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Pity the fool

(Title changed on account of my dear friend Phil being far more clever than what I am. And because it’s unfair to tease people into thinking there might be planes.)

I’m feeling a connection to Hannibal currently. Not the elephant one, nor the one with the Chianti and the muzzle. The cigar one. The one consigned to military prison for a crime he didn’t commit. For I, folks, have been accused of a crime I did not commit.

Unhappily I haven’t acquired a terrifying friend with a love of bling and a fear of flying, but, happily, it’s not the US military that’s out to get me. My accuser’s likely more at home in tweed than combats (although one shouldn’t assume. There are some pretty militant professors out there. Dr Jones, for one…)

Anyway; I’ve been startled to find myself getting all She-Hulk over accusations of plagiarism. It appears my Open University tutor is convinced I’ve copied my latest essay from some unnamed source. Surely, you are thinking, for one to be so harshly accused, this must be a dissertation worthy of Nobel consideration. Well might you assume. In point of fact, however, I’ve been accused of cheating on a 600 word consideration of two poems, about cows.

It seems that, as a person capable of writing something interesting about a couple of cows, I do not convince. My face is the face of an idiot of such colossal proportions that I would rather spend my valuable time researching what other people have written about cows, than take the trouble to engage my own mind.

My paper came back with a pretty good grade. I was pleased. There’s only so much one can write about cow poetry, and I didn’t feel I’d made the best job of it. But then, I read the comments. Over and over again, I’m accused of stealing and – most terrible of crimes – not naming my sources. “Who’s idea is this..?!”, “I’ve read this before – you must cite your sources!” and so it went on, and on, and on. In his eventual follow up to my protestations of innocence, he goes further still – judging me to have used “secondary sources” for almost the whole essay. He cannot, will not, believe I could write 600 words about cow poetry without cheating.

What’s interesting about this?

My reaction, for starters. Furious, I’ve been. FURIOUS! I’ve lain awake at night, and struggled to concentrate at work. Why? People are dying beneath oppressive regimes around the world, whales are being slaughtered horrifically, people in my own neighbourhood are homeless and suffering. There are huge things going on, and they trouble me, but, mostly they don’t keep me up at night. So why am I so bothered by this? What a selfish, prideful, petty person I must be!

The answer that occurs to me is that I feel “kicked in the values”. Which is somewhat like being slapped in the face, but rather more sensitive. I believe myself to be an authentic person, a person of integrity, a person that is heinously lazy when it comes to mere trifles such as Dusting, but a person that Makes An Effort when Something Matters. And, probably unfairly, I expect that others ought to see me in the same light. Discovering that someone views me as dishonest and sneaky hurts almost as much as someone accusing me of strangling a kitten. It’s not just unjust, it’s a direct attack on my sense of self. It calls into question my sense of identity. After all, I am because you are (credit for that, if the Interweb is to be believed, goes to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It certainly sounds like something he would say). It seems a reasonable truth – how we come to define and understand ourselves is shaped by how we are seen through the eyes of others.

As I mention in an earlier post, I’ve started some philosophical/positive psychology stuff with young people. They live in a community they believe to be populated by “scum”. They shared stories about being told they are stupid, that they’re fat, that they’re joke people. Currently their esteem and their aspirations for the future are low. (Although – worry not – for a number of super people are working to change this.)

I’m already mindful of the power of labels. But my experience is a reminder of how it feels to try your very best, only to be labelled “cheat” – which of course also means “failure”. It’s also a reminder to always expect, and therefore see, the very best in other people. We have a responsibility to do this, because our observation of them goes some way to establishing who they are.  It saddens me greatly to think that as a society we may have become so cynical that our default belief is “everyone’s out to cheat”.

For the record – one final time – I did not use any “secondary sources” to help me write about cows. Did. Not.

And if you have a problem, and no one else can help; you know where to find me.

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