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Lessons from a Plagiarist

Lessons from a Plagiarist

Lessons from a Plagiarist

    It happens every semester. Some student, thinking themselves very clever indeed, Googles up a WIkipedia entry, some obscure facts page from some obscure website, an essay from one of the plagiarism sites, or, one time, even one of my own papers, and hands it in as his or her own.

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    The smarter ones cut out the links and references to the site their paper came from. The smartest ones cut bits and pieces of several sources together into a seamless new creation – a ton of work and almost admirable, if any of the words had been their own. But what the smartest share with the dimmest is this: they’re all easy to catch.

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    Confronted, they fall into a couple of patterns. The defiant offer up powerful excuses like “My cousin told me she wrote this!” and “No, that’s all my work.IT’s just a coincidence that Wikipedia put the same words in the same order!” The contrite shuffle their feet, beg to redo their assignments (sometimes turning in more plagiarized work!), or just plain disappear, humiliated.

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    But this is not a post about plagiarism, it’s a post about life – specifically the  lessons we can all learn from plagiarists. Because while I am professionally, legally, and morally bound to be harsh to plagiarists, I  also believe that getting caught offers them an opportunity to learn some very important lessons. Lessons about living with a certain degree of grace and decency and, if they put their mind to it, lessons in redemption.

    Here are the five big lessons I think we can all learn from plagiarists:

    1. Never do anything that would embarrass you if anyone knew about it. The reason students plagiarize is because they believe they won’t get caught. That’s simply the wrong attitude to take, about anything. This is a very simple moral rule: if being caught would be humiliating – even if you’re not technically doing anything wrong – don’t do it.
    2. Never underestimate the intelligence or resourcefulness of others. I know PT Barnum said nobody had ever gone broke by overestimating the stupidity of the average person, but it works the other way, too – people often turn out to be much smarter than you give them credit for, and they have access to resources you might not have imagined. You’d think students would figure a guy with a PhD-level education and 6 years of classroom experience would be pretty savvy to the ways of plagiarists, but they don’t get it. Which is fine by me – it means catching plagiarism is the easiest part of my job, not the hardest.
    3. Own your actions. You’ve plagiarized, you’re caught – quick, who do you blame?! If you say “myself”, congratulations, you’re well on your way to being a decent person. Or, you didn’t plagiarize, you worked hard and did good work, who gets credit? Hopefully you said “myself” again – and if you see why it makes sense in the second case, you can see why it’s important in the first case. When we try to shift blame for our shortcomings to other people, we sell ourselves short, leaving no room for growth or improvement next time. It becomes a self-sustaining cycle – if it’s never your fault, then there’s never any reason to stop.
    4. It’s never too late to seek a second chance. No matter how badly you screw up, there’s always the possibility of redemption – but only you can follow that path. You have to seek it out – ask for a chance to redo whatever you messed up, try doubly hard next time, take your lumps and resolve never to make the same mistake again. There’s two conditions here: the external condition – what it takes to satisfy the person you’ve wronged – and the internal condition – what it takes to satisfy yourself. You may never be able to redress the injury to the other party, but only you can decide what measures you’re willing to go to in order to try. Likewise, only you can decide when your own standards have been met.
    5. Sometimes, the most important lesson you can learn is failure. My department chair told me this during my first semester as a college instructor. In education these days, success often comes too cheap. K-12 educators have to fight for permission to fail under-performing students, competitions are set up so that everyone wins, and so on. But ask any successful person, whether in academia, public service, or business, and they’ll tell you that the most important events in their lives have been the failures, not the successes (and especially not the easy successes). Learning how to fail with grace – and how to pick yourself up and go forward without repeating your mistakes – is an incredibly valuable lesson, and while it may suck to live through, it’s an occasion that we should be at least a little thankful for.

