After seven years negative information is no longer reported on your credit. This idea got me to thinking about negative information as it pertains to reputational damage within relationships.
Last week, I found out some serious allegations against someone whom I consider a friend. We’ve also endeavored into business relations, as well. When confronted with the unsettling news that I received, my initial thought was to sever all ties for fear of reputational damage to myself. Then I remembered the old saying, that there’s 3 sides to every story. While I’d heard the side of what appeared to be solid facts, I wanted to know the side I hadn’t heard, from the person I’ve come to know and trust.
I can tell you that finding out the bombshell that was relayed to me had me on an emotional roller coaster. I went from feeling sad to betrayed to angry to hurt to conflicted, seemingly all at once. For the past week or so, I’ve unplugged from almost everything and everyone. While trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I didn’t want anyone else’s opinion. So I didn’t go on social media. Didn’t even care to. Didn’t tell my closest friends, as I often do. I only contacted the people who were directly involved. And not for their opinion, but because at that time, I felt it was the right thing to do. All of this led me to the question: How long are we subject to the label of guilt in the court of public opinion?
When someone is found guilty by law & pays their debt to society, how long are they obligated to don the proverbial Scarlet letter? After 7 years, negative information “falls off” your credit report but if you’re charged with a crime, what happens when you go 7 years without incident and someone can still bring up an old charge against you? How long before the debts of dumb mistakes fall off your reputational report?
When a person is reformed from a bad behavior, whether it’s drug use or something more sinister, what’s the time frame they should be given to recognize that their past transgressions are null and void? If you go to Alcohol Anonymous & claim 7 years of sobriety, people will sing your praises for 7 years of good behavior. But why is it that there are some crimes that have the potential to resurface & effect you for the rest of your life?
In my Comm classes for my dissertation, we talk about being a voice and letting our voices be heard. When I found out about my friend, my knee-jerk reaction was to disassociate myself from him completely. I thought, “Well, it’s not my intent to smear his name, but if he’s going to ‘make it’ he’s going to have to do it without me.” Then I thought about another moral aspect. “This man is someone who you’ve called your brother,” I thought to myself. How would you proceed, if he was in fact, your brother? It seemed clear to me at that point, that if he were my brother, I’d be more adept at understanding things from his perspective rather than simply “knowing what I know”. If he were my brother, I’d be able to look at the facts in relation to the person that I know, & my relationship with him. Not excusing his behavior, but if he were my brother, then I’d want to see him have a chance at redemption. And I would stand beside him.
Sometimes when you’re going through things, it’s best to tune everyone out so you can figure out what’s important to YOU. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what social media says, what society says, even what your family says. But what matters more than anything is your own voice.
During our conversation, the thing that struck me the most was not what he said but the way he said it. At no time in our exchange did his disposition change. He was forthcoming. He displayed remorse and he was apologetic, even in moments of my hysteria. Our conversation reminded me of one I’d had with Big, a former lover of mine who also had a rap sheet that was as long as an altar call at a Baptist church. I also chronicled this story in my book of how Big recalled how messed up society is for convicted felons to make a living. My friend, like Big at the time, is a young man with his whole life ahead of him. When slapped with legal labels such as convict or worse, it’s nearly impossible to walk into any decent establishment to seek employment. Like Big, my friend was blessed with an amazing talent that has the potential to create & sustain a life for him & his family. Big would often tell me about “legal loopholes” he used for starting his businesses. And I respected him for not complaining about the situation he was in & instead becoming a super successful entrepreneur.
We often talk about being the voice for change. When thinking of the moment that I was ready to dismiss the idea of any association with him, I had a moment of insight. I thought, “If someone like Oprah Winfrey or Barack Obama were in my situation & decided to back this guy, I believe people would commend them for giving him a second chance.” What if I was the voice that spoke up for him? What if my voice was able to help people turn from what they thought of him into the kind, compassionate and sensible guy I know rather than the person they think he is. People can change, after all. If he were a drug addict, he would go to rehab. If he were an alcoholic, he’d go to AA. But once you’ve been labeled a bad person, how do you reform from that? Furthermore, how long are you subjected to the conviction from public opinion?
There are some questions that I still don’t have the answers for. And that’s okay. I understand that some people may still decide to turn their backs on him & perhaps me in the process. And that’s okay, too. What I know to be true is who I am and what I believe. And while this may be an unpopular opinion, I believe in him until he gives a reason not to.
I want to be explicitly clear that I don’t support the decision that was made 7 years ago. And I won’t allow anyone to misconstrue the facts in order to discredit my name in an attempt to make it seem like I condone immoral behavior when I do not. Likewise, I don’t believe it’s fair to regurgitate old offenses that haven’t transpired since that time. In situations such as this, there are no winners. And if my position seems biased, it’s because I can only speak to the side of the person to which I’ve established a relationship with. Additionally, I want to be clear that the information I received was not enough that I feared for my personal safety or anyone else’s. If I did, then I wouldn’t continue a relationship. And for me, that’s what it all came down to.
I believe that nothing in this world is foolproof. And unfortunately, that includes both our legal system & our relationships. I’m now in a position of trying to reconcile the two. This led me to look at many other relationships in my life where these two intersect. I have many friends, lovers & relatives who have criminal pasts, including the two people who brought me into this world. If I based my relationship with them off of what the legal system said, then I wouldn’t have a relationship with them, legally or literally speaking.
From what I know about people, we have intentions in most of the things we do. Sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re bad. There are people who will try to destroy your name because they are intimidated by your success. But there are also people who make admissions because they are so compelled by what they believe and I’m grateful for those whose intents to make me aware were out of genuine concern on my behalf. What I know for sure is my ability to discern the good in people. While we live in a cold world where there are no guarantees, I trust myself to make the best decision for me & my future.
I understand that when you first meet someone, you don’t tend to lead with your worse self. No one walks up like, “Hi, I’m DeJa and I’m an ex-con”. At the same time, it’s also important to consider how your past could affect someone else’s future. Non-disclosure of information doesn’t give a person the choice of whether or not they want to pursue a relationship, whether it’s business or personal. And regardless of how uncomfortable this can be, this is a courtesy that should be extended from the primary source, rather than a third party.
Potter Stewart, a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court once said, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have the right to do and what is the right thing to do.” When we’re able to put egos aside and place things in perspective, we then realize that it’s not always about who is right but it’s more important to do what is right.