(Photo Credit: Karen Salmansohn)
I loved that message and shared it on my personal Facebook page the other day. On that same day, I found it completely plagiarized by another blogger online, by someone who is apparently a life coach and motivational speaker, who has a list of testimonials on how great a coach he is, and who listed training credentials to include those from the likes of Tony Robbins and John Maxwell.
Impressive, it would seem. Except, the fact that he completely claimed the artistic expression made by someone else as his own makes me see him as shady and opportunistic. And I would not want him to claim having trained from me, if that were the case; Tony Robbins would probably not be proud of the association.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon problem, and it’s not just an academic issue. On Facebook, people post quotes without properly crediting them all the time. I actually had my email signature posted on Facebook by someone that I knew, without any indication that it wasn’t written by her. Many people complimented her on the quote, but she never nodded my way. I was particularly shocked because she was the editor of her own magazine!
Sometimes people don’t know better; others simply don’t think it’s a big deal. And there are those, like Mr. Life Coach and Ms. Editor, who should know, but instead of sharing the joy along with its source, post it with their signatures slapped on. Very wrong, very uncool.
This is why: When we create something, whether it be through an art, invention, or piece of writing, we are putting our time, effort, intention, and essentially, a piece of ourselves, into it. For the most part, it is an act of love to share it with the world, and it is a source of joy to see others enjoy it so much that they want to share it. In that act of sharing, with acknowledgment, one tells the creator, “Thank you, this positively affected me. I want to pay it forward because it bubbles within me that much.”
However, when one takes a piece of the creator and purposefully omits giving proper credit, it is saying, “I think what you made was so awesome that I will steal it and claim it as my own, because I want people to think I’m awesome.” Some may say that it can be considered a form of flattery, but that’s like saying, “Wow, love your car, so I’m going to steal it and ride it around town!”
I want to clarify that this is not about sharing an idea that already exists; almost every idea has been repackaged. There may be a fine line on this subject, I know, as I’ve held back sometimes out of fear of riding off the coattails of another blogger. I have to keep in mind that, as a writer, there’s nothing wrong with joining in on a popular conversation, so long as it is my own dialog.
In these cases, we are not stealing, but being inspired and then sharing our inspiration through our personal filtering lenses, resulting in a unique product of inspiration. Painters may use the same brushes and paints, and they may use similar strokes and colors, but the landscape will be interpreted many ways across different painters. This is okay.
What is not okay is if you paint a picture and I take the painting and sign it, and then show it as my own in an exhibit.
So now that I’ve explained why plagiarism is, indeed, that bad, let me emphasize why giving credit to its creator actually beats stealing for free accolades:
1. You get to be in touch with true gratitude. Very little in life will matter without connection with gratitude; giving credit where it’s due returns us to a state of humility and the acknowledgment that the world we live in and the factors independent of our control are awesome.
2. You get to make connections with people you admire. Crediting an author or artist for their work may open doors to connect with them. (Obviously, if the creator is no longer living, this may be harder. But crediting them honors their memory, and stealing from them will probably make you look quite stupid, as there is a good chance people will be familiar with their work.)
3. You honor your creative potential. Even if no one discovers your lie, your creative integrity is the platform from which all creative growth springs. If you steal, you cannot go through the raw process that creating your own work demands; you cannot grow to your potential as a creator.
4. You may still be seen as an expert. You don’t have to be the creator to be thought of as an authority in your field of interest; crediting all the great people from whom you’ve drawn your brilliant shares show that you are self-motivated in learning and growing, that you process what you observe, and that you recognize talent. It also shows that you are gracious and have integrity. Speaking of which–
5. You maintain your integrity. If you deny yourself of any level of integrity, you cling on to some fear of shame, of not good-enough. And when someone finds out (and someone will, because intellectual property thieves are usually repeat-offenders), it will be a self-inducing prophecy that will be very hard to reverse.
I will now probably forever see the “Lie” in Mr. Life Coach, which is a shame if he actually has genuine value to give. But he insulted another person by stealing instead of honoring her work, and there are so many great bloggers out there with integrity that I don’t have time or interest to wait for him to prove himself otherwise.
Meanwhile, Karen Salmansohn, of whose writing I am a fan, reached out to thank me for looking out for her, and generously gave me a copy of one of her e-books, neither actions of which I was expecting, but was delighted to receive.
Again, authenticity rules, and the holding up of integrity pays forward manifold.
Related: “Choosing the Red Pill”