, i think there are many more factors influencing them than meet the eye. we make these judgements without always thinking about the implications that surround them. we decide who someone will be to us, or what they will be to us, without always stepping back to see the bigger picture or thinking about what it might mean for them.

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we think we know someone, but we don’t.

we wave hello and goodbye to them, we hold little water-cooler chats with them when things are slow, and with the simple click of a touch-screen button, we “connect” with each other on our social media accounts.

you could say we see what they choose to show us, but on the other side of it, you could show someone the most vulnerable side of you and they can still choose to villainize you, to fixate on all of the different ways your weaknesses can be interpreted as cruel, mean, inauthentic, or out of line.

we are taught from a young age (or at least i was taught) that character - who you are and what you stand for - is important. it’s something to take pride in. it’s something worth working on and building up. it speaks for itself.

and yet, a lesson i’ve learned lately is that while character speaks volumes, it can be silenced, crippled, called into question, and destroyed when someone else speaks up after you leave a room. you’re defenseless. and at that point, narrative takes over. 

here’s the thing: for better or for worse, we create narratives all day long; it’s part of how we make sense of information and how we are able to remember and recall so much. 

like it or not, people are constructing narratives about you almost constantly. your professor knows you are ‘the late one” when you repeatedly show up fifteen minutes after the lecture starts. you are “the loose cannon” when you aren’t afraid to speak your mind. you’re “unredeemable” when you let someone down one too many times, and you’re “the troublemaker” when you do something that even slightly goes against someone else’s expectations of you.. because your character no longer fits their narrative.

people construct narratives about you that you have no control over. i’ve said it before, and i will say it again: perspective is everything. it’s what makes up the sliver lining in dark times, and what limits you when you can’t see beyond your struggles. you cannot control someone else’s perspective; i’m starting to believe there isn’t even much you can do to influence it, either.

so what do you do?

what do you do when you your character is torn down or misinterpreted in order to fit someone else’s narrative? 

what do you do when your character is called into question by people who have lived so small they don’t even recognize the implications associated with such an act?

nothing.

let me say it again: you do nothing.

you probably think i am crazy, but here’s the conclusion i’ve come to:

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we think we know someone, but we don’t.

we think we have them all figured out, but we don’t. people are not just “good” or “bad,” “bright” or a “bully.”

we may be temporarily confined to someone else’s narrative, but we cannot be simplified by it, nor are we supposed to collect and hold onto their labels, wearing them around our wrists like charm bracelets made out of chains.

we are the best versions of ourselves and the worst versions of ourselves, too.

we are our biggest fears and our most brilliant dreams.

we are wrong and we are right, and sometimes we’re both at the same time.

we are so much more than our reputations.

and in some magical twist of fate, i believe our reputations shape-shift to reflect that.

when it comes to our reputations, we are mosaics composed of character, lessons learned, mistakes made, hearts broken, misplaced trust, wild hope, celebrations, earth-shattering letdowns, and everything in between.

and in the interpretation of our reputations, there are times when we will want to speak our peace; there are other times when we will have to prioritize it by saying nothing.

remember, we think we know someone, but we don’t. 

we think we do when we create narratives based off of a single interaction with them, or when we step into a room and hear a group of people talking about them. we think we do when we see what they post on instagram, or what they re-tweet on twitter. we think we do when we see how they dress, or who they’re walking down the street with.

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but the truth is, we see what we choose to see.

choose carefully, and know that others may not be so careful.

continue to live life on your own terms regardless of the simplifications and implications that precede or succeed you, not in spite of them.

because if there’s anything that i’ve learned lately, it’s that we are so much more than our reputations.

♥️