We Are Each Other


“I want to know who you are. I want you to know who I am. I want us to make our own story in the world. I want our grandchildren to say about us that there was a time when many things looked dark, when people felt separated from each other and wars and pestilence and fear were rampant in both rich nations and poor nations. And people were distracted and busy, driven along in the deterioration of many things they held dearly. But then, in the nick of time, something that no one could see, and no one could stop, began to restore hope and instill them with wisdom and action: people began to remember the sweetness of story. People turned away from the behaviors that had ravaged neighbors and nature; people turned away from the machinery of war they had perfected; people turned back to each other, and sat down and talked and listened.

I want to know who you are. I want you to know who I am. We may not even know why, until I hear your stories, until you hear mine. We may not even know why until something sparks between us that makes us smile or cry with recognition — not out of sentimentality, but out of commonality, waking our remembrance that we are each other.”

– Christina Baldwin, Storycatcher

[ Photo credit: Cyril Caton ]

Night Watch


At three in the morning, I’m drawn from peaceful slumbers to this cold chair. My heavy eyelids stare, unblinking, at the marble lamp, the white circle of light in this midnight corner of the house. A night owl writing morning pages before dawn… What is it that keeps me awake?

Songs and sonnets and maid-of-honor speeches. Friendships and failures and shopping lists. Errands. A mother’s love. A sixtieth anniversary scrapbook. A birthday. A new baby’s christening. A Sunday school rumor. A lost dog and backyard cherry trees. Rhubarb. Strawberry shortcake. Gardening plans. The stack of papers to sort on the corner of the sofa. The dishwasher to unload. The month-end report that’s overdue.

Forward and back, my mind flies through memories and dreams, mundane to-dos, leaps and bounds.

And I think of you, whoever you might be, awake and alone like me, drawn from your bed to a thousand other thoughts, all your own cares, worries, and loves. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” awake before sunrise. Together in shared silence, divided in time and space and distance.

I don’t know you, but are we so different? Me here on the cold tile floor and you in your slippers, each carrying a world inside us of lifelong griefs and joys, reveries, unspoken hopes, and plans for the days ahead.

I won’t recognize you tomorrow, if we happen to pass on the street, at the market, on the freeway. But just for this moment, let me pray a blessing on you. For peace… For joy… I pray you feel loved tomorrow, and I pray that somewhere, during the course of your day, you find someone to show unexpected kindness to.

The world needs more of that, doesn’t it? Strangers taking time to smile, to say thank you… I see you… I remember.

What Google Taught Me About Plagiarism

Sparrow on Barbed Wire
“If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive…from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out.” Esther 4:14 (MSG)

A blog I’ve followed and valued for years recently plagiarized content from another source which I also happen to follow. As a writer, this made me sad and angry. While the non-confrontational part of me would prefer to unsubscribe in silent protest of their morally ambiguous writing tactics, my feistier side wanted to call them out on it.

How easy it would have been to leave an anonymous, skewering comment on their blog post, exposing them for all to see, as if it’s my right or responsibility to shame anyone publicly. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and all.

Aren’t there enough trolls lurking in the bowels of the internet, spewing venom and bad manners in ALL CAPS LOCK? What good would it do to sink to that level?

Still, the indiscretion tugged at my writer’s heart.

I understand how challenging it must be for full-time bloggers to constantly and consistently generate content for their readers (I admire them for their hard work!), and I also understand that sometimes mistakes get made. I’d like to believe that we all have good intentions, that each of us wants to do what’s right, but the world can be a complicated and shady place. When does indifference become negligence? And when does “looking the other way” make us complicit in wrongdoing?

“If you persist in staying silent at a time like this…” When Mordecai sent this message to Queen Esther, he was urging her to speak up and save the lives of her people — to thwart a plot to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire. A small act of plagiarism seems laughable by comparison (I know!), but aren’t those words haunting? If you persist in staying silent at a time like this

I decided to send an email to the blog in question, privately and respectfully, pointing out the error in hopes that they’d rectify the situation. To their credit, they replied promptly the next morning, acknowledged the “oversight,” and said it had been corrected. How nice! Hooray for professionalism and ethics! Except… they didn’t correct it. The blog post remains word-for-word the same. No clarification, no apology, no proper attribution. *Sigh*

In its early days, Google adopted an informal company motto — “Don’t Be Evil” — to act as a guiding principle in their business. Whether or not they’ve held to this standard is a matter of debate perhaps, but nonetheless, it’s a noble idea.

Do the right thing.

When it comes to creating and using content online, you don’t need to look far to see cracks in the ethical facade. Copyright isn’t sexy or fun, is it? We’re just pinning all the pretty things on Pinterest! What’s the harm in that?

The problem, of course, is that many people make a livelihood from their creative work. All of the beautiful content we see floating around on the internet is not magical, communal property! Someone — a writer, a photographer, a designer, a real person — has put time and energy into the creation. Some of those creators choose to share their work freely and allow it to be used or adapted with permission. (Hooray for Creative Commons and good for them!) But not every creator feels the same, and they’re well within their rights to expect fair treatment.

Intentional or not, plagiarism is a serious ethical breach, not to mention a potential copyright infringement.

Here’s what I’ve learned: If you want people to trust and value the content you’re creating, be honest and kind and respectful. Don’t be evil or lazy. Don’t “borrow” or share someone else’s work if you don’t have permission. If you aren’t sure, ask. Cite your sources. Give credit where credit is due. I promise, your readers won’t think less of you for quoting someone else if you’re willing and able to say something fresh and meaningful alongside it.

In the end, I did unsubscribe from that blog. Whether or not they care about losing one reader, whether or not they decide to make a correction or do better in the future, they lost my respect, which ultimately detracts from the good work they were trying to do in the first place.

Inspiration is everywhere, but let’s not ruin a good thing, ok? We can do better than evil — inadvertent or otherwise.

[ Photo credit: See-ming Lee ]