Power of Poise and Moral Courage in Midst of Criticism, Mocking and Reputation Risk
Moral courage to stand strong against tornado force winds that can badly damage or destroy reputation is difficult emotionally, even when doing what you know to be “right” in helping others.
This essay was inspired by a story about Kim Kardashian, in her conversation with David Letterman about her work with President Donald Trump on prison reform. Regardless of what you think about Kardashian: like, dislike or indifferent, there is an interesting point about her interaction with Letterman.
Like most people, her reputation is important to her yet she is showing with action that it is not all consuming. Oftentimes, people think and speak arrogantly that they don’t care what their reputation is and within the context in which they’re speaking, it reveals a lack of humility and other unhealthy character traits. That’s not Kardashian in this case.
What she is doing is exhibiting great poise and patience in devotion to her mission, regardless of any risk people are telling her she’s facing. There’s an important lesson here that will be presented at the end of this brief essay.
First, a quick look at Kardashian and her beliefs about prison reform, why it matters to her and interacting with Trump. While this is not the angle of this essay, it is the backstory for the conclusion to be shared about reputation.
She told Letterman of her desire to continue to work long term with presidential administrations about clemencies. For those who are unsure what that means, here is a definition:
“A power given to a public official, such as a governor or the president, to in some way lower or moderate the harshness of punishment imposed upon a prisoner. Clemency is considered to be an act of grace. It is based on the policy of fairness, justice, and forgiveness.”
In pursuing deeply meaningful work to her, Kardashian had to make choices that were challenging because of what people were communicating.
“Trust me, everyone called me and said, ‘Don’t you dare step foot in that White House or your reputation is done,” she told Letterman.
When your reputation is your calling card, valuable to you and helps create and protect highly desirable opportunities, such a warning could be frightening and cause you to fall back into what feels psychologically safe. For Kardashian, fear didn’t happen or if it did, it didn’t lead her to shrink and turn around.
“I’m raising four black kids in this society and our system is so discriminatory against black and brown people. I want to do as much as I can to make their lives easier,” she told CR Fashion Book. “I never knew much about the system until I started to dig in, and once I learned and saw how many things were wrong, I really couldn’t stop.”
This was passion, a responsibility and a labor of love she was not going to surrender, stern warnings to reputation be damned. Those warnings were clear and grave.
“Everyone told me I would ruin my career if I went to the White House, but that doesn’t mean anything to me. My reputation over someone’s life? That didn’t make any sense,” Kardashian said.
She knows that people say ugly things, often ignorant or selfish. That didn’t bother her. It was noise, not a roadblock even if no one really enjoys judgment, criticism and ugliness.
“People talk sh*t all day long: I felt confident that I could handle a news story that would cycle for a day or a week, tops,” Kardashian said. “But the chance to change someone’s life? Backing out was not an option for me.”
Commitment in the storm. Willingness to be courageous, not out of a lack of humility, reckless denial and conceit but out of compassionate purpose.
While Kardashian really doesn’t know how long a media cycle will be on a negative story or the severity of the impact, she assumed it would not be long lasting and she felt the strong enough to endure it.
Since she was not doubling down on negativity, her poise, unshakable confidence and commitment towards her purpose is strength, not dangerous, costly foolishness.
People and organizations regularly are bulls in a china shop when it comes to their character, attitude, communication, behavior and response in disputes, ongoing conflict, crisis and scandal.
Kardashian in this instance is not one of those people. She knows her purpose will protect her reputation and despite great risk, she keeps moving forward.
Michael Toebe helps individuals and organizations accurately analyze and wisely, more successfully respond to conflict and crisis that threatens or harms reputation. He writes Red Diamonds Essays and Reputation Specialist Essays (both on the Medium platform) and has contributed analysis and advisory for Chief Executive, Corporate Board Member, the New York Law Journal, Corporate Compliance Insights, Physicians Practice and Training Industry. He also publishes on LinkedIn and beBee and is the voice of the Red Diamonds Podcast.
This article was first published at Red Diamonds Essays on October 23, 2020.