“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold.” Proverbs 22:1 (NKJV)

It takes a long time to build a good name and a relatively short time to lose one. Building a good name is like building a sand castle by the sea, a process that can take hours, only for the builder to see it washed away in seconds.

Perhaps this is one reason there are not many buildings or structures named after living people. What if they disappoint us? What if they should make a decision that brings shame or embarrassment upon themselves and others?

Recently Britain’s Prince Harry wore a Nazi soldier’s uniform to a costume party with an armband showing a swastika emblem. The poor choice has placed his application for Sandhurst, the army officer training school, in jeopardy. You have to wonder, what was he thinking?

America’s reputation as a protector of civil liberties has now been severely damaged as a result of the abuse and sexual humiliation of Iraqi detainees by U.S. Army reservists at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. You have to wonder, what were these soldiers thinking?

The good name of Armstrong Williams took a hit when it was revealed that he was paid $240,000 by the Department of Education to promote President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law by regularly commenting on the law during his broadcast. That’s not exactly unbiased broadcasting. What was Armstrong thinking?

Another newscaster that recently made the news while reporting it is Dan Rather. After a distinguished career, Rather is giving up his anchor desk at CBS News, but he’s leaving with a stain on his name for reporting a story that called into question the service record of President Bush in the Air National Guard at the height of the election process. The report was based on documents obtained by CBS News that turned out to be fake. CBS News did not verify the authenticity of the records, leading many to question how much trust can be placed in those who report the news. After decades of excellent reporting, Rather’s good name will be tarnished because of bad judgment in reporting this one story. I’m sure Dan Rather has asked himself the question, “What was I thinking?”

I bet you’ve asked yourself that question as well. I have. We’ve all made poor judgments. The difference is that some of us have our poor decisions posted in the paper for all to see and others don’t. We’ve all made stupid errors. It’s human nature to allow ourselves to be carried away by our emotions, drives, and egos and when we do there’s always a price to pay.

Dierks Bentley sings a song about picking up a date who sneaked out of her house and met him at the front gate. Her daddy peppered his tailgate with a shotgun blast as he sped away. He sings: “Oh I knew there’d be hell to pay/ But that crossed my mind a little too late!/Cuz I was thinking ’bout a little white tank top sitting right there in the middle by me/I was thinking about a long kiss, man just gotta get goin’ where the night might lead/Well I know what I was feeling but what was I thinking?”

The answer to that question, we must admit, is that often we are not thinking. We are not thinking about the consequences of our choices. We are not thinking of the other people our decisions will affect. We are not thinking of those we might lead in to a wrong direction as they look to us for leadership.

Sometimes, we don’t think and we pay a price for our actions. Sometimes the price we pay is our good name.  A good name takes longer to earn; and if lost, it is harder to get back. Perhaps that’s why a good name should “be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold.”

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. His column appears in The Moultrie Observer.

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