The Impossibility of Character Assassination



The conference room of a highrise office building in a major metropolitan area was the recent setting for a meeting that resulted in me undertaking a due diligence study relating to the phrase, “Character Assassination.” I was under attack and didn’t understand the motivations of those involved. It crossed my mind that the attackers were trying to assassinate my character.

I quickly dismissed that thinking, because I understand that only one’s self can suicidally attack their own character. Character resides within each of us. Although each of us are flawed, some people work very hard to embrace qualities deemed noble, righteous, reasonable, trustworthy, honest, and fair; while others do not. Character is of our own making. We may allow others to influence us for good or for bad. In the end, our character is chosen by us, not others.

Reputation, on the other hand, is less inward and more outward. Others can, and often do, impact our reputations. While character cannot be sabotaged by anyone but ourselves, our reputations can suffer great damage at the hands of others. So, in effect, a true and accurate phrase would be “Reputation Assassination.”

Why was this happening to me? As I researched the patterns of conduct of those who methodically work to damage the reputation of others, I discovered a disturbing culture involving people I scarcely knew existed. They are psychopaths.

The only context I’ve ever considered, with respect to psychopathy, involved deranged criminals. However, after reading several online articles, I quickly realized psychopaths are scattered throughout our lives; and often seek to dominate the white collar workplace. Although they are a small minority of the population (about 1 in a 100), the damage they can do is enormous.

A well-received book on Psychopaths presents the subject in great detail. It is called, “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work.”

The following condensed insights on the subject can be found in various Wikipedia articles:

Psychopathy in the workplace is a serious issue. Although psychopaths typically represent only a small percentage of the staff, they are most common at higher levels of corporate organizations and their actions often cause a ripple effect throughout an organization, setting the tone for an entire corporate culture. Examples of detrimental effects are increased bullying, conflict, stress, staff turnover and absenteeism; reduction in productivity and social responsibility. Ethical standards of entire organisations can be badly damaged if a corporate psychopath is in charge.

Robert D. Hare reports that about 1 per cent of the general population meets the clinical criteria for psychopathy. Hare further claims that the prevalence of corporate psychopaths is higher in the business world than in the general population. Figures of around 3–4% have been cited for more senior positions in business. However, even with this small percentage, corporate psychopaths can do enormous damage when they are positioned in senior management roles.

Character assassination is an attempt to tarnish a person’s reputation. It may involve exaggeration, misleading half-truths, or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person. It is a form of defamation.

In practice, character assassination may involve doublespeak, spreading of rumours, innuendo or deliberate misinformation on topics relating to the subject’s morals, integrity, and reputation. It may involve spinning information that is technically true, but that is presented in a misleading manner or is presented without the necessary context. For example, it might be said that a person refused to pay any income tax during a specific year, without saying that no tax was actually owed due to the person having no income that year. Or that a person was sacked from a firm, even though he may have been made redundant through no fault of his own, rather than being terminated for cause.

After taking the time to study the subject I went away feeling even better about myself and my character. Yes, attempts to damage my good name may gain purchase, but I’m resolute in knowing my character can withstand the slings and arrows of less than honorable individuals; no matter how hard they try. In that knowledge, I’ve discovered a measure of much-needed peace that was absent when I departed that terrible meeting.

Pax Tibi,


Photo courtesy of Steve Fowler

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