No matter what happens, be brave and do not let a good crisis go to waste! Pick yourself up and walk again; for success is often borne out of many failures, irrespective of the temporality of reputation, recognition, and rejection.

Human relationships are often informed and influenced by reputation, recognition, and rejection. Reputation is a summation of what a person is known for. Recognition, in this case, is the reward for the alignment of one’s reputation to societal tastes, expectations, and normalcies. Rejection is the punishment for deviation. These societal mechanisms of reward and punishment, to a large extent, offer a lens to make sense of human interactions, friendships, wars, and enmities.

Reputation is usually about what the public – i.e. relevant others – know about a person. This public knowledge of an individual largely determines how others relate with him or her. As such, individuals, directly or indirectly, invest in reputation building enterprises. Some consciously work on their reputation; some allow it to evolve spontaneously; while others do not necessarily care much about their reputation – i.e. what others think of them. The latter is obviously a small minority, as many people are conscious of their reputation and what others think of them.

The consciousness of one’s reputation carries with it some anxiety. The anxiety can be positive, to an extent, especially where it encourages one to be the best he or she can be. The anxiety can also be negative and therefore a psychological burden – especially where one is out of kilter with a significant part of society. In such instances, one can be seen to deviate from some societal norms and therefore can be considered abnormal.

Abnormality is often associated with some form of deficiency or defect; an aberration. This negative framing of abnormality harbours its propensity to devastate the individual, if the individual is not strong enough. But to what extent is abnormality really a negative phenomenon? Yes, it is a form of difference – a variation from the usual and the normal. Despite this negative characterisation of abnormality, it can become a source of innovation. Many of the great talents humanity has produced were at one time or the other considered “abnormal”.

The power to be different requires a lot of will power to give forth the power embedded in it in a positive sense. That something or someone is different from the norm and usual shouldn’t automatically make it negative and dangerous. Even if it is considered as such, there is a seeming consolation in the fact that where danger lies, also lies the saving power, according to Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin – a German poet and philosopher.

Reputation, like trust, takes time to be built but can be destroyed in a matter of seconds. The fragility of reputation, further heightens the anxiety that goes with it. But can what comes across as a destruction of reputation in itself be a window into the authentic self, which has overtime been shielded by the well-manicured work of reputation builders? In other words, reputation can be faked or presented and represented as what it is not because one longs for recognition and acceptance.

Both recognition and acceptance are forms of reward that can be psychologically soothing. The human mind in its primordial form is inherently inclined towards acceptance by the other. Right from the womb, human beings are fashioned to be other oriented and the withdrawal or withholding of recognition, which is another way of articulating the core of rejection, hurts and dehumanises.

Because human beings are social animals in need of congregation, rejection forcefully distances one from others. It tends to disentangle one from the social fibres connecting one with others. In the process, rejection can annihilate one literally and create a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness.

Rejection is a negative power over others because no one chooses to be rejected. It is always an exercise at the discretion of the other. The other also gives recognition. Inherently, both recognition, as reward, and rejection, as punishment, are meted to us by others. In this case, we are forcefully subjugated to the whims and caprices of the other in the classical Sartrean case of the key-hole analogy. No wonder it is often said that hell is the other. We freeze or rejoice before the attentive gaze of the other depending on whether we are rejected or rewarded.

However, there is only a thin line between recognition and rejection. In some cases, both are easily interoperable that the link almost becomes invisible. A marriage can be destroyed by a single lie. Lying in this case can be both a form of revealing – our true selves – and a concealment. As such lying simultaneously becomes a form of truth telling. It is this duality of lying that makes it paradoxical. It destroys and saves, as much as truth.

Notwithstanding, reputation, recognition, and rejection, are fundamentally challenged by authenticity – i.e. the naked truth of ourselves. Unfortunately, human beings are often terrified by authenticity. In order to avoid the harsh threats of authenticity, inauthenticity becomes a thriving enterprise. It lies at the heart of the market for brands, conspicuous consumption, politicking, and even facial make ups and the market for artificial hairs. In such instances, we present a persona for public consumption and recognition. We become dynamic and adaptable.

In this chameleonic dynamism, the truth of our authenticity becomes as fluid as it falsehood. Together we create a society of inauthenticity, where the truth of who we truly are will always be concealed from the other. But who is the other here, but us? In our collective otherness, we become both victims and oppressors of ourselves through inauthenticity.

Pursuing this line of thinking further, one might be inclined to think that this prevalent inauthenticity is only a strategy to adapt to an ever-judging and overly assessing society. A society that is always quick to classify people and their behaviours as normal and abnormal. Perhaps, society could be saved this mass production of inauthenticity if we became more open, tolerant of others, and less judgemental.

Even at that, people will have the freedom to recognise or reject others, and this freedom shouldn’t be denied. May be, as individuals we need to develop tougher skins and be less dependent on what people think of us. That way we can free ourselves from being slaves to what others want us to be. But is this humanly possible, or are human beings ever condemned to build positive reputations to be rewarded and to avoid punishments?

Perhaps, we are condemned to live for others. In that regard, our reputation will always be subjected to some assessments for recognition and rejection.

No matter what happens, be brave and do not let a good crisis go to waste! Pick yourself up and walk again; for success is often borne out of many failures, irrespective of the temporality of reputation, recognition, and rejection.

Kenneth Amaeshi is a full professor at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom. He tweets @kenamaeshi