The Neighbor, Grandpa's Gun, Reputation . . . and Authenticity?
A Boy Finds his Neighbor . . . and his Dad's gun.
My Dad was only 12 years old, when, on his way home he passed by the family's wood pile, and there, laying facedown on the ground, was his neighbor. It may be surprising to you, that "finding one's neighbor facedown on the ground" didn't exactly surprise him, but it didn't. In 1934, it wasn't entirely unexpected to find a neighbor drunk and passed out. After all, everyone knew about the "moonshiners" that lived down the hill in his small Arkansas town . . . and the fact that some neighbors, including this one, liked to "hit the sauce."
It also wasn't that odd to find this neighbor in that state. He was an occasional hunting-companion of my Grandfather's, and truth be told, was known for consistently, if not regularly, "tying one on." To my Dad, at that moment, the only odd thing about finding this neighbor, in this situation, was . . . that there was a gun lying next to him, and . . . that It was his Father's gun.
Authenticity is often cited as a characteristic for professional success. I confess, at times I feel quite confused about what writers in the fields of business, professional studies, or consulting mean as they tout this authenticity as a trait necessary for success. What does it mean? Is it "being a man, or woman, of your word?" Being honest or humble (in a Patrick Lencioni sense) in not thinking first of your own safety above the needs of the organization? Does it mean just being a "good person?" Is it as simple as what we used to call "guarding your reputation?"
I think of my father's story when, occasionally, I ask myself, "Does reputation really count for anything anymore?" To me, growing up in a small town in the midwest, reputation meant everything. As a kid, I knew, just by observing, who the adults considered "good people" and who, well, were not--people in whom they placed their trust.
But, I no longer operate in a small village and the clear linkage from reputation to success is less apparent. So, is this need for authenticity even true in our new cosmopolitan world?
A couple of years ago, my wife brought me a book touting some new "revolutionary" ideas she had picked up at a used book sale. She said "this is kind of interesting, maybe you'd like to read it." I instantly recognized the name. It was a T.V. pitch-man that I had seen extolling many different products over the years. I told her I didn't think he was credible, then found--on the internet of course--articles that talked about his history as a con-man, his prison sentence for fraud, and on-going "business" propositions. We tossed the book. But, just as easily, I could have not heard about this promoter and the marketing certainly made it look legitimate.
Does it still matter?
So today, does your reputation really matter? Stories abound, across industries, that seem to imply that many who abuse this "truism," that you authenticity is important, go on hiding their true nature, fooling people who come under their sway. With the advent of on-line business, new questioning old moral absolutes, and with an expanding population, it doesn't seem that there has ever been a time when it is easier to operate in anonymity--and without accountability.
Yet, I still see business gurus talking about the importance of authenticity. So, does it matter or are they parroting values of another age? I don't know. What I do know is this; I don't want to operate with anything less than the belief . . . that it does matter. I've benefitted, and watched others benefit from, great acts of personal integrity and leadership. Even if one could "get away" with being less than authentic they would still have to look at themselves in the mirror. Oh I know, the con-man is not "troubled" by feeling bad about the harm he does to others. But, I still think, down deep he knows exactly who he is, and more importantly, who he is not.
I was entering a store today in "the city" as a woman exited. She was being followed by a couple of store employees--one, of whom, was filming her with his phone. A black truck waited her at the door. As she rushed to get in the truck, she was frustrated in her attempt by the locked door. Through the open window, she barked, "Let me the *&%# in!" Her companion complied, as the employee continued to film and, moving behind the truck, transferred the focus from the woman to the truck--a truck that I now noticed had no license plate. What had she done to warrant such surveillance? I don't know. But I suspect a visit with the police is eminent.
Coming from the small-village that I do, it is hard sometimes to justify that "world" with what happens today. Store clerks tell me that it is company policy to not interfere with shoplifters and let them walk out the door with merchandise. Educated people advocate to not prosecute various people/groups that clearly have violated laws. Too often I have heard the phrase, "What's right for you?" in collegiate discussions about cultural problems as solutions, as if, all things are subjective to the individual whims and preferences of each individual person.
The psychiatric hospital was bought by a big corporation, staffing problems became an issue, accusations were made and the state came in to investigate. Colleague stated, "You know Bryan would be the first to report it if this was really happening."
The Court and the Outcome
What happened with the neighbor? My grandfather, probably sensing what had happened, told my father to go inside and wait. Presumably, he checked out the situation, then contacted the authorities. Later, there was an inquest to follow up on this "unexplained death." My father, as the person who found the body, was called before the judge as a witness. He told me that afterwards he had no idea what his 12 year-old self had said on the stand because he was so afraid they were going to "lock up" his Dad.
The ruling from the court was that it was a suicide. The neighbor, knowing where Grandfather kept his guns had evidently gone into the house, took one of the rifles, and used the woodpile to help him discharge the gun. My grandfather's reputation, behavior, and actions on that day --and before that day--as well as the neighbor's reputation for inebriation, all protected Grandpa from the fears my father entertained.
Authenticity was not an option but an expectation in my home. Watching, my father, along side my mother, as they served a small midwestern college, in a small community, over the course of 51 years, it was a lesson he'd learned long ago. It served them well.