The landlord asked me, “Are you married?”
That was an easy question to answer, but I knew the next questions would be more difficult. “Yes, I am happily married,” I replied. Then I held my breath….waiting for the next question to be asked. “What does your husband do for a living?” There it was. The question I didn’t want to answer. And that’s when I learned a lesson about being a person of my word.
“He is in prison. How do I answer this question without jeopardizing my chance of renting this house?” I think to myself. But, I blurt out, “He is serving.” I know it isn’t a real answer. It is misleading. I don’t want to tell him the truth, but I don’t want to lie. So, there it was. My answer. My half-truth answer.
"He was serving, just not in the Armed Forces"
I justified it to myself. He WAS serving. Just not in the armed forces. I knew the landlord would think something else. “So, what does he do in the Army?”, he asked. “He ministers to others.” Yikes, it was getting deeper and harder to answer the questions without telling the whole story. But no landlord wanted to hear the whole story. Not really. He would have stopped listening as soon as I said “prison.” If I had said, “prison.” But I didn’t.
I left my meeting with him feeling like I had a good chance of getting the house. Until my friend, who I had listed as a reference, called me. She was furious. I had lied. I had deliberately led the landlord to believe that Ron was a Chaplain in the Army. Not an inmate in a prison. She was angry, hurt, and disappointed in me. I was ashamed. But I was also defending my actions. She didn’t understand.
I should have just told the truth
She didn’t know what it was like to have to defend her husband and provide a long explanation about where her husband was. Her husband lived at home, he worked a real job and was a part of his family’s daily life. But then the question in my own heart asked, “Was it really justifiable to lie?” And I knew the answer. “No. I should have told the truth.”
That encounter was the wake up call I needed. I was embarrassed. My closest friend thought less of me. I had disappointed her. I knew then that my word was the most important thing I had. If I could not be taken at my word, I could never rebuild my reputation and my family legacy. I didn’t want people to see me as a liar. I wanted them to take me at my word. And to be a person of my word.
Being a person of my word
I apologized to my friend and promised that it would never happen again. And it didn’t. Being a person of your word means not only telling the truth, but it also means owning your mistakes. Taking the heat when it is yours to take; and avoiding the heat by being up front and honest. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
This isn’t always easy because we live in a world that doesn’t honor honesty and frankness. Not many people can “own” their actions or beliefs. We find so many people looking for someone to tell them what to think, believe, and do. They falter and are not reliable because it is not “theirs” to stand on.
When you are a person of your word, you can stand firmly on your convictions because they are a part of YOU. You can keep your promises because you don’t make promises you cannot keep. You show up when you say you will show up, you do what you say you will do, and you don’t lie.
"Your character is the most important part of your reputation"
Prison makes you realize that all you really have control over is your own character. Everything else can be taken from you. Your character, being a person of your word, is the most important part of your reputation. When you lose trust, you have given away one of the most precious things you have. Even if you own your mistake, you will spend a long time regaining your reputation. Being a person of your word requires discipline, practice, vulnerability. When you say “yes” or “no” you become vulnerable for taking a stand. Not everyone will agree with you. And that is OK. You will never please everyone.
Here are six steps to minimize any potential damage and to rebuild a reputation. The first thing that can happen when your reputation is damaged is you lose other people’s trust. They no longer see you as the person you were before. That’s why your first goal is to rebuild that trust, and the best way to do that is to be honest and truthful.
The truth is the easiest to manage. You don’t have to remember who you said what to, you don’t have to defend it or make excuses for it. You simply state it. Even when others disagree with you, or don’t like your answer, you will earn respect for being a person of your word. Just do what you say you will do. Be who you say you are.
Remember prison is only a season in your life. It doesn’t have to dictate your worth or your future. But it will if you let it. Being a person of your word gives you control over your destiny.
I am rooting for you!