Friday, August 11, 2006

What your mother tells you isn't always true...

My mom used to always say that imitation was the highest form of flattery. She'd say this, mind you, while my brother was mocking me or my dad was pretending to whine like I did. And later, when I'd come home and complain that I had done something first and then everyone else had started, my mom would remind me of her wisdom-- and say that I should be proud that others wanted to be like me, think like me, do what I did.

Well, I wasn't proud. I was just annoyed.

When my students complain, "she's copying me" or literally start crying (hey, they're ten)because someone had adopted their idea or claimed it as their own, I remember that imitation is not necessarily flattery. Most of the time it's laziness or a downright lack of self-confidence.

So yesterday, when I was reading the paper and went on a tirade about my exasperation of people not having original ideas, I thought back to the idea of imitation and flattery. In business, it's a compliment when people steal your ideas. And that's good because people take them all the time, especially in this town. We get mocked for things we are doing until we find a modicum of success, and then suddenly everyone's on the bandwagon. So, there are times when imitation means you're doing it right. There are times when you're the cool kid everyone wants to be.

But then I thought back to those cries of copying, and I thought about once or twice having to fail my college students for plagiarism. The thing about that is, it's just plain lazy. Most of the time, for less effort 9and with the aid of some self-confidence), one can usually use an idea as a starting point and come up with something way better. When we are young, we get upset when people copy us, or when people use our answers. It seems as we get older, cheating becomes cool; doing what others do is the norm. It's follow or flounder oftentimes. And then, by the time we are adults, some of us have forgotten what it's like to be excited by ideas, to think creatively, to trust our own judgment and experiences to make decisions.

And then there are leaders. I usually think STL is a city of innovation and leadership. It might be underground, but I see creativity and originality everyday, and I see it organically and beautifully. Sadly, in the past week, I've seen more of the other side: followers, cheaters, copiers, facsimiles, criers. Well, here's what i have to say: if you fall into that latter group, you're found out. I expect more, and I am demanding more of this city. As consumers, as citizens, and as leaders, we also need to demand more.

So I'm calling out the copycats. They know who they are.

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