OPINION: Consistent man… Nelson Mandela created his own reputation through predictability. Do you remember the most famous line by Commodus played by Joaquin Phoenix in the movie Gladiator? “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”
Indeed, what we do in life, echoes in eternity.
Or, as Mark Anthony said at the burial of Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their body.”
I am often asked: how does one build a good reputation? And my answer is always simple: Be predictable, be consistent. What we do in life echoes in eternity.
Many BMWs break down by the roadside, but more of them leave their drivers happy with performance, reliability and sometimes, looks of vanity. Christiano Ronaldo does not always score goals, but just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, he is a one-goal per game striker better than most in the world.
Trees shed leaves in the winter and they bloom in the spring. That’s what they do.
Consistency is a priceless commodity
Consistency is second to none. People have risked their wealth as well as their prized relationships at the altar of consistency before. How many times have we put a bet on Tiger Woods winning yet another tournament, or on Nelson Mandela taking the high road when the low road had more allure; or even on Eskom load shedding even when they have guaranteed us lights?
There is money in consistency and predictability. Because both breed trust and faith. And when you have trust and faith, you are willing to put your life on the line for what it is you trust.
Your reputation is the gold stock you have in your vault. It stays under lock and key and only you have the combination to unlock it, misuse it or even to ruin it. Others may attempt, but ultimately what we do in life echoes in eternity.
Reputation is also a promise. Because reputation is consistent and predictable, it is a promise we make. And if you do not keep your promise, you mess with your reputation.
Let me demonstrate this by way of two people known to most if not all of us. The most obvious one is former South African president Nelson Mandela. Today we remember Mandela for having carved the path of reconciliation in this country. This is a seed he planted from the day he walked out of Victor Verster Prison in 1990. This is a promise he made to himself, to us and to the entire world.
Winters of doubt
And when the winters of doubt came, like spring, Mandela blossomed in his consistency. When the winds were blowing, his sails were up and charting the troubled waters. Who can forget how in 1992 Mandela refused to reinstate the armed struggle when the people of Boipatong were baying for blood after their loved ones were maimed and killed by mysterious forces in the dead of night?
How many of us will forget how in 1993 he asked black South Africans to calm down after their hero Chris Hani was assassinated by white assailants metres away from his home?
Indeed who can forget the day Mandela forgave the IFP and its so-called amabutho who were accused of unleashing a reign of terror on township dwellers? Not only did he forgive, he gave Mangosuthu Buthelezi a very senior ministry position in his cabinet.
But Mandela did falter. He did not have the courage to forgive his ex-wife Winnie and later went on to divorce her. But such is consistency, sometimes it fails us. Sometimes the winning horse comes last. Sometimes, the red roses don’t bloom at the beginning of spring. Sometimes the eternal well runs dry. But tomorrow, consistency reverts to its predictability. Its stumble is never permanent. And true to his predictability, Mandela later forgave and made peace with Winnie.
Mike Tyson consistent too
Another example is that of Mike Tyson, or Iron Mike as he was called. Love him or hate him, Mike Tyson is one of the best boxers of recent times. He made boxing great to watch, that is if you were in time to catch the knockout before the end of round one. But Mike Tyson was a bad man. He was an unstable human being; a bomb waiting to explode. He was consistent in his predictability.
One week he would fell a feared opponent in less than five rounds, and the very next week he would be arrested for beating the living daylights out of his wife or girlfriend – his weakest opponent.
One moment he’d be asking for mercy from the courts for one misdemeanour or another, and the very next he’d be disqualified for biting an ear off his opponent in the ring.
When people bought dogs and birds for pets, Mike Tyson bought a Tiger, yes one of the most dangerous four-legged animals on earth. When Mike Tyson was given a chance to apologise for his outbursts, instead he went to tell the boxing association that he is so famous that fans would rather watch him masturbate.
Mike Tyson was always going to explode. In fact, Mike Tyson was exploding every day. He was consistent. He was predictable. He even refused to pluck out low hanging fruit of redemption. He often brought out the worst in himself and others.
Echoing in eternity
And such is the story with most of us. We do many things that echo in eternity, and we worry and wonder when the few things that we do differently go unremembered.
What do your colleagues, employers, employees, subordinates, clients, suppliers or even peers think of you? Do they know what to expect of your performance, your standards, your participation, your enthusiasm, your reliability, your payments or your promises. Can they predict you? Can they bet on your consistency? If they can, then that’s your reputation. That echoes in eternity.
Even on the day you stumble from your predictability – like Mandela and Tyson did from time to time – those who know you must be able to say “but that is not who she is” or “we know a different him”. Your reputation must precede you.
Yes some stumbles are more spectacular than others like Mandela’s divorce, or Obama’s retention of Guantanamo Bay, or Pastor Zondo’s moment of weakness, or KFC’s chicken wash or even Allister Spark’s unsmart comments about Verwoerd. Some stumbles will remain a huge blemish on your otherwise impeccable face.
But exceptions – however much damage they visit on us – are not our reputations. The only time exceptions become the rule, is when they are no longer exceptions. And when we stumble, we just need to get out of the pit, dust ourselves, and go back to our predictable ways.
There are times when the spring is delayed and the wildebeest don’t migrate across the Serengeti at the predictable time. But when the first rains come, when the first leaves bloom, the wildebeest will in their hundreds of thousands do what they do every spring, create a spectacle worthy of being the world’s best wonder.
For that’s what the wildebeest do. That is their reputation. Because what they do echoes in eternity.
Reputation was captured well when Jesus Christ asked his disciples: “Who do people say I am?” Because reputation is not what we say about ourselves, it is what people say about us.
Reputation is what we do again, and again, and again with consistency and predictability, because as Commodus said, “What we do echoes in eternity.”
The Kingmaker Rams Mabote is a PR coach, radio host, connector, businessman, lobbyist, propagandist, strategist and media trainer. Follow him on Twitter @RamsByTheHorns
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