Bridget Galassini | Monday, September 24, 2012
Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. I did not come up with that idea – Charles Caleb Colton did, around the start of the nineteenth century. Although I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me using his idea, he would mind if I didn’t show that it was his originally, because humans are prideful beings.
There are probably many explanations for why humans are prideful, but I think it comes down to our own survival instincts (as almost everything does). Having pride means that someone must have done something that made a difference, that impacted something in some way. If this is the case, then a person has made some contribution to the world, which leads to a sense of self-worth and also leads others to see that the person has worth. When others see that a person is important, it leads them to value that person because of their skills, intelligence or wit. And people like that.
So obviously we’re proud of contributions we make to the world, and it makes complete sense that we want to be recognized for them. We want others to know we’re responsible for them. It was our intelligence or creativity that led to the discovery, idea, or style – so people should be thanking us, flocking to us, worshiping us.
I don’t think that’s selfish either (well, maybe the worshiping part would be). But I think being recognized for one’s contribution is a right. Just think about it. Has anyone ever repeated a phrase that’s so obviously yours? Or stolen your joke? Or your style for something in particular? Does that make you feel flattered or ripped off? Personally, I sometimes feel flattered, but I do feel ripped off if people cite the discovery as their own. There’s a reason that my best friend from back home always asks, “Bridget, did I show you this song?” And my response most times is “yes,” because I want to give her credit for it.
So don’t get me wrong – I think sharing knowledge, ideas and perspectives is great. I just think people should be recognized. Since almost no idea is original anymore, credit is almost always due. Austin Kleon discusses this in his book, “Steal Like an Artist,” with a quote from the Bible: “Nothing is original. It says it right there in the Bible. Ecclesiastes: That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. Every new idea is just a mash up or a remix of previous ideas.”
I doubt that many ideas were ever completely original actually. Remember in science class when the teacher would say, “So John came up with this theory in 1600 and Joe came to that same conclusion in 1600, too, but John was in France and Joe was in Germany so they weren’t working together and we don’t really know who came up with it first.” So, Joe probably had so much pride in his accomplishment, thinking that he was the only one with that idea, while John was doing the same thing over in France. The reason is that in the past centuries, people didn’t have all of this social media for them to see just how unoriginal their ideas were. We have that gift. We get to see that we weren’t the first ones to hate when people respond to a text with “K” or to question how someone can “borrow” a sheet of paper.
But if I was the one who first hated the “K” text, and then you got that idea from me and talked about it without citing me, that’s annoying. But if you became irked with that text independently, then go ahead and talk about it as your own or write your own tweet about it. In that case we’d be like John and Joe. But in the first case, I’d want credit for my idea.
So: Retweet. Reblog. Share. Like. Pin. Imitation is how we learn. That’s Austin Kleon’s main argument in his book – to “stop trying to make something out of nothing.” In today’s world, inspiration is everywhere. We have to allow it to influence us in order to keep making new advancements instead of just re-making previous advancements. In doing so, however, we just have to give credit where credit is due.
Bridget Galassini is a freshman. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.