    These are valuable lessons, and they apply far beyond the immediate context of plagiarism or academic work. All of us can benefit from avoiding actions that we wouldn’t want others to find out about (from hiding a relationship to committing a crime), respecting the competency of others, owning our actions and their consequences, redressing our errors, and learning from our failures. It’s only unfortunate that so many young people have to risk so much – I could conceivably have students who violate my school’s academic honesty policy censured or even expelled – to learn these lessons.

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    Last Updated on September 17, 2018

    Why Do I Have Bad Luck? 2 Simple Things to Change Your Destiny

    Why Do I Have Bad Luck? 2 Simple Things to Change Your Destiny

    Are you one of those people who are always suffering setbacks? Does little ever seem to go right for you? Do you sometimes feel that the universe is out to get you? Do you wonder:

    Why do I have bad luck?

    Let me let you into a secret:

    Your luck is no worse—and no better—than anyone else’s. It just feels that way. Better still, there are two simple things you can do which will reverse your feelings of being unlucky.

    1. Stop believing that what happens in your life is down to the vagaries of luck, destiny, supernatural forces, malevolent other people, or anything else outside your self.

    Psychologists call this “external locus of control.” It’s a kind of fatalism, where people believe that they can do little or nothing personally to change their lives.

    Because of this, they either merely hope for the best, focus on trying to change their luck by various kinds of superstition, or submit passively to whatever comes—while complaining that it doesn’t match their hopes.

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    Most successful people take the opposite view. They have “internal locus of control.” They believe that what happens in their life is nearly all down to them; and that even when chance events occur, what is important is not the event itself, but how you respond to it.

    This makes them pro-active, engaged, ready to try new things, and keen to find the means to change whatever in their lives they don’t like.

    They aren’t fatalistic and they don’t blame bad luck for what isn’t right in their world. They look for a way to make things better.

    Are they luckier than the others? Of course not.

    Luck is random—that’s what chance means—so they are just as likely to suffer setbacks as anyone else.

    What’s different is their response. When things go wrong, they quickly look for ways to put them right. They don’t whine, pity themselves, or complain about “bad luck.” They try to learn from what happened to avoid or correct it next time and get on with living their life as best they can.

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    No one is habitually luckier or unluckier than anyone else. It may seem so, over the short term (Random events often come in groups, just as random numbers often lie close together for several instances—which is why gamblers tend to see patterns where none exist).

    When you take a longer perspective, random chance is just . . . random. Yet those who feel that they are less lucky, typically pay far more attention to short-term instances of bad luck, convincing themselves of the correctness of their belief.

    Your locus of control isn’t genetic. You learned it somehow. If it isn’t working for you, change it.

    2. Remember that whatever you pay attention to grows in your mind.

    If you focus on what’s going wrong in your life—especially if you see it as “bad luck” you can do nothing about—it will seem blacker and more malevolent.

    In a short time, you’ll become so convinced that everything is against you that you’ll notice more and more instances where this appears to be true. As a result, you will almost certainly stop trying, convinced that nothing you can do will improve your prospects.

    Fatalism feeds on itself until people become passive “victims” of life’s blows. The “losers” in life are those who are convinced they will fail before they start anything; sure that their “bad luck” will ruin any prospects of success.

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    They rarely notice that the true reasons for their failure are ignorance, laziness, lack of skill, lack of forethought, or just plain foolishness—all of which they could do something to correct, if only they would stop blaming other people or “bad luck” for their personal deficiencies.

    Your attention is under your control. Send it where you want it to go. Starve the negative thoughts until they die.

    To improve your fortune, first decide that what happens is nearly always down to you; then try focusing on what works and what turns out well, not the bad stuff.

    Your “fate” really does depend on the choices that you make. When random events happen, as they always will, do you choose to try to turn them to your advantage or just complain about them?

    Thomas Jefferson is said to have used these words:

    “I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

    Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

    “Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

    Your luck, in the end, is pretty much what you choose it to be.

    Featured photo credit: LoboStudio Hamburg via unsplash.com

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