Monthly Archives: July 2016

Bite Your Tongue

Last Sunday my pastor highlighted James 3, specifically verses 1-12. I won’t add them here, because it’s a bit lengthy. I will highlight 6-10 (NLT):

And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this isn’t right!

My pastor also highlighted a quote that comes from the Talmud, which tells that “the tongue is an instrument so dangerous that it must be kept hidden from view, behind two protective walls (the mouth and teeth) to prevent its misuse.”

Jesus also knew the power of the tongue (Matthew 12:36-37):

And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgement day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.

I’m as guilty as anyone of speaking without thinking, of spewing out the gossip of the day against others without taking into consideration how much it could harm those I’m talking about. Nor do I take the time to discover if said gossip is even true (as if it matters in the first place).

I often stay silent when people gossip in front of me. Instead of defending that person, I listen with eager ears, relishing in every juicy detail.

As a writer, it’s even worse, because the words I write are more permanent. I’ve let my fingers fly on Facebook, Twitter and other websites without taking into consideration the harm my words could cause. Sure, I can remove my posts, but by then, my words have already done their damage. A couple of times, I feared that damage was permanent. I’ve been lucky that they haven’t, but repairing those relationships took time that I didn’t have to waste if only I’d remained quiet, or chose better words.

Saying “sorry” later sometimes seems inadequate. As my mom told me once, “If you were sorry, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place.”

That seems like a harsh comment, because we all make mistakes. At the same time, however, I should know better, and I often do know better. I know gossip is wrong; I know I should consider the impact of my words and deeds before I speak or act, yet I continue to not guard my tongue, or my hands.

But there is a remedy in James 4:7-10:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears of sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

Ah, humility. That’s a tough one, because I do like my pride.

Apropos

I participated in a blog contest on my other blog a few weeks ago. Considering what happened with Melania Trump at the RNC Convention, it seemed apropos to repost it here.

For the first round, I had to answer this question:

What is originality and what is plagiarism? As writers we experience a fine line between the two. Most ideas have been done, but if we take our own original take on them, are they new? Sometimes we find inspiration or influence from other authors; it is how we grow as writers. How do you deal with this dilemma in your own writing?

The other day I complained to a friend how reading as much as I do has constrained me when it comes to starting a new story. Every time I think I have a great idea, I remember a book or story that tackled it already.

“It’s been done already,” is a phrase I oft repeat, and it’s downright depressing.

I can also point out certain ideas in my current stories that have come from other books and even television shows. Does that make me a plagiarist?

First, let’s consider the definition of plagiarism (according to the Oxford Dictionary):

the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.

On the surface, yes, I have plagiarized other writers.

According to Wikipedia, however:

Plagiarism is the “wrongful appropriation” and “stealing and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work. The idea remains problematic with unclear definitions and unclear rules. The modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal emerged in Europe only in the 18th century, particularly with the Romantic movement.

Plagiarism is considered academic dishonesty and a breach of journalistic ethics. It is subject to sanctions like penalties, suspension, and even expulsion. Recently, cases of ‘extreme plagiarism’ have been identified in academia.

Plagiarism is not in itself a crime, but can constitute copyright infringement. In academia and industry, it is a serious ethical offense. Plagiarism and copyright infringement overlap to a considerable extent, but they are not equivalent concepts, and many types of plagiarism do not constitute copyright infringement, which is defined by copyright law and may be adjudicated by courts. Plagiarism is not defined or punished by law, but rather by institutions (including professional associations, educational institutions, and commercial entities, such as publishing companies).

The Bible even addresses this difficulty in the Book of Ecclesiastes (verse 1:9):

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

All in all, a certain amount of plagiarism can’t be avoided in anything we write. A large percentage of what we know and learn originated from someone else.

What we have to do as writers is try to make whatever idea, concept or thought we find from someone else, and put our own unique spin on it.

For instance, one idea I copied pertains to mental telepathy. In my stories, some of the telepaths’ strengths and weaknesses were taken (although I prefer “borrowed”) from the television series “Babylon 5.” I could claim the rest is all from me, but if I searched every book, story, and television show, I would find a lot more similarities.

My world and my telepathic characters, on the other hand, are different enough from “Babylon 5,” I believe only true fans of the show will see the similarity between the two. I doubt they’ll contact the owners of the show and convince them to sue me for plagiarism, though. If anything, they might consider it a compliment – the whole “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” kind of thing.

As the Wikipedia article states, I am certainly in an ethical gray area if taken to plagiarism’s literal definition to the extreme, but I don’t use the ideas to subvert or otherwise harm the “Babylon 5” writers, or to claim their work as my own.

That’s really all plagiarism is. It’s not using other people’s ideas and thoughts to create something different or unique, but to take something someone else has done or written in entirety and claim it as my own.

As for the rest, if you want to borrow my words and my ideas to mix in with your own, you have my permission. I’d be flattered if you did.

I Are Not So Smart Sometimes

I’m not into giving bullet-point advice, because life is often too complex to narrow certain solutions down to a list that, “If you go through these five steps, you will be rich within six months!” Etc., etc.

That said, I do believe a person should do three things each day:

1. Learn something new.
2. Do at least one good deed.
3. Do something silly, and make sure other people know about it.

Three is important, because I think we take ourselves too seriously. We need to laugh at ourselves at times, because it keeps us humble.

At 8:07am this morning, I did a doozy of a silly (and actually qualifies as a stupid). I put a breakfast sandwich in the microwave, and when I returned, I noticed the microwave was still running. I thought someone had removed my sandwich and was cooking their own, but after looking around the kitchen, I couldn’t find my sandwich anywhere.

Then I smelled it.

Crap.

I opened the microwave and out billowed a cloud of smoke, and the originally white paper towel wrapped around the sandwich turned a not-so-lovely brown. I threw the burning hot coal of a sandwich into the sink and turned on the cold water. It sizzled and steam and more smoke filled the sink. Which soon filled the kitchen.

Either the smoke and smell wafted throughout the building, or it has permanently permeated into my skin and nostrils. Now almost 40 minutes later, I can still smell my burnt-to-a-crisp breakfast sandwich.

Turns out, I had accidentally set the microwave to ten minutes instead of one. If I hadn’t gone back into the kitchen after six minutes, I might have set the microwave on fire. Good thing I caught it when I did, because I wouldn’t want to tell my boss how I burnt down his building.

So that’s my silly act of the day, although it might also qualify for the stupid act of the week, month, even year